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LIFEnews features 2013

LIFE helps lead the way towards sustainable hunting practices

Photo: LIFE05 NAT/FIN/000105Photo: LIFE05 NAT/FIN/000105

Hunting has a long history in European society that dates back to when people first inhabited the continent, and hunting traditions still remain strong in many Member States. This is particularly so throughout the countryside, where hunt-related activities form part of the socio-cultural fabric and hunting also generates important income for the EU's rural economies.

Most hunting that takes place in Europe does not create any significant detrimental effects on the environment. In some cases, hunting is even used as a tool to help create positive management results for specific habitats and species. Recognising the legitimacy of the hunting of wild birds as a form of sustainable use, the Birds Directive aims to provide a framework for ensuring that this activity does not jeopardize the conservation efforts undertaken for certain species (listed in Annex II) in the EU.

However, insensitive or misinformed hunting can lead to nature conservation problems, especially in cases where hunters either damage habitats or target species that are known to be 'threatened'. Achieving sustainable approaches to hunting practices is therefore a high priority for nature conservation groups at both Member State and EU levels.

Agreements are in place which provide a regulated European framework for sustainable hunting of birds. These acknowledge the importance of the Natura 2000 network and promote the consideration of appropriate, well-informed hunting activity within management plans for protected species. Several LIFE projects have played effective roles in making this happen on the ground, and LIFE continues to offer Member States new opportunities for reinforcing sustainable hunting practices in ways that produce win-win outcomes for the Natura 2000 network and hunters.

LIFE's role

LIFE’s flexibility has allowed it to be used for a variety of different purposes associated with sustainable hunting. These include dedicated projects designed specifically to deal with a hunting issue, as well as other actions that form integral parts of broader nature conservation initiatives.

A good example of a dedicated sustainable hunting initiative can be found in Eastern Europe, where the LIFE10 NAT/GR/000638 project is using its EU co-financing to work with hunters and enhance the conservation status of Fennoscandian populations of the lesser white-fronted goose. LIFE funds are focused on safeguarding the key wintering and staging sites for these protected birds within their European flyway.

Sites around Greece, Bulgaria and Hungary have been identified by the project team as needing special attention to increase understanding among local hunting communities about sustainable practices. A coordinated series of information and other communication activities are thus being applied in these areas to raise awareness about the environmental effects and legal consequences of unlawful hunting.

Results from this LIFE project’s actions intend to engender a greater appreciation about the long-term benefits of adopting informed approaches to wildfowl shooting. Outcomes will better equip hunters with the know-how they need to help protect the goose species.

"Sometimes people picture hunters as something dark and evil, trying to kill animals. Nowadays we are very conservation-minded. We are proud to have bears. Poaching has not completely disappeared, but it has been drastically reduced and one of the reasons is the good collaboration between the LIFE project team and our association, especially in the field."
Gonzalo Aumente, President of the Hunting Association of Cangas del Narcea talking about their involvement with LIFE projects promoting bear conservation in Spain.

As with other sustainable hunting practices, this not only involves avoiding direct persecution of the protected species, but also being more responsible about preventing disturbance to the birds during key lifecycle stages (like nesting, breeding, rearing, etc.). Preventing pollution incidents, such as by lead poisoning, affecting both the birds and the species they rely on is an equally high priority for the LIFE project’s work to achieve sustainable hunting practices. 

Another interesting case study on how LIFE can be used as an effective tool for mitigating risks of poison-related incidents from hunting is seen in the LIFE09 NAT/ES/000533 project. Some 89 Mediterranean municipalities are covered by the project, which is working closely with the European Network of Hunters Against Illegal Poisoning (ENHAIP) to assist local authorities in their efforts to decrease wildlife poisoning.

Operational until September 2015, this LIFE project has already shown its potential for effecting change through actions such as a recent workshop for hunting stakeholders that highlighted sustainable methods for managing rabbits and partridges.

Raising awareness

Photo: LIFE05 NAT/FIN/000105Photo: LIFE05 NAT/FIN/000105

Information and knowledge about sustainable hunting techniques is seen as essential by all involved and LIFE’s ability to co-fund capacity building services in this area has been welcomed by Member States. Finland’s LIFE05 NAT/FIN/000105 demonstrates the sort of awareness-raising and skills-training benefits for hunters that are possible through LIFE.

Awarded a prize for one of the Best LIFE Nature projects in 2009, this multifunctional venture involved a series of outreach actions aimed at gaining support from hunters for its nature conservation objectives. Articles were prepared for hunting magazines and events organised for hunting groups to explain the rationale behind the conservation actions that were required to help species protected by EU law.

Similar information work for hunters can be funded by other LIFE projects, and examples showing what has been possible here through LIFE support include: LIFE11 INF/IT/000253 (promoting a safe haven for wild birds in the northern Mediterranean); LIFE06 NAT/P/000194 (tackling threats to the endangered Tree Nesting Bonelli's Eagle in Portugal); LIFE06 NAT/H/000096 (reducing illegal hunting of Falco cherrug in the Carpathian basin); and LIFE04 TCY/INT/000054 (building capacity in North Africa and the Middle East for sustainable hunting of migratory European birds).

Habitat stewardship

Photo :LIFE02 NAT/E/008617Photo :LIFE02 NAT/E/008617

Partnership working practices are key ingredients for all these projects and successful sustainable hunting outcomes can be achieved by using partnership approaches to facilitate ownership of conservation work by hunting groups. For instance, hunters may be more willing to participate in a biodiversity project if they see that habitat conservation work aimed at one species can have desirable knock-on benefits for the availability of popular ‘game’ species.

LIFE09 NAT/FI/000563 is advocating such partnership principles as the basis for its work to restore large areas of wetland habitats. A total of 15 ‘game management districts’ are being established by the project and hunters play proactive parts in the wetland’s stewardship.

Hunters have also reacted favourably to participate in other LIFE projects supporting habitat management and/or rehabilitation. Notably, a host of useful trust-building relationships between nature and hunting interests have resulted from hunter involvement in the control of invasive species. A review of the LIFE project database reveals an interesting collection of relevant related practices such as: LIFE09 NAT/SE/000344 (managing invasive Raccoon Dog populations in northern Europe); and LIFE10 NAT/ES/000570, LIFE06 NAT/E/000209 and LIFE02 NAT/E/008617 (all involved with providing habitat assistance for the Iberian lynx).

A Walloon hunting association and the local authorities worked together on the project LIFE03 NAT/B/000019, which restored some peat and wetland habitats on the Saint-Hubert Plateau in Belgium, benefiting some game species. The advantages of habitat restoration and management for hunters were also shown by LIFE05 NAT/F/000139, aimed at improving the conservation status of 13 endangered bird species listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive in Eastern Corbières, France. Benefits for hunters came from increasing the supply of small game birds in 10 different locations as raptor prey, as part of the conservation work.

Angling impacts

Photo: LIFE06 NAT/E/000209Photo: LIFE03 NAT/F/000101

As a game sport, angling can also affect the conservation status of aquatic species. LIFE projects recognise this fact through different measures linked to sustainable management of river basins. France’s LIFE03 NAT/F/000101 project from Corsica illustrates the type of work with anglers that LIFE can co-finance in order to reduce pressures on fish populations at risk. Other typical examples of LIFE support involving fishing groups in nature conservation outcomes include LIFE99 NAT/A/006054 (targeting salmon habitats in the Danube) and LIFE07 NAT/IRL/000341 (raising awareness among anglers about threats to river stocks from aquatic invasive species).

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"Sometimes people picture hunters as something dark and evil, trying to kill animals. Nowadays we are very conservation-minded. We are proud to have bears. Poaching has not completely disappeared, but it has been drastically reduced and one of the reasons is the good collaboration between the LIFE project team and our association, especially in the field."
Gonzalo Aumente, President of the Hunting Association of Cangas del Narcea talking about their involvement with LIFE projects promoting bear conservation in Spain.

 


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