The Problem With Overfishing

Despite an increased awareness of overfishing, the majority of people still know very little about the scale of the destruction being wrought on the oceans. This film presents an unquestionable case for why overfishing needs to end and shows that there is still an opportunity for change. Through reform of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, fisheries ministers and members of the European Parliament, MEPs, can end overfishing. But only if you pressure them, October 23rd, ask MEPs to …


About Bear Conservation, hunting and EU laws in Croatia

_MG_9140Bear habitat in Slovenia

Last July a paper entitled “The potential impacts of changes in bear hunting policy for hunting organisations in Croatia” was published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research which can be donwloaded here:

The autors fear that EU rules (Croatia joined the EU last 1th July) could cause problems for its bear population as hunting is an important income for local hunting organizations and due to it local people have a positive perception towards bears. They argue that a system involving hunting ensures local support for bears in Croatia, which is vital in ensuring the animals’ long-term survival.

“There is strong evidence that Croatia’s current system is beneficial for both local people and the bear population, and changing it could result in more tension between people and bears,” said Professor Milner-Gulland. “We are not implying that trophy hunting is an appropriate management option for all brown bear populations. However, not every country is the same, and there needs to be regional variation in conservation policies so that people are able to manage their own populations of high priority species successfully.”

I must said that I never been in Croatia, but I have been in Slovenia, the neighbouring country and doing fieldwork with biologists who work for large carnivores conservation. As I could not agree with the paper conclusions, I decided to ask my slovenian conservation biologists about it. This is the answer I had:

“In my opinion is not very realistic, because they did calculations based on the assumption, that there will be no income from hunting after they join EU. This is of course untrue, as they are still selling trophy hunting, like they did before (and as is done also in Slovenia, even though we are in EU for many years).

Actually bear hunting increased a lot in Croatia – last year for 75% and for this year the plan is even higher. But probably the biggest problem there is that there is practically no regulation what kind of bear can be shot, so large proportion of bears killed are large males (because they make bigger trophy and therefore more money from hunting guests).

This is in contrast with Slovenia, where 90% of the bears have to be <150 kg (however Slovenia is shooting higher proportion of the population – about 20% per year). There are several studies indicating that shooting large males has stronger effects on the population, because killing of big male increases infanticide.”

_MG_0002Free-ranging cub bears in Slovenia

The paper argues that people in Slovenia do have a bad perception towards bears because they are protected by law which it is not only false but it is actually an argument against bear shooting as a highest percentage of the bear population is been shot every year in Slovenia and it seems that it is not helping to improve bear perception.

Kaczensky et al. (2000) studied bear percepction in Slovenia and found out that only 6% of hunters and locals hold negative attitudes towards bears. However, this group seems to express their attitude louder and more frequently than the majority of people that hold a positive attitude. Furthermore, a small group of people with a negative attitude and having the skill and tools to remove a controversial species may well be able to stop recovery, as has been the case with wolves in Michigan (Hook and Robinson, 1982).

Because large carnivores play a role in maintening biodiversity, stability and integrity of a variety of ecosystems, conserving these species in their interacting context is a challenge at worldwide scale.  Such a role in ecosystem functionning should be taken in account in management plans.

Hunting larges carnivores reduces numbers that are low per se, plus can induce behavioral responses, such as alteration of habitat use and disruption of social systems, with potential demographic consequences (e.g hunting can promote infanticide in large carnivores like bears (Swenson et. al. 1997). Such negative effects can occur and can have additive effects, destabilizing populations dynamics even when the overall harvest is not demographically regarded as excessively high, i.e. when it is still considered sustanaible. Indeed, large carnivores are mere than numbers.

Otherwise, in some areas in Croatia where bears are managed as game species, bears are attracted to bait stations often fed with anthropogenic-related food . This may create food-or human -habituated bears ; thus the action plan for the conservation of bears in Europe asked to abandon artificial feeding.

Furthermore, hunting bears can maybe improve the perception from local hunters but there is other part of the population who largely desaproves  it and there are ethical and moral reasons against  trophy hunting.

Grassland butterflies in rapid decline in Europe

Two decades of plummeting population halves number of key species, adversely affecting bees, birds and biodiversity – study

, environment correspondent

Common vlue butterfly

Of the 17 species of butterlies found in Europe, eight have declined, including the common blue, above. Photograph: Getty

Europe‘s grassland butterfly population has plummeted in the past two decades, new research published on Tuesday shows, with a near halving in the numbers of key species since 1990.

The precipitous decline has been blamed on poor agricultural practices and pesticides, by the European Environment Agency, which carried out the research. Falling numbers of butterflies are bad news not just for nature-lovers and for biodiversity, but have a knock-on effect on farming, as – like bees – they act as pollinators, and their disappearance harms birds and other creatures that need them for food.

Butterfly populations are a leading indicator of the health of other insect species. The new study therefore suggests many other species of insect, which are also food sources for birds and small mammals, and which play a key role in the health of the countryside, are also under threat.

Scientists from the EEA, the European Unoin’s environment watchdog, looked at 17 key species of grassland butterflies, of which seven were common species and 10 more specialist, using data gathered from 1990 to 2011 in 19 European countries. Of the total 17 species, eight have declined, including the common blue, which has suffered a serious fall in numbers; two species remained stable, including the Orangetip; and only one increased. The trend for the remaining six species is still uncertain, including the much-appreciated Lulworth skipper, beloved of butterfly watchers.

Grassland butterflies make up the majority of butterflies in Europe, with over 250 species out of the more than 400 found in Europe. Others species prefer to colonise woods, wetlands, heaths and other habitats. Chris van Swaay, one of the authors of the report, from the Dutchconservation organisation De Vlinderstichting, said that the same pesticides that affect bees – leading to the EU to ban certain products, at least temporarily – also have an effect on butterflies. “The pesticide problem is especially a problem in the intensive agricultural areas of western Europe,” he said. “In eastern Europe, it is less of a problem.”

Grassland species are also particularly important because so much of EU land is given over to agriculture: if butterflies cannot thrive on farmland, they will suffer dramatic declines. The EEA warned that as a result of intensive practices, with the aggressive use of pesticides and other chemicals, the loss of hedgerows, field margins and other semi-wild areas, as well as the monocultures prevailing in many areas and the rapid turnover of land, many large areas of farmed land are becoming “sterile” in terms of biodiversity.

The EEA, which worked with conservation charities such as Butterfly Conservation Europe to put together the European grassland butterfly indicator, said that in some areas of affluent north-western Europe, agriculture had become so intensive that butterflies are now confined to marginal land such as road and rail verges and even urban gardens, as well as the small proportion of farmland that is managed with environmental aims in mind.

Hans Bruyninckx, executive director of the EEA, said: “This dramatic decline in grassland butterflies should ring alarm bells – in general Europe’s grassland habitats are shrinking. If we fail to maintain these habitats we could lose many of these species forever. We must recognise the importance of butterflies and other insects – the pollination they carry out is essential for both natural ecosystems and agriculture.”

Perhaps surprisingly, intensive agriculture is not the only threat to butterflies – the abandonment of previously cultivated agricultural land, in central and southern Europe, is also a problem when it results in the neglect of key grassland habitats. When farmland is abandoned, it rapidly turns to scrub, and Europe’s grassland butterfly species have evolved over millennia to live on grassland, including land under old forms of cultivation that were less intensive.

Paul de Zylva, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Bees, butterflies and pollinators in general are facing decline across Europe for the same reasons – loss of habitat, intensive farming and the use of pesticides. Unfortunately the recently reformed Common Agricultural Policy is worse for wildlife than its predecessor. European governments must stop using tax-payers’ money to prop up a farming system that isn’t doing enough to protect nature and biodiversity.”


Officials confirm that Finland’s wolf population has collapsed because of poaching

Wolf numbers have nearly halved since 2005

Finland’s wolf population in February 2007 and February 2011, and the development in 1978-2011. Helmikuu = February, lauma = pack, susipari = a pair of wolves, yksilöä vähintään = minimum number of individuals.
The map shows clearly that the number of packs has been thinned out dramatically south and east from Oulu and in the south-eastern corner of the country. Absolute numbers have fallen from around 250 in 2005 to barely half of that today.
By Heli Saavalainen

It has been an open secret for years, but now it is official: poaching has caused Finland’s wolf population to collapse in such a way that the species, which is already considered extremely threatened, is now indeed in dire straits.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, under whose jurisdiction beast of prey issues fall, plans to get out into the field in the Game Councils next winter in order to root out the deeply-rooted hatred towards wolves.
“The idea is to start unravelling the conflict systematically”, says negotiating official Sami Niemifrom the ministry.
The administration has been under a lot of pressure to keep the tightly-protected wolves alive, for Finland is already being monitored by the EU Commission because of the illegal killings of wolves.
The ministry, therefore, calls for extensive cooperation between various authorities in order to curb poaching.
“We will now begin – hopefully – together with several ministries to think of ways to tackle this situation. This cannot be just the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s responsibility. The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of the Environment have to be included”, Niemi emphasises.

The number of wolves in the country has dropped by more than a hundred from the peak years.
When in 2005 there were 250 wolves in Finland, last spring’s corresponding figure was between 135 and 145.
The number of separate wolf packs is estimated by the the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute at 13 or 14, when half of the packs on the Finnish-Russian border are included.
The packs are more or less in their former locations, but from some areas wolves have disappeared completely. For example several packs south and east of the city of Oulu have simply ceased to exist.

A more concerted investigation into the reasons behind the steadily diminishing number of wolves was commenced within the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry last spring.
Now poaching has been ascertained as the main cause: on Tuesday, September 20th, the ministry confirmed in the Etelä-Saimaa daily that no other reasons lurk behind the collapse of the wolf population.
The wolves have not voted with their feet and migrated to Russia, and they have not died of illnesses either. Legally, with the requisite permits, only nine wolves were killed last year.
“Finland has such a strong and healthy elk population that the packs would have no reason suddenly to abandon their territories. It is also known that genetically Finland’s wolf population is strong and it does not carry illnesses. Licenced culling of wolves has been moderate with respect to the increase of the population”, Niemi lists.
“So, the only explanation left to us is illegal killings.”

More and more poaching incidents have come to the knowledge of the authorities and an increasing number of cases are being looked into.
In the spring, the Penal Code was changed in such a way that the law now includes enactments related to aggravated poaching and aggravated concealment of an illegal catch.
To investigate such deeds, the police was given the right to use coercive measures such as monitoring telephone traffic.
“But the issue cannot be solved simply by increasing supervision, for in the background there is a conflict problem”, Niemi emphasises.

To resolve the conflict, dialogue is needed between the authorities and the hunters. In Niemi’s view the Game Centre of Finland, which was launched in March through the amalgamation of the Hunters’ Central Organisation
and 15 Game Management Districts, is a good place for the planning of Finland’s beast of prey policies.
“For the first time, we have a structural chance to seize the beast of prey conflict and dismantle it, so to speak. The idea is to begin systematically to unravel the old notions and fears together with the Game Centre of Finland and its councils”, Niemi says.
“If we cannot find a solution to the poaching issue this way, hopefully we will at least be able to bring the conflict under control.”

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 21.9.2011

On the co-existence of people and large carnivores: good examples wanted

By Tibor Hartel

This entry was inspired from recent news in BBC. The particular country names are unimportant – it can be any European country. What seems to be important is the relationship between nature and us and our whole economic and social situation, from which seems that it is very hard to escape (a widely applied method in the modern society to escape this situation is to create illusions – conservation science may be one such an illusion). And the eternal story: whenever is the case, nature and wilderness should suffer because nothing can stop our development.

A recent news in BBC shows that those ca 270 wolves from Sweden (or ca 260-330 for Scandinavia according to other sources) are too much for this country: they cause ‘huge’ (financial) damages for people and the country seems to not be able to cope with this problem. The population size of the wolves should be, therefore, reduced. The surface area of Sweden is about 450,295 square kilometres, and the human population density is 21 per square kilometres with most of population concentrated to the southern part of the country. Circa 17%(ok, say 20!) of the population lives in rural areas. Besides this, there are many institutions in Sweden dedicated to biological conservation and nature resource management which pump probably several thousands of papers in strong scientific journals in the fields of conservation and applied ecology. The gross domestic product (GDP) is between the highest of Europe in this country.

By contrast, Romania has a surface of ca. 238,400 square kilometres with a human population density of ca 80 per square kilometre. Nearly half of the Romanian population lives in farmlands. Romania has ca 4000 wolves and ca6000 bears. They also make problems (perceived or real) for people and there is a huge environmentalist resistance (Romanian and foreign) against shooting them. Romania is famous for the corrupt governance, low(est) GDP in Europe, ethnic conflicts, lack of competitiveness in science at international level and so on. However, Europe`s highest large carnivore populations are in Romania, and the traditional farmlands of Romania (hay meadows and pastures) are between the richest on the world in terms of plant diversity. Ironically, this exceptional natural heritage is inherited from the traditional societies, who never had institutions for biodiversity conservation! Romania should protect this heritage as a common international value.

Can somebody give an advice on how to cope with 4000 wolves and 6000 bears and also allow development in Romania when other countries with high GDP and high profile conservation research cannot do that with 250 wolves? It seems sometimes that conservation biology and related stuff works well  on papers but not in the real world (I think this is a societal weakness).



EU countries must do more to protect biodiversity

European Union countries should step up their conservation efforts and fully implement the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 to prevent species from going extinct, according to a recent analysis of the European Red List coordinated by IUCN.  

The analysis presents a detailed overview of species threatened at the European level in all 27 EU Member States. It shows that the highest share of species threatened in the European Union can be found in the Mediterranean region which hosts most of Europe’s biodiversity.

“Thanks to its bioclimatic conditions, the Mediterranean region is a recognized global hotspot for biodiversity, hosting a large number and extraordinary variety of species,” says Antonio Troya, Director of IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation. “The survival of many of these species is at risk as their habitats are being negatively impacted by human activities. This is a major challenge that European policy-makers shall address. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ can be an important tool to analyse species population trends to guide effective policy and action at different levels”.

Spain, Portugal and Greece host the highest proportion of species threatened with extinction at the European level and should act with the greatest urgency. Of the 2,233 species assessed which occur in Spain, 21% are considered threatened at the European level. Fifteen percent of the 1,215 European species occurring in Portugal are threatened, and the same is true for 14% of the 1,684 European species found in Greece.

Of the species assessed so far, freshwater species – including fishes, molluscs and amphibians – are at the highest risk, with species such as the European Eel (Anguilla anguilla) and the Freshwater Pearl Mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) being particularly threatened. The status of terrestrial molluscs, dragonflies and mammals, such as the European Mink (Mustela lutreola) also raises significant concern. Species are mainly threatened by the loss, fragmentation and degradation of their habitat, due in large part to agricultural and urban expansion, construction of dams and water pollution.

While effective conservation action in the Mediterranean is needed urgently, the study calls on all EU Member States to take adequate measures to reverse the current population declines, in order to avoid species going extinct.

“Species can be saved from extinction, but this requires a combination of sound research and greater coordinated efforts,” saysAna Nieto, Regional Biodiversity Conservation Officer at IUCN. “All EU Heads of State and Government have committed to halting biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystem services by 2020. Considerable conservation investment is needed from these countries and the EU to achieve this target and assure a long-term improvement in the status of European species.”

EU nature conservation policies are among the most advanced globally. The Birds and Habitats Directives have led to successful recovery of many species.

“Conservation works,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN Species Survival Commission. “The increase in the population of the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) in Southern Spain from 94 individuals in 2002 to 312 in 2011 is a case in point. The EU and Member States need to continue to act to protect Europe’s invaluable natural heritage. IUCN stands ready to provide the science and support needed to scale up these efforts.”

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:
Liza Drius, Communications Officer, IUCN European Union Representative Office, Tel: +32 2 739 0318,

About the analysis
The study is based on the data from the European Red Listsupported by the European Commission. It presents the proportion of species which are threatened at the European level for each EU Member State. The present analysis does not provide information on the status of the species at the national level (i.e. in each individual country), but rather on the level of threat for species groups at the European level (i.e. across the whole European continent, but excluding the EU overseas entities). National and sub-national Red Lists can be cross-checked to identify the status of species at the national level. More detailed information and all 27 country fact sheets can be found here.

Which EU Member State hosts the highest proportion of species threatened at the European level?

The above graph shows the proportion of species threatened at the European level for each EU Member State, based upon the ten European Red Lists produced so far. See here the results of the assessments conducted until 2011. Overall, the most threatened species groups assessed so far in Europe are freshwater fishes, freshwater molluscs and amphibians.