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LIFE projects help to tackle illegal incidents of wildlife poisoning

(Photo: Gustavo Peña) (Photo: Gustavo Peña)

Illegal poisoning of EU wildlife remains a challenge for Member States and LIFE’s capacity for funding different types of conservation support offers opportunities to implement the mix of practical actions that are needed for tackling this unacceptable problem.

The Habitats Directive is now nearly 20 years old and many important steps have been made during the last two decades to help conserve EU wildlife. Establishing and developing the Natura 2000 network stands out as a prominent example of the Directive’s key achievements, which continue to bring environmental, economic and social benefits to all parts of the Union. Nevertheless, despite the considerable protection offered by the Directive and its support instruments, EU biodiversity continues to experience threats and certain species remain in decline. More therefore needs to be done to enforce legal protections provided to EU species and human factors have a significant part to play here.

Raising awareness among stakeholders about the short, medium and long-term relevance of nature conservation actions will help to improve understanding and appreciation of the Habitat Directive’s goals. This in turn has positive multiplier effects among the authorities from national, regional and local levels with responsibility for implementing wildlife laws. Broadening know-how about the benefits from nature conservation can also help to change behaviour among other crucial stakeholders, so that they switch from being the source of a species’ problems to becoming the solution for safeguarding that same species’ future. Such multi-pronged human approaches to nature conservation are still needed on a variety of fronts, and none more so than in the push to halt illegal poisoning of EU wildlife.

Poisoning problems

Annex VI of the Habitats Directive prohibits the killing of protected species by poisons. The legislation applies to both deliberate and indirect acts of poisoning. Rural areas remain a particular source of this problem as poison baits have traditionally been used by farmers to control livestock predators like foxes or feral animals. Some techniques used by hunters also kill their quarry using poison. Birds of prey are among the types of protected species that suffer badly from such poisons since many raptors are scavengers and so can easily be killed by feeding on poisoned carcasses.

(Photo: LIFE04/NAT/ES/000067) Poisoned Guirre
(Photo: LIFE04/NAT/ES/000067)

Efforts to reverse rural ‘ways of life’ involving the use of poisons can be hampered by indifferent attitudes from authorities responsible for policing illegal poisoning. What's more, perpetrators of poisoning incidents are often either unaware of laws concerning baits, or have a disregard for the laws. LIFE however has been involved with addressing these different poison-related problems through multi-pronged project work. Results from LIFE’s interventions have helped to build capacity and commitment among enforcement bodies and also help change the behaviour of farmers and hunters. Examples of LIFE project outcomes tackling illegal poisoning include:

  • LIFE08 NAT/E/000062, which is concentrating on actions to fight illegal use of poison in Spain’s natural environment. Target species include scavenger raptors and LIFE support is involved with tightening controls on toxic products and improving public support for the prevention of their use. News about recent prison prosecutions and fines following illegal poisoning incidents is helping to build momentum behind the project’s objectives.
  • LIFE02/NAT/GR/008497, where EU co-finance was used in the Greek Dadia Forest Reserve to help protect birds of prey. The survival of native species like Black vulture was considered at risk here and poison baits were linked with the problem. Farmers used these baits to control wild carnivores or dogs but the effects of poisons affected vulture populations through the food chain. Data indicated that for every four Black Vultures born, one died from poisoning. LIFE funds were thus invested in an information campaign to highlight the criminal consequences of illegal poisoning and encourage stakeholder participation in vulture conservation work.
  • LIFE04/NAT/ES/000067, focused on saving declining populations of endangered Guirre raptors on Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. This sub species of the Egyptian vulture is only found in the project area and poisoning was identified as one of a number of threats to the bird’s conservation status. LIFE initiated an operation to reduce indiscriminate use of poison and this was assisted by wardens from the islands' public authorities. LIFE also reduced problems linked with lead ammunition by improving hunters’ appreciation about the impacts of lead on wildlife.

For yet more examples of projects funded by the programme, visit the LIFE project database.

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