The requested extension of the hunting season can lead to serious damage to the population of globally threatened species such as the Red-breasted Goose

Photo: Radoslav Moldovanski

Yet another proposal to extend the hunting season was tabled in the 43rd National Assembly. Proposed amendment to the Hunting and Game Protection proposes to extend the season for hunting of wild ducks and geese by one month - until 28 February.

The BSPB/BirdLife Bulgaria and BBF sent their opinions to the institutions concerned in expressing their dismay and remit scientific data and arguments in favor of keeping the current length of the hunting season.

Request tabled in Parliament is based on two main arguments - a) that the in neighboring countries of Bulgaria hunting season is longer and b) that geese damage crops in February when there is no hunting. BSPB prove that these two arguments are unfounded and not based on real facts.

According to our studies and data the current hunting season adequately covers the period of stay of wintering geese in Bulgaria and the argument that the duration of the hunt geese continues 9 to 15 days is irrelevant and does not meet the real facts. The first high numbers in Bulgaria are registered as early as October - along the Danube River. BSPB puts data showing significant numbers of waterfowl in the area of Svishtov - Belene and Shabla - Durankulak.

In the rationale for the proposed extension of the hunting season are presented incorrectly hunting seasons in neighboring countries of Bulgaria. As an EU member, Bulgaria should set its legislation with the spirit and rules of the EU acquit and not to countries outside the Union, which has yet to harmonize its legislation with European standards. In Romania, recent changes in hunting laws are subject to appeal to the EU. Incorrect and misleading is the information that in Greece the hunting season lasts longer than in Bulgaria! Main huntable in Bulgaria waterfowl species are hunted there until the end of January (Anas crecca, A. platyrhynchos, A. Strepera), and the rest - to the first ten days of February. However, it is important to note that Greece banned the hunting of geese in all of its protected areas of the Natura 2000 network, which is not the case in Bulgaria.

Thus, a significantly greater damage to migratory populations could be caused in Bulgaria if the hunting season is extended. Additionally, a serious problem is the shooting of protected species (Red-breasted Goose, Lesser White-fronted Goose, Greylag Goose, Ferruginous Duck) in mixed flocks and lack of differentiated non-hunting areas in Natura 2000 sites as part of the commitments on the implementation of EU environmental legislation. The lack of restrictions introduced in hunting territory leads to the presence of significant disturbance to feeding and roosting birds in the area. Data from studies held in the last 4 years in the territory of one of the most important international places - Natura areas "Shabla Lake Complex" and "Durankulak Lake", shows a strong association between places used to spend the night and the hunting. While data from studies conducted within the LIFE+ project “Conservation of thе Wintering Population of the Globally Threatened Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis) in Bulgaria” shows that the highest concentrations of Red breasted are seen in February.

The extension of the hunting season in February could have a significant negative impact on world population of the species, which is concentrated up to 86% in the area of these two lakes (54 000 Red-breasted Geese in January 2013). Red-breasted geese and other species of geese are "capital breeders", which means that the birds accumulate the bulk of the energy supplies that will needed to reach the breeding sites and start successfully the nesting period, at their wintering and stop-over migration sites. In practice, the existence of hunting in close proximity to feeding places will result in higher energy losses and inability of geese to accumulate enough food supplies for a successful breeding season.

With respect to the second argument of the requested extension of the hunting season - that geese cause significant damage to crops - BSPB tabled data to show that these allegations are unfounded and incorrect. Scientific studies in Bulgaria showed no damage caused by grazing wintering geese (Dereliev, 2000). This data was confirmed during a study within the LIFE+ “Conservation of thе Wintering Population of the Globally Threatened Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis) in Bulgaria” – in the first year no damage was found (Petkov, 2013), and the yield loss in the second year was only 15%. Within this project a special agri-environmental measure was developed which is enshrined in the new programming period and aims to support and compensate farmers in the areas of occurrence of the red-breasted geese. For the period 2012-2014 farmers from Bulgaria were paid more than € 2.7 million as part of agri-environment measure for securing favourable feeding conditions for wintering geese.

In practice, the extension of the hunting season won’t help to prevent damage, but will rather prevent the implementation of agri-environmental measure aimed at preserving food habitats of the red breasted goose and the stimulation of appropriate agricultural practices among local farmers.

Finally, the opinion of the BSPB stresses that an extension of the hunting season would put our country before the two risks arising from our membership in the EU:

a) the initiation of infringement procedure against Bulgaria for violating the rules of the Birds Directive. As per the adopted document by ORNIS committee of the EC the first decade of February is prenuptial period for the Greater Whitefront, therefore having hunting in this period is violation of the Wild Bird Directive of EC. (in previous attempts to extend the hunting season in 2008 and 2011 the European Commission had taken steps to warn the government) and

b) Compromise of agri-environmental measure for wintering geese and possible recovery of funds from the budget. Farmers who received money in it (so far over 5 million levs) have taken 5-year commitment and receive payments each year. The measure was adopted by the Commission in the current hunting legislation guaranteeing lack of concern from hunting in February and the extension of the hunting season can be interpreted as a change of context.

Fortunately, last week the proposal was rejected by the committee.