An excellent report by BirdLife International was launched earlier this week that highlights the number of birds that are legally killed through derogations under the Birds Directive. A key message from the report is that at least 14,000,000 birds have been legally killed between 2009-2017 across EU member states. That seems like a lot of birds, but the report emphasises that this figure is an absolute minimum given that national reporting is weak and incomplete.

The full report is very thorough and for me really highlights that you can have excellent legislation, such as the Birds Directive, but these can be easily undermined when they aren’t adhered to and/or poorly enforced. The report highlights one species in particular, the Great Cormorant, which is legally killed under derogations in significant numbers. An estimated 353,636 to 437,927 Great Cormorants were killed between 2009 and 2017, compared to a breeding population of 223,000 to 259,000 pairs or a wintering population of 384,000 to 503,000. That is an average of approximately 39,000 – 48,000 individuals per year, or in the region of 10% of the wintering population. Now that seems like a lot to me, and as the report says, these estimates are minimum numbers as many range states don’t report the numbers fully.

Within the report the information I was most interested in was the breakdown of the species that are legally killed or taken under derogations. The report doesn’t really major in on this too much but the information is summarised in Table 4 on page 26 (of the full report). It is difficult to know what to make of this information as the devil will always be in the detail. The fact that one Whinchat and one Redstart have been legally killed (or taken) in 9 years, is in the grand scheme of things, largely irrelevant. BUT, the legal killing of 13,261 Turtle Doves should be a massive cause of concern – a species that is declining rapidly and classified as Near Threatened globally, and Red-listed in many EU Member States.

Interestingly nine Hen Harriers have been legally killed or taken – which given the data are from 2009-17 don’t include birds from the UK that have been taken for brood meddling?

There was a very good webinar with excellent contributions from all the panel members, and this is available on YouTube and is well worth watching. Micheal O’Briain of the Directorate-General of the European Commission explaining the reality of implementing some of this legislation is especially informative.

The report has been produced as a short summary.

And a more detailed report.

When you add up the number of birds that are illegally killed each year, legally killed under derogations and legally killed by hunting – and remember all of the best estimates of each of these categories of killing are all under-estimates – that’s a whole lotta birds killed each year. Biodiversity crisis, what crisis?


Photo credit: header image taken from BirdLife social media.