Britain, Europe: millions of birds killed

Eurasian wigeon

From British daily The Independent:

More than 22 million birds are shot legally in Britain every year, as part of a European toll of well over 100m, a new survey claims.

The full total across Europe includes as many as 30 million songbirds such as thrushes and skylarks, hunted in countries such as Italy and France, according to the report from a radical German anti-hunting pressure group, the Committee against Bird Crime (Komitee gegen den Vogelmord).

The group said the killing represents the “systematic annihilation” of the bird population in Europe, although mainstream bird conservation organisations did not share this view.

But the study does break new ground in assembling the figures, claiming to be the first-ever audit of all the official bird-hunting “bags” of the EU member states.

The report does not deal with poaching – a separate problem – merely with legal hunting, referring the 82 out of Europe’s 500-odd bird species which can be shot, under the EU Birds Directive. (Under the directive all others are protected.)

Even so, the the figures – some of which were challenged yesterday – may well cause eyebrows to be raised, as may the fact that Britain, according to the report, is second in Europe in terms of the number of birds killed annually, behind only France, where 25 million are shot. Italy is third, with 17m.

“If you put all the birds shot in a year next to each other, they would cover a distance of 41,000 kilometres corresponding to a total weight of 66,000 tons,” said Heinz Schwarze, the Committee’s president.

Britain has about 650,000 shooters (defined as people with shotgun licences).

The vast majority of the British bag is made up of two species: pheasants, which are bred as game birds (about 12 million are shot annually) and wood pigeons, which are one of Britain’s principal agricultural pests.

About 6 million wood pigeons are shot every year.

The next highest figure, according to the report, is for wigeon, the duck that is a principal quarry of wildfowlers: more than 527,000 are killed in Britain every winter, the study said.

Next comes red-legged partridge, with a bag total of 450,000, and red grouse, the bird of the high moors, with about 432,000 shot annually.

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