Every year in Spain between 12 and 13 million birds are hunted. Ducks, partridges, quail, thrushes add hundreds of thousands of hunting statistics every season. European regulations include just over 100 game birds in the EU. 40% of them already present a worrying state, so the law requires to establish whether hunting is compatible, respects the principle of reasonable use and does not endanger their conservation. 13 varieties of this club at risk are hunting trophy in Spain.
The “unsafe status” list In European jargon, it has already been reviewed by the group of European experts in the Birds and Habitats directives and includes birds so coveted by the Hispanic hunting sector such as the red partridge (2.4 million game killed in 2018) and the quail (one million). Also six varieties of aquatic -221,000 pieces- classified, in principle, as huntable: the common snipe, the tailed duck, the common teal, the coot, the common pochard and the tufted pochard (some variety may not be authorized in an autonomous community by virtue of their powers).
The group’s analysis document recalls that the European Birds Directive indicates that “species in an unsafe status should not be hunted unless hunting is part of an appropriate management plan that also includes habitat conservation and other measures to slow down and reverse the decline. ”
In addition to the group of aquatic species, the red partridge or the quail, other varieties recognized as hunting in Spain are included in the European list as unfavorable: lapwing (11,000 pieces per year according to government data), the common starling, the Red-headed thrush (all varieties of thrush add up to more than 4 million captures a year in the hunting yearbooks of the Ministry of Agriculture) and the most famous European turtle dove.
Precisely the lack of protection of this last bird in Spain has led to a sanction file by the European Commission and, after years of evolution, has led to a moratorium in 2021 in all autonomous communities: no turtle dove will be hunted, although remain a hunting species.
In fact, the turtle dove has served as an example of how things evolve in the European Union. With this precedent, the hunting sector has already activated its alarms: they do not agree with the line of action of the European Commission. Although the species evaluation is a very prior step to any concrete measure, the Spanish Hunting Federation has “demanded a firm response” from the Ministry of Agriculture. They have also considered that the European committee has focused “exclusively on limiting hunting and not on implementing habitat improvements.” The federation has considered that including the partridge in the list is “a new attack by Europe that aims to end the hunting” of this species.
The red partridge increased its level of danger in December 2020 when it was classified as a “near threatened” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Loss of habitat, intensive use of crop protection products and agricultural pesticides, and hybridization threaten the species. Its delicate state in Spain has led to the generalization of captive breeding and the release of specimens to feed the hunting grounds. In 2018, more than two million partridges were released. The problem, the research points out, is that the bred partridge hybridizes with domestic varieties adapted to captivity and then, in the field, they cancel out the wild characteristics of the native red.
In the case of quail, the Spanish Ornithological Society has calculated that its population in the Iberian Peninsula has decreased by 74% in the last 20 years. In his opinion, it lives a similar situation to the red partridge: the loss of its ecosystems, climate change and inadequate hunting management such as “the half-season or hybridization due to the release of Japanese quail or other varieties” affect its decline.
Studies for each variety
Given the number of species that are not well and “the limitation of resources”, the European Commission contemplates, according to its documents, to elaborate a first group of more urgent birds whose priority index at European level is “7, 8 or higher”. The red partridge appears with an index of 8. The quail, which is migratory, is at 3. Lapwing and yellowtail mallard have an index of 10 and the tufted porrón a 7. For this group, the technicians ask that a study be carried out that answers, among other questions, whether hunting plays a critical role in the survival of the species.
In cases where “harvesting for hunting”, that is, killing specimens, could not be excluded as a crucial element that must be addressed for the survival of that bird, the proposed plan calls for the design of an “adaptive hunting” model. It would be necessary to establish, then, if there is a sustainable hunting rate and what it would be. “Only sustainable hunting quotas that lead to the recovery of populations would be considered.” And he adds: “In the rest of the cases, a zero-quota would be needed until that rate could be established.” The auction comes when it is stated that, until those plans are developed, the precautionary principle would ask to ensure a zero quota: no specimen hunted.
These possible measures have a long way to go. From the outset, when presenting the technical conclusions to the member states, it was agreed that the next step would be to choose the group of birds with the highest priority to initiate reports on these varieties.