Xunta persists in the biocide of the turtle dove

Environmental groups are alarmed by the obstinate attitude the Galician administration is showing against its natural heritage. It was already announced in the Galician Hunting Committee that the half closed season will be maintained in A Limia and no effective measures will be taken to avoid the decline of the turtle dove, an endangered species. Despite the risk of economic sanctions, the European Commission’s ultimatum for repeated breaches of the Birds Directive is still neglected.

Directorate-General for Natural Heritage announced 15 April in the telematic meeting of the Galician Hunting Committee ―step prior to the publication of this season’s closure order― that it will re-authorise hunting of declining birds in the “half closed season” in the A Limia SPA. It thus disregards the European Commission requirements and the numerous demands from citizens and conservation organisations for the definitive elimination of a hunting season that severely affects the turtle dove (tórtola común in Spanish) and other migratory birds. This way the Galician government ratified its position against our natural heritage, already anticipated in its refusal to declare the turtle dove as a protected species in the State Council for Natural Heritage and Biodiversity meeting on 4 February, where it also voted against wolf protection.

Ridiculous arguments to evade European Union sanctions

The infringement proceedings for breaching the Birds Directive initiated by the European Commission on 25-07-2019 against the Spanish state for not having taken measures to stop the decline of the turtle dove is still underway. In its reasoned opinion issued last December ―preliminary action to proceedings in the European courts― the ridiculous arguments with which the Galician regional government, Xunta, tried to defend itself were dismantled by the Commission, making use of the information that the SGHN has transmitted to it.

The first of Xunta’s arguments was totally infantile, as it intended to justify its position by stating that indeed the turtle dove is hunted in Galicia, but less than in other autonomous communities. The Commission’s response was to be expected: the ratification of the authorisation of the hunting of the turtle dove was in itself a confession that Xunta is in breach of Article 7 of the Birds Directive.

For the second argument, Xunta wanted to take advantage of the fact that anything can be written on paper, even fiction. It used the measures they included before ―with no intention of applying them― in the Framework for Priority Action from which the turtle dove could have benefited. But the Commission did not fall into this trap and answered that Galicia “has not detailed the measures mentioned for the protection and management of the habitat of the turtle dove, the funding allocated for their implementation, the level of that implementation on the ground and their effectiveness in reversing the situation”. The reasoned opinion then continues the recrimination by warning that “the mere fact that in the RDP [Rural Development Plan] there is a possibility to finance these [conservation] measures does not mean that they are actually established and applied in order to conserve this species”.

Rula europea / European turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur)

The European Commission also condemns the half closed season

The European Commission, besides condemning hunting and the absence of measures for its conservation, also notes the breach of the Birds Directive in which “a very early start to the hunting season (from 17 August in the 2019/2020 season and 22 August in the 2020/2021 season) has been and still isauthorised.” But the Galician administration not only ignores the Commission’s opinion, but it also already announced that this year the hunting season called “half closed season” will begin even earlier than usual: 14 August. This will allow hunting in 9 municipalities of A Limia from that date until 5 September.

The half closed season of A Limia is a serious environmental problem. With Xunta’s authorisation, migratory species are hunted in a protected natural area created specifically in order to conserve them (in the 2014-2019 period 3 870 turtle doves and 501 732 quails were killed, according to official data). But it also provides cover for the illegal hunting of numerous protected species, including birds of prey, as Xunta has no operational capacity to avoid it: environmental officers cannot differentiate in the distance when someone shoots a protected migratory bird illegally from the case in which someone hunts a pigeon legally.

A Limia is integrated in Natura, as it was declared a SPA by Xunta of Galicia in 2009 in application of an order of the European Court of Justice for failure to comply with the Birds Directive on the creation of protected areas for birds.

The SGHN will continue to denounce Xunta’s hypocrisy

Despite the fact that we Galicians will have to pay the economic sanctions that the courts of the European Union impose, the grave situation of this bird forces the SGHN to continue to inform the European Commissioner for the Environment of any infringement of the Birds Directive because Xunta has not established a definitive ban on their hunting, has not implemented measures that stop their decline and has not removed the half closed season. The chancellor for the environment at Xunta was informed on the 13th and made aware of the consequences of the continued violation of European norms.

In the meeting of the hunting committee the Directorate-General for Natural Heritage was not able to answer how many turtle doves were hunted legally in 2019, what was the increase of personnel to prevent illegal hunting in no hunting days in the half closed season or the application of measures favouring the turtle dove recommended by the Spanish Attorney General. Conversely, it had the temerity to discredit the censuses of the European bird monitoring programme and Institute for Game and Wildlife Research’s (CSIC-UCM), showing its complete ignorance on this matter. Said censuses (including SACRE in Spain since 1996) are recognised as reliable information by the European Commission.

Evolución da poboación reprodutora de rula común nos 20 puntos de censo do Programa SACRE na cuadrícula PG1060 en A Limia entre 2002 e 2019 / Evolution of the breeding population of the European turtle dove in the 20 census spots of the SACRE programme in the PG1060 grid in A Limia between 2002 and 2019 (censuses conducted by a PhD in Biology of SGHN).

The director general was not able to explain the reasons why Xunta seeks to confront the European Commission in court for maintaining exclusively in A Limia the privileges of a small number of hunters. This makes it seem that there are unmentionable interests in maintaining their hunt. It is necessary to highlight Xunta’s hypocritical behaviour, accepting millions in funds from Europe thanks to the Treaty on European Union, and then disregarding the obligations of the treaty, systematically failing to comply with the directives of Birds and Habitats.

An anachronistic regulation

The current hunting law is from 2013, but Xunta did not promulgate its regulations in the more than 7 years that have passed. Accordingly it is using what was drafted for a hunting law of the last century, thus avoiding the progress made in this field.

The current law considers in Article 78 that in the composition of hunting committees “a wide representation of entities related to the world of hunting, nature conservation and public administrations will be included”.

But the Department for the Environment limited to one person the participation of conservation organisations in the Galician Hunting Committee, whose representative was given the floor for little more than five minutes to defend the Galician natural heritage by themselves, against more than two dozen people with a pro-hunting profile (proceeding from hunting organisations, the administration and other areas). For this reason, the legitimacy of this meeting of the Galician Hunting Committee is entirely questionable for infringing the rights of conservation organisations.

Criticism of the administration for failing to enact the new regulation was the only point on which the environmental organisations and the hunting organisations agreed.

Game species are part of the natural heritage of all Galicians!

Text translated by Xoán Núñez Bazal (student of the Degree of Translation and Interpretation of the University of Vigo)