Commission launches an official guide to the sustainable hunting of wild birds

On Monday the European Commission will officially launch a guide on the hunting of wild birds to ensure the activity is carried out in accordance with EU nature legislation. It aims to clarify the hunting requirements of the EU's oldest nature law, the Wild Birds Directive, which celebrates its 30th anniversary on the 2nd of April 2009. This is one of the key tools in helping achieve the EU's objective of halting biodiversity loss. The guide on sustainable hunting be launched at an official ceremony in Paris by the French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo and the Director General of the Commission's Directorate General for Environment, Karl Falkenberg.

The European Commission supports sustainable hunting and recognises that seasonal hunting of wild birds can be beneficial to habitat conservation. Hunting is one of the many potential uses of the Natura 2000 sites – the EU's ecological network of protected natural areas, covering around a fifth of its land and continental waters. It can contribute to common efforts to manage important habitats such as wetlands, heaths and farmlands. This is essential to restore and preserve Europe's biodiversity which is shrinking at an alarming rate: the decline of common birds such as the sparrow, the swallow and the grey partridge illustrates this worrying trend.

In 2001, the Commission launched the Sustainable Hunting Initiative with the cooperation of Member States, bird conservation group BirdLife International and the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the EU (FACE). In 2004 Birdlife International and FACE signed an international agreement on hunting within the scope of the Birds Directive. The guide is the result of collaborative efforts to present the best practices to achieve this.

While aiming at the overall conservation of birds, the guide focuses on the timing of recreational hunting, on minimising the risk of disturbing birds and their habitats and on conditions for allowing hunting under exceptional circumstances. The objective is to clarify areas of possible confusion and make clear the minimum requirements of the directive. This will enable hunters to go about their activities in a sustainable way.

Rules on hunting wild birds in the EU

Hunting in the EU is regulated by the 1979 Wild Birds Directive. Although there is a general ban on the killing of wild birds, certain species can be hunted outside breeding and prenuptial (or spring) migration periods. These closed periods are critical and allow wild birds to renew their numbers. The directive lists 82 species which can be hunted in EU Member States. Hunting periods are set at national levels on the basis of scientific principles and data, and vary according to species and geographical location.

EU countries have the power to allow or ban hunting for those species listed under the directive. Exceptionally, Member States can allow the capture and killing of birds covered by the directive outside of the normal hunting season for a limited number of reasons, but only where no alternative solution exists.

The Wild Birds Directive

The Wild Birds Directive is the EU’s oldest piece of nature legislation and one of the most important, providing comprehensive protection for all wild bird species naturally occurring in the European Union. It was a response to increasing concern about the decline in Europe's wild bird populations resulting from pollution and loss of habitats, as well as unsustainable activities. It was also in recognition of the fact that wild birds, many of which are migratory, are a shared heritage of the Member States and that their conservation required international cooperation.

The guide will be launched by the French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo and the Director General of the Commission's Directorate General for Environment, Karl Falkenberg. The launch will take place on 16 March at 17h30 at l'Hôtel de Roquelaure, 246 Boulevard Saint Germain, 75007 Paris.