Greece’s fauna in front of the firing squad

Greece has the largest number of hunters in proportion to population in Europe, as well as a multitude of protected areas where hunting – officially – is banned. But it not only lacks the personnel to make sure that forbidden prey is not shot in areas with hunting restrictions; it has also failed to comply with the restrictions on the hunting period laid down by Community Directive 409/79, with the result that the country faces being dragged before the European Court of Justice. Instead, the length of the hunting period for each species is determined by a regulatory decision by the agriculture minister, which, in theory, should be in line with EU rules, themselves based on statistics by ORNIS (a European organization which collates statistics on birds), and thus ensure that hunting does not take place during the mating or nesting seasons. In the past three years, the Agriculture Ministry has extended the hunting season until the end of February and then has attempted to appease the EU with a corrective decision toward the end of the season. This year, however, the ministry has ordained a shorter period for certain species, and has agreed to an extension for others (thrushes, redwings [Turdus iliacus] and woodcocks [Scolopax rusticola]) to the end of February, which could land Greece in the European Court of Justice. A multitude of rules regulate hunting. For example, rabbits can be hunted only on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and each hunter can only kill one per day. But what hunter will stay his hand because the day is Thursday? Moreover, who is to check up on him? While hunters constantly grumble, game animals grow fewer by the year, and a stream of wild birds, on which a hunting ban is in force, end up at wildlife refuges with bullet wounds. For an area to be declared a hunting-free zone, its residents have to be literally prepared for war. Tilos won it this year, Samos, however, did not. Laws, laws everywhere At the start of the hunting season, 350,000 hunters descend on the countryside in search of game to hunt, many wearing camouflage, bearing repeater rifles and wanting to bag as much game as possible. For some, hunting is getting in touch with nature. They take care of the forest, know all the paths and every species of animal and plant. Whatever the case, everyone is obliged to follow special regulations in order to maintain the country’s fauna at sustainable levels. The hunting period this year began on either August 20 or September 15, especially for water-dwelling species of birds and mammals. For most species, it ends at the end of January and for some at the end of February. It is precisely these differences in the start and end of the period that create problems. Hunters say that for some species, the hunting period could have been longer. The president of the association Direct Action for the Protection of Wildlife, Konstantia Trabazali, wonders how birds whose turn to be hunted has not yet come round can avoid disturbance when hearing shots all around them. Hundreds of victims The wounded birds that arrive at Alkyonis, the Society for the Welfare and Protection of Wildlife, on Paros, increase dramatically during the hunting period, with the worst period being Christmas, for obvious reasons. The head of Alkyonis, Marios Fournaris, explained that until today, around 300 wounded birds have arrived since the beginning of the hunting season in August, that is three deliveries a day. The hunting season, he felt, should not only finish earlier but should also start later. Especially in tourist areas such as islands, starting the hunting season on August 20 is a big problem. Tourists are sunbathing and gunshots can be heard everywhere. In addition, many birds that are rearing their young during that period are frightened by the sound of shots. The example he gave, of Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae), is typical of the dangers even for birds that may not be direct targets. Eleonora’s falcon is a migratory bird. Sixty-five percent of the population breeds in the Aegean. Four thousand pairs are estimated to exist in the whole world at this moment. It comes to Greece in April, stays all summer and leaves in October for Madagascar. It takes advantage of the autumn migrations to feed its young – it is a bird of prey after all. Due to the hunting season, the falcons may be afraid to hunt and thus their young may die (of hunger). No controls Legally, we are provided for, but the problem is that there’s no personnel to check if the laws are being enforced, said Mrs Trabazali. Hunting is totally forbidden in many areas to protect their populations of animals and birds: in the heartland of national parks and in the 11 areas determined by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands as wetlands of international importance: the Evros, Nestos, Axios, Loudias and Aliakmonas deltas, lakes Ismarida, Vistonida, Kerkini, Koroneia and Volvi, the Prespes lakes and the Rhodope lagoons, the lagoons at Keramoti and Porto Lagos, in the Ambrakian Gulf, in the wetlands of Messolongi, Aitolikos, and Kotychi and in the forest of Strofilia. On the basis of Directive 1650/86 on the environment, Greece has notified the European Commission of 52 areas – including the above – in which special protection measures are in force, including a ban on hunting. This list was added to recently and will soon come to over 100. In addition, about 700,000 hectares governed by forestry regulations are wildlife refuges where hunting is banned. Finally, hunting is banned on islands smaller than 50 square kilometers, within half a kilometer from border posts, or 300 meters of coastline, or 250 meters from the last house of a residential area. A temporary ban on hunting may be imposed due to special circumstances, such as fire. The species for which hunting is permitted are limited in number (which also is a cause of complaint for hunters) while the hunting of all birds of prey, storks, pelicans, night birds, geese, the heron family, cuckoos, bears and many others is totally forbidden. However, there is no one to check what is hunted and where, apart from the wardens supplied by hunters’ associations themselves, 400 in number. Since it is hardly right that the same people play both hunter and gamekeeper, the issue is now before the Council of State and, quite possibly, these game wardens may have to be disbanded. Responsibility for monitoring hunting lies with the forestry service which, starved of personnel, cannot police the areas under their jurisdiction. For example, there is only one forestry official on the whole of Paros.

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