Brussels, 29 June 2006
Commission takes legal action against illegal bird hunting
Hunting regulation is a crucial aspect of EU nature and biodiversity protection policy. However, a number of Member States fail to ensure correct regulation of hunting practices. To address this problem, the European Commission has launched legal action against four Member States. Finland, Italy and Spain are being asked to bring their rules on hunting into line with the EU’s Wild Birds Directive. Currently, laws in these Member States allow the hunting of birds during key periods of migration and breeding, or with insufficient controls. These laws are in breach of EU legislation intended to ensure the protection and conservation of birds across the EU. A first warning letter has also been sent to Malta over the spring hunting of two species of birds.
"The conservation of bird species is a key element for nature protection in the EU and is crucial to preventing biodiversity loss," said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas. "Sustainable hunting of birds is possible, where it takes place under strict conditions.”
Hunting rules at EU level
Hunting is regulated at EU-level by the 1979 Wild Birds Directive1. This Directive sets out measures for the protection, management and control of all species of naturally occurring birds. Although the Directive contains a general prohibition on the killing of wild birds, it allows certain species to be hunted provided this is not during the periods of breeding and migration. These closed periods are critical to allowing wild birds to renew their numbers. The Directive does not set fixed hunting periods, as these vary depending on the species and geographical location from region to region. It is for the Member States to fix hunting dates according to scientific knowledge on migration and reproduction periods of the different huntable species.
Exceptionally, Member States may allow the capture or killing of birds covered by the Directive outside of the normal hunting season for a limited number of reasons. However, the derogations may only be applied in circumstances when there is no other alternative solution.
The Commission supports sustainable hunting and a ground-breaking agreement on sustainable hunting was signed in 2004 by hunters and bird conservationists at EU-level. For further details see:
Cases against individual Member States
The Commission has sent a first warning letter to Finland, following a judgement of the Court of Justice of 15 December 2005 (Case C-344/03) condemning the practice of spring hunting of birds in Finland, both on the Åland islands and the Finnish mainland. The Court found that by allowing the hunting of certain bird species, including velvet scoter (Melanitta fusca), eider duck (Somateria mollissima) and golden-eye duck (Bucephala clangula) in spring, i.e. prior to their breeding season.
Finland was in breach of the Birds Directive. The Court declared that spring hunting should not be permitted, given that the alternative option of autumn hunting, i.e. after the close of the breeding season, exists for the species concerned. In order to comply with the judgment, the Finnish authorities are required to change the periods for hunting. As no such confirmation has been received, the Commission has taken the decision to recommence legal proceedings.
The Commission has decided legal action against Italy in four separate cases. It will take Italy to the Court of Justice over infringements of the Birds Directive in Sardinia and in the Veneto region. Under regional legislation for both Veneto and Sardinia, where the capture or killing of birds protected under the Directive is authorised for exceptional reasons, there is no mechanism to measure compliance.The Commission argues that this leads to too many birds being captured or killed.
In addition, two final written warnings on the same grounds have been sent to Italy with regard to the regional legislation permitting hunting in the Liguria region, and for the regions of Abruzzo, Emilia Romagna, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lazio, Marche, Puglia, Umbria, Calabria, Lombardia, Toscana.
The Commission has also sent Spain a first written warning in a case concerning the spring hunting of migrant birds, notably wood pigeon (Columba palumbus), in the province of Vizcaya as they return to their breeding grounds. The warning follows a judgement of the Court of Justice on 9 June 2005 (Case C-135/04) against Spain for spring hunting of birds in the neighbouring province of Guipúzcoa concerning the same hunting periods. In its judgement, the Court found that alternative solutions to spring hunting existed and as a result Spain was in breach of the Birds Directive. The Commission considers that the same scenario is true for Vizcaya. Spain now has two months to reply to the Commission’s letter.
Finally, the Commission has sent a first warning letter to Malta over the spring hunting of two species of birds – Quails (Coturnix coturnix) and Turtle Doves (Streptopelia turtur). The hunting of these migratory birds begins in March, during their return from Africa to their breeding grounds in Europe. On the basis of information provided by the Maltese authorities, the Commission believes that alternative solutions to spring hunting exist, i.e. hunting in the autumn.
Article 226 of the Treaty gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations.
If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of EU law that warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "Letter of Formal Notice" (first written warning) to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations by a specified date, usually two months.
In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from the Member State concerned, the Commission may decide to address a "Reasoned Opinion" (final written warning) to the Member State. This clearly and definitively sets out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law, and calls upon the Member State to comply within a specified period, usually two months.
If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the Court of Justice. Where the Court of Justice finds that the Treaty has been infringed, the offending Member State is required to take the measures necessary to conform.
Article 228 of the Treaty gives the Commission power to act against a Member State that does not comply with a previous judgement of the European Court of Justice. The article also allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned.
More information about EU nature protection policies is available at:
For current statistics on infringements in general see: