LIFE VENENO NO and HELICON projects help obtain illegal poisoning conviction in Spain and in Hungary

A court in Santander (northern Spain) has found a farmer guilty of laying out poisoned baits that killed at least eleven red kites (Milvus milvus), an endangered species,  as well as five dogs, six foxes, a cat, a raven, a buzzard and four vultures.

The farmer was sentenced, on 8 June 2015, to two years in prison and post-release: two years disqualification from farming or animal husbandry; four years disqualification from hunting, a fine of €90 270, and an additional fine of €28 500 to be used to monitor red kites over the next three years. This is the most severe sentence to be passed for this type of crime in Spain.

This case was bought within the framework of the Life+ VENENO NO project (LIFE08 NAT/E/000062 ). This LIFE project raised awareness among enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges, and the general public of the risks to wildlife and domestic animals from the uncontrolled use of poisoned baits. The project bought 24 cases to court and has obtained 11 convictions, with 8 cases ongoing. Prior to the project, few cases of this type reached court. The convictions that the project has helped achieve act as a powerful deterrent against this environmental crime. For further information, visit the project’s website.

The incident involving the farmer came to light in a village near Valdeolea in December 2011. Environmental agents of the Cantabria local government, working in collaboration with the canine unit of the Guardia Civil and the national service for the protection of nature (SEPRONA), found the poisoned animals and birds, and subsequently conducted a meticulous process of investigation to gather evidence for a court case using protocols developed during the LIFE project. Toxicological tests confirmed that a highly toxic insecticide had been used. The farmer laid out the poisoned baits thinking they would protect foals and calves from possible attack by wolves.

In cases such as this, SEO/Birdlife - the LIFE project beneficiary - sought convictions that reflect the conservation importance of the species killed, based on the concept of civil responsibility under Spanish law. “In Spain, every wildlife animal has a value, and the owners are the regional governments. So, if you have killed eleven red kites you have to pay the value of the birds,” explains project manager David de la Bodega. “The wildlife value is different in each region, with the highest value being for Iberian imperial eagles in Castilla-La Mancha, where each bird is valued at €60 000. However, we have asked for civil responsibility to apply not just for the official value of the species, but also to take into account other factors such as the species’ population and public investment in that species.”

The Cantabrian conviction follows another case in Castilla-La Mancha in April 2015, arising from the death of six Iberian imperial eagles (Aquila adalberti) by poisoning on a nature reserve in Ciudad Real in January 2012. This case represented a serious setback for the species as Castilla-La Mancha is home to almost half of its global breeding population; information which the LIFE project bought to court via lawyers. In this case, the court imposed bail of €800 000, as requested by SEO/Birdlife. In making this ground-breaking decision, the judge took into account the wildlife value of each bird, the scarcity of the species, the danger to the overall population and the investment efforts of organisations involved in its conservation (source >>).

 

Local situation in Hungary

Similarly to Spain, illegal poisoning constitutes a serious problem in Hungary, however, nobody has ever been convicted here despite exceptionally high number of cases in the past ten years. Since 2006 until today, altogether 243 cases were detected, in which 736 individuals of mammals and birds were found dead due to poisoning, and further 144 poisoned baits were discovered. Severity of the cases well shown by the fact that 611 of those were protected birds, and of which 75 were imperial eagles, 87 white-tailed eagles and three golden eagles. Combined nature conservation value of the protected species reaches 200 million forints.

HELICON LIFE+ (LIFE10NAT/HU/019) project, which started in 2012, was an important step regarding the detection of cases. Within the framework of HELICON, non-governmental and governmental nature conservation, as well as, the Police joined forces, and the first results of the cooperation have already been developing nowadays.

Within the project coordinated by MME, national experts created a national Anti-Poisoning Working Group, which prepared a recommended, detailed protocol for field investigations, veterinary examinations and police investigations. Experts involved in the investigations may get familiar with it during trainings held nationwide. Members of the national park ranger service and MME’s special detection dog unit are on a continuous patrol in SPAs. Young imperial eagles are followed by satellite telemetry to be able to intervene anytime problems arose.

Partly due to these actions of the project four perpetrators were brought to trial in three different cases for persecution of birds of prey. In one case, a Bács-Kiskun county professional hunter is suspected of putting out poisoned eggs, and where carcasses of a dog, a badger, a carrion crow and three marsh harriers were discovered. In another case two another professional hunters from Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok County are suspected of the same act probably causing the deaths of two imperial eagles and other protected birds of prey. During the investigation of the third case, a dozen protected raptors among them a freshly stuffed imperial eagle were discovered in a professional hunter’s home in Heves county while being searched. The birds were probably victims of either poisoning or shooting.

Hopefully, besides convictions in Spain, there will be precedent-setting judgements in the near future in Hungary too, and those will be dissuasive enough to commit such crimes again!

Abovementioned Spanish and Hungarian cases well prove that EU funded Life+ projects may lead to striking results, which would be otherwise impossible for nature conservation organizations without that kind of financial support.

 

Márton Horváth

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