European Natura 2000 Award
“It was a big surprise to win Natura 2000 Award among a very strong competition in the Conservation category,” said Mr Horvath from BirdLife Hungary. “This Award will definitely be a great motivation for all involved partners, external assistants and volunteers to continue with the work”.
Predator poisoning is one of the most significant problems for threatened raptors and carnivores worldwide. This project set out to reduce the illegal poisoning of eastern imperial eagles (Aquila heliaca) in 20 Hungarian Natura 2000 areas and surrounding habitats. Hungary holds two-thirds of the EU's imperial eagle population; nevertheless, the species is seriously threatened by ever-increasing predator poisoning incidents. Poison is illegally laid out by livestock owners, with the main objective to kill wolves. At least 44 imperial eagles were poisoned in Hungary between 2005 and 2011, which put an end to the slow rise in its population.
Between 2012 and 2016, MME, the BirdLife partner in Hungary and eight partner organisations ran an ambitious project to tackle the problem of illegal poisoning and to stimulate the species’ recovery.
This LIFE-funded project was the first in Hungary to bring together conservationists, hunters, police and veterinarians for the same purpose. Altogether 34 actions were carried out, including the establishment of a specialised dog-unit, where trained dogs found poisoned carcases (leading to 53 police investigations); tracking of breeding eagles to monitor mortality rates; nest guarding (3158 volunteer days in total) and workshops for key stakeholders (79 event, 6090 participants).
Considerable efforts were also made to raise stakeholder and public awareness via publications, intensive media and online appearances, and with the creation of an information "Eagle Centre" in Jászberény.
“We were lucky to identify the main problems connected to the species, eastern imperial eagle, which was threatened by human activities and in the five years period we managed to solve most of them”, Mr Horvath underlined.
Thanks to the joint efforts of the ranger service, the newly established dog-unit, vets and police following standardized protocols, several cases of eagle poisoning were brought to justice, which was unprecedented prior to the project. By the end of 2016, five suspects had been found guilty and given a suspended custodial sentence or a significant financial penalty.
The number of cases of poisoning decreased substantially over the project period thanks to the continuous presence in the field of inspectors and attentive stakeholders, awareness raising and the deterrent effect of successful prosecutions. In 2012, 16 poisoned imperial eagles were recorded, by 2016, there was just one case. The breeding population has also increased by 36% in the last two years of the project. This in turn represents a 25% increase of the EU’s total imperial eagle population.
A new project already started as the continuation of the awarded one: “Our new aim is to extend the activities and results to the whole Pannonia region and cover the total population distribution area”, explained Mr Horvath after the ceremony.