Hunting birds with glue traps is banned everywhere in the European Union except in southern France. On Wednesday, Europe’s highest court said the old hunting method shouldn’t be allowed to continue.
(CN) — French hunters should no longer be allowed to use the traditional technique for trapping wild birds with glue, Europe’s highest court ruled Wednesday.
For centuries, people around the world have caught birds by trapping them on branches smeared with an adhesive known as bird lime. This method of hunting is considered brutal, however, and known to trap multiple species beyond the sought-after thrushes and blackbirds.
Along with the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, French conservation groups went to court against five departments of southern France that still allow the practice banned everywhere else in the European Union.
Nixing arguments from the French government that tradition justifies preserving the method, the European Court of Justice concluded Wednesday that the traps do “irreparable harm” to a large number of birds that touch the glue.
“The fact that a method of capture of birds, such as the method of hunting using limes, is traditional is not, in itself, sufficient to establish that another satisfactory solution cannot be used instead,” the court said in a statement. An English version of the ruling was not immediately available.
In November, French bird hunters were given reason for hope after a magistrate with the court issued a legal opinion saying EU law permits France to exempt glue traps to preserve a tradition. Advocates general provide legal guidance for the high court, and most often the court follows their opinions. But not in this case.
The case initiated by the groups Association One Voice and the Bird Protection League went to Luxembourg after France’s Council of State, a high court overseeing administrative justice in France, asked for a preliminary ruling on whether the use of glue traps is compatible with a 2009 EU directive on bird conservation.
Although the directive banned glue traps, France allowed their continued use on cultural grounds, citing exceptions allowed by the directive.
In August, French President Emmanuel Macron suspended the use of glue traps pending a judicial outcome.
The court said it is illegal for France to allow hunters to use a method that will likely “cause harm other than negligible harm to the species concerned.”
Glue traps are considered so bad because a large number of birds, including protected and threatened species, end up caught in the glue, which can fatally damage their feathers.
French hunters disagree and say they clean the glue off birds they catch and release the ones they don’t want. But the Luxembourg court took issue with that argument, calling it “highly likely that, despite being cleaned, the birds captured sustain irreparable harm.” Still, the EU court left it up to Council of State to make a final assessment about the damage caused by glue traps.
The Luxembourg court said France cannot not exempt glue traps from the EU’s bird protection rules without providing “a detailed statement of reasons based on the best relevant scientific knowledge.”
It added that “the preservation of traditional activities” cannot on its own be a reason for “an autonomous derogation” from the directive. Directives are legal acts the EU’s transnational political bodies agree on to achieve policy goals and each EU government adopts the EU rules into their national laws. National governments are given a lot of leeway in adopting EU rules, however, as France did when it allowed the use of glue traps.
French hunters argue they rely on glue traps to capture birds that they use as decoys to lure birds they hunt. But the court told French authorities to study other methods hunters may use to get birds as decoys. One likely solution, the court said, is for hunters to use birds bred in captivity.
French law restricts the number of hunters who can use glue traps and requires hunters to only catch a small number of birds for their personal use as decoys. The French law also requires hunters not to leave the glue traps unattended and to clean off birds they aren’t supposed to catch and release them.
But that French law will likely now have to be changed. National courts are required to carry out rulings by the EU court, the final word on EU law.
The 2009 Bird Directive was an update to the EU’s first environmental piece of legislation passed in 1979, when the EU was still in its early phases of crafting Europe-wide legislation. At the time, bird conservation was an obvious transnational concern because so many birds are migratory.
Under the 2009 directive, member states are required to protect 194 types of birds deemed threatened and ensure that other commonly hunted bird species are preserved through limits on catch and other measures such as seasonal restrictions. The directive also bans many types of hunting besides bird lime, including the use of snares, mirrors, poisons, nets, lights, rifles equipped with multiple rounds of ammunition and night-time sighting devices on rifles.
About 32% of the 500 species of birds in Europe are in poor state, according to the European Commission. Last year, the commission said it was ready to sue France at the Court of Justice unless it banned the use of bird lime. The commission is also threatening legal action against France for allowing the use of nets and traps to hunt skylark and pigeons.
French bird hunters are given a quota of birds they can kill with glue traps. In 2019, they were allowed to kill about 42,000 birds.
Bird conservationists say France’s bird hunters must be reined in, noting that France allows 64 bird species to be hunted while the average number is 30 across the EU.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.