EU Court bans controversial French bird hunting practice

"This decision is literally a lifeline for birds and biodiversity. It marks the end of a battle that has gone on for too many years," said BirdLife Europe's acting director, Ariel Brunner. [Yves Verhilac/LPO]

In a ruling on Wednesday (17 March) the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg banned the traditional French bird-hunting practice that consists of using so-called glue traps because it was “likely to cause other than negligible damage to non-target species caught”. EURACTIV France reports.

The EU Court of Justice ruled against France’s ecological transition minister and the country’s national hunting federation (FNC) in its interpretation of the so-called “Birds Directive” which states that EU countries are to “prohibit the use of any means, facilities or methods of mass or non-selective capture or killing which may lead to the local disappearance of a species”.

The non-selective aspect of the hunting, in particular, was at stake in this judgment.

According to the judges “Article 9 [ed. of the EU directive] must be interpreted as meaning that the traditional nature of a method of capturing birds is not in itself sufficient to establish that another satisfactory solution, within the meaning of that provision, cannot be substituted for that method”.

The Luxembourg court states that this article “precludes national legislation which authorises, by way of derogation from Article 8 of that directive, a method of capture resulting in by-catches, where those by-catches, even if small in volume and for a limited period, are likely to cause other than negligible damage to the non-target species captured.”

The ruling was hailed as a victory by conservation groups. “This decision is literally a lifeline for birds and biodiversity. It marks the end of a battle that has gone on for too many years,” said BirdLife Europe’s acting director, Ariel Brunner. “It also sends a strong message to other EU countries: tradition or not, if the Birds Directive does not allow it, it is not allowed,” he added.

“This is a great victory. Fortunately, we have the EU to call France to order,” said Yves Verhilac, director of the League for the Protection of Birds (LPO), an association, which has been condemning the practice for the past 10 years and aims to have other “cruel” traditional practices banned.

“Biodiversity is collapsing. It was obvious,” he told EURACTIV France.

France reprimanded over controversial bird hunting practices

Paris has refused to comply with a letter of formal notice sent by the European Commission in July last year, which calls on French authorities to stop illegal hunting methods.

The hunters’ alternative

The judges did not follow the conclusions of EU Advocate General Juliane Kokott.

Last November, Kokott had issued an opinion in which she considered that the practice could be compatible with the Birds Directive and could therefore be authorised if “such hunting is of cultural importance,” adding that hunting with glue traps “must be limited to small numbers of the species concerned.”

On the side of the hunter’s association FNC, its political advisor Thierry Coste said he was “extremely disappointed” by the decision, as the conclusions of the Advocate General had given him “hope for a more positive” decision.

“This decision is astounding given the infinitesimal consequences on other birds,” Coste told EURACTIV France. Hunters are therefore considering other methods of capture, including the breeding of decoys.

The practice now declared by the EU court as causing “irreparable harm” to birds was suspended for the 2020 hunting season by French President Emmanuel Macron, pending a decision by the CJEU following a referral from the Council of State.

The traditional hunting technique, practiced in five departments (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Vaucluse and Var), consists of capturing live birds with glue. Once trapped, the birds’ songs bait other birds who end up also being trapped by the glue sticks, including endangered species that are not meant to be hunted, such as passerines.

France is the last country in Europe to allow this practice.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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