In July 2018 there was a call for people to express their opinions on the issue of hunting Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew in France. This blog aimed to bring together some background to inform the discussion. The government decided to maintain the current situation until 30 July 2019: to shoot Curlew in some circumstances but to maintain a ban on shooting Black-tailed Godwits.
On 2 August 2019, the French minister signed a decree which proposed a bag-limit of 6,000 Curlew for the forthcoming season – and not just in coastal regions. There is a link to the decree at the end of this blog.
After pressure from LPO (the BirdLife partner in France), supported by the International Wader Study Group, AEWA, international conservation organisations and individuals, The French Council of State modified the decree for the 2019/20 season on 27 August, fixing the quota at ZERO. This enabled France to meet its obligations under the Bird Directive and AEWA. Legal hunting (of Curlew) stopped with immediate effect but this paper shows that birds are still being shot.
Problems for large waders
The Numeniini is the group of waders that includes curlews, godwits and the Upland Sandpiper. Globally this group is under threat – two species of curlew are probably already extinct. These long-lived species are threatened by pressures during the breeding season and, in some parts of the world, reduced annual survival.
Conservation of migratory species
The Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) is an intergovernmental treaty dedicated to the conservation of migratory waterbirds and their habitats across Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago.
Developed under the framework of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and administered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), AEWA brings together countries and the wider international conservation community in an effort to establish coordinated conservation and management of migratory waterbirds throughout their entire migratory range.
Eurasian Curlews are listed as Near-Threatened by BirdLife/IUCN. Shooting of this species has ceased in western Europe, apart from France. A moratorium (pause) was put in place in France in 2008 but that was amended in 2012 to allow shooting on the coast, which is where many of the Curlews are to be found. Shooting of Curlews ceased in Great Britain in 1981, in Northern Ireland in 2011 and Ireland in 2012. The partial moratorium in France was extended until 30 July 2018 and then to 30 July 2019.
LPO (Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux), the BirdLife International partner in France, argue that shooting of Curlew should cease or at least that that there should be another moratorium, for at least three years, covering coastal as well as inland areas.
An AEWA (Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds) plan of 2015 called for an immediate end to hunting and for an Adaptive Harvest Management process to be set up to recommend if any hunting could be sustained. Continued shooting in France must surely be in contravention of the international plan? Here’s a link to the AEWA Action Pan for Eurasian Curlew.
Tens of thousands of Curlew spend the winter in France, migrating here from across Northern Europe. The purple dots on the map alongside represent the recovery locations of Curlew ringed in Britain and Ireland. Many of these ringed birds have been found in breeding areas, especially Finland, but there are plenty of reports in coastal France, most of which are birds that have been shot.
Two subspecies of Black-tailed Godwit spend time on French estuaries; limosa and islandica. The size of the islandica subspecies is increasing, as the breeding range in Iceland expands (blog about this) but the number of limosa is in rapid decline. Limosa birds that spend time in France breed in the Netherlands and surrounding countries, including a small number that breed in the washes of East Anglia. You can read about the 75% decline in the Dutch breeding population in this blog.
Agreements signed by partners of AEWA and members of the European Union included a five-year moratorium (pause) in shooting of Black-tailed Godwits in the whole of France. This was extended for a further five years, up until 31 July 2018 and then for one more year, until 30 July 2019.
It is hard (or even impossible) to separate islandica from limosa Back-tailed Godwits, outside the breeding season, and we know that they occur in mixed flocks. Scientists have been colour-marking Black-tailed Godwits of both subspecies for many years and birdwatchers can help to assess the relative threat to limosa by reporting colour-ring sightings. You can read more about the value of colour-ring sightings here:
Black-tailed Godwit is still on the French quarry list but there is an ongoing hunting moratorium (pause) that, as for inland Curlew, ended on 31 July 2018 but has been extended annually.
LPO argue that, given that it is not possible to distinguish the two subspecies, Black-tailed Godwit should be removed from the quarry list.
Result of the consultations
As indicated at the start of this blog, a decision was made in July 2018 that nothing would change for another year. There would be a complete ban on the hunting of Black-tailed Godwit in France until 30 July 2019 and permission was granted to continue to hunt coastal Curlew. Link here.
On 2 August 2019, the moratorium on Black-tailed Godwit was extended but permission was given to shoot Curlew in some coastal regions from 3 August and more widely from 15 September. Here is a link to information provided by the International Wader Study Group, in response to this decree in French.
After pressure from LPO (the BirdLife partner in France), supported by the International Wader Study Group, AEWA, international conservation organisations and individuals, The French Council of State modified the decree for the 2019/20 season on 27 August, fixing the quota at ZERO. This enabled France to meet its obligations under the Bird Directive and AEWA. Hunting (of Curlew) stopped with immediate effect!
During the first weekend of the 2022 hunting season, three satellite-tagged Curlew were shot by French hunters. The tags made it easy for the police to find the evidence. Three out of fifteen tagged birds were killed – how many untagged birds were shot? Hundreds?
Graham (@grahamfappleton) has studied waders for over 40 years and is currently involved in wader research in the UK and in Iceland. He was Director of Communications at The British Trust for Ornithology until 2013 and is now a freelance writer and broadcaster.