Unprecedented declarations have publicly come forth from the highest level officials of the Hunting Confederation of Greece, aiming to protest against the Greek Ministry for Environment, Enegry and Climate Change (MEECC) for the production of the radio and television spot produced within the framework of a European LIFE project for the conservation of one of the most threatened birds in Europe, the Lesser White fronted Goose (LWfG). The Confederation is requesting the withdrawal of the TV spot, an action in complete contrast to the so called "concrete interest" of the Confederation in the protection of rare birds in Greece.

The TV spot aims at informing the general public about the threats that the LWfG faces, one of which is illegal killing and bears no relation to legal hunting activity. This is also the official position of the HOS on this subject. The spot aims to proactively inform the public about the obstacles that the LWfG faces during their difficult migration journey, while condemning harmful human activities, such as wetland drainage and illegal killing. Through this international LIFE project, the aim of the Ministry and HOS is to safeguard the wintering areas of the Critically Endagered LWfG (Greek Red Data Book).

We deeply regret that the Confederation is not in line with us in order to tackle illegal killing of the LWfG . The Confederation is equating the criticism on illegal killing (of a strictly protected species) with that on legitimate hunting activity, and as a result is sending exactly the opposite message to the efforts made for a number of years by the European Federation of Associations of Hunting and Conservation (FACE) and BirdLife International, which is the elimination of illegal killing and the total separation of it from the legitimacy of hunting. We consider this action of the Confederation to be an indirect support for illegal poachers, which is unimaginable and completely inconsistent with their statements that poachers in Greece “do not belong to the hunting community”.

In its communication, the Confederation is asking, "Is this unique case of illegal killing the reason for the LWfG reduction in Europe?”. Aside from the fact that illegal killing is a well documented problem in Greece and for this species, it is obvious that since the remaining natural population of LWfG in Europe is not more than 30 pairs, the killing of even one individual can have a detrimental effect on the population of LWfG in Europe. This is exactly what the LIFE Project’s campaign is trying to prevent.

What are the reasons then that the Confederation is attempting to present illegal killing as a negligible activity, and essentially to legitimize the actions of poachers? Such actions are in contrast to the acceptance of this specific issue for the LWfG by FACE, as this was conveyed at the 2nd Meeting of the International LWfG Working Group.

Regrettably, the out of order declarations of the Confederation do not end in condoning illegal killing. They rather go on with slanderous suggestions that the HOS is mismanaging European funds. The letter of the Confederation implies the financial mismanagement by the HOS of projects financed by the European Union regarding the endangered birds of Greece, such as LWfG and the Auduin’s Gull. It is therefore necessary to clarify, that the amounts that “HOS has mismanaged” account for the entire budget of the respective EU LIFE projects which, in the case of the LWfG, are distributed amongst eight project partners from across Europe, including the MEECC and the HOS. These European funds are tied to specific actions that are proposed to and approved by the EU, and are implemented throughout the five year duration of the project. Detailed information on these actions is provided by the respective LIFE projects’ websites implemented by the HOS (in: www.ornithologiki.gr).

The European LIFE instrument has rigorous financial control that follows the strict implementation of the proposed project design, and discrepancies can have serious economic and institutional consequences. The HOS has successfully and effectively implemented a number of bird conservation projects, without any financial discrepancies, something that the HOS is very proud of.

The LIFE programme is verifiably the most economically efficient EU financial tool for nature. Specifically, it generates innovative actions with measurable results for important European species and ecosystems. We believe that at a time when the efficient use of public resources is more than necessary, LIFE is a brilliant example of successful European investment and should be strengthened, rather than being disparaged as does the communication of the Confederation. In Greece, all of the 58 LIFE Nature projects that have been implemented by our country since 1992 have ensured that Greece can meet its basic obligations in implementing European environmental legislation, while the European Commission (1) argues that protected species such as the Sea turtle (Caretta caretta), the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), the Eleonoras’ Falcon (Falco eleonorae) and the Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) would currently be in an unfavourable conservation status if specific LIFE projects had not been implemented. We therefore consider the term used by the Confederation as “useless projects”, out of place and an insult to our country and the European Commission.

The most vivacious however of the Confederation’s announcement, is that it flamboyantly uses the term “NGO” for HOS, in order to exploit the current media hype that has been created around the financial irregularities of person-specific NGOs with virtually nonexistent action, thus underestimating the intelligence of the audience to which the announcement is addressed to. The HOS is a historical environmental association in Greece, founded in 1982, with transparent democratic decision-making processes and a democratically elected voluntary Board, with an annual members’ General Assembly, which verifies and approves the financial statements of the association, in addition to external audits by certified public auditors. We believe that the Confederation has no right to question HOS’ financial transparency.

The Confederation also claims that the scientific evidence produced by the HOS, (that is, the only scientific environmental organization dedicated to the systematic protection of birds in Greece and the official partner of the international scientific organization Birdlife International) is “nonexistent”. This is obviously not worth commenting on. We would therefore strongly advise the Confederation to inform their local Hunting Federations of this opinion, so as to stop making use of HOS’ “false and nonexistent” data.

The Hellenic Ornithological Society does not equate the hunting community with that of the Confederation’s leadership. Times and attitudes are changing. In recent years, our organization has been in contact with notable local hunting clubs collaborating in actions that aim to protect bird life. It is this important and formidable effort, that the leadership of the Confederation is aiming to foment. Unfortunately, their communication only manages to offend legitimate hunters and to distance itself from the reality of the hunters who want to contribute to the protection of Greek nature. Lastly, these declarations impose an unnecessary one-way hostile relationship between the hunting and the birdwatching community.

We truly hope that the Confederation will soon realise that by insisting on such slanderous attacks, it is exposing itself irreparably and supports a conflict that can only result in damage to both the hunting community and the wild birds. If the Confederation chose to invest their time on creating synergies to tackle illegal killing, instead of attacking the HOS and creating a smokescreen in front of this very important issue, we believe that substantial results could be achieved for Greek nature and the good reputation of the Greek hunters.

(1) COWI, 2009. Ex-Post Evaluation of Projects and Activities Financed under the LIFE Programme. Country-by-country analysis: Greece

Top Level officials from the Greek Hunters Confederation publicly undermine efforts to combat illegal killing https://ornithologiki.gr/images/nea/photo_news_balader.jpg Pavlos

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