30 years CABS - Komitee gegen den Vogelmord
1975 - 2005
This is a chronicle of our work from 1975 to 2005, published in Issue No. 9 of our periodical "Artenschutzbrief" (Species Protection Report). [The name CABS used throughout this article first came into use in 2007 and was officially adopted as the organisation’s international title in 2009]
1975 –Juan Carlos is crowned King of Spain, Richard Nixon falls from power over the Watergate crisis and Helmut Schmidt is the new Federal German Chancellor. During the oil crisis the delicate seedling of the environmental movement begins to germinate. Citizen’s rights groups are the in thing, be they against nuclear power plants, motorways or airport development. In this atmosphere of optimism reports of the slaughter of millions of birds in Southern Europe burst like a bomb and the reaction is prompt. Bird conservationists, who are no longer prepared to observe from the sidelines, meet in Berlin in January 1975 and found the "Komitee gegen den Vogelmord”.
The newly-founded organisation concentrated its efforts initially on Italy. Allies on the ground, who were tilting against windmills and were faced with seemingly insuperable problems, were soon identified. CABS’ first partners, the Lega Abolizione Caccia (League for the Abolition of Hunting) - LAC and the “Gruppo Naturalistico della Brianza” were completely overtaxed and in chronic financial need. Nevertheless, with financial donations from Germany they were able to begin protest actions in the year of CABS’ foundation and lay the basis for the successful campaigns to come. The Italian embassy in Bonn received tens of thousands of protest letters from outraged German nature lovers. The campaign “Don’t holiday where birds are slaughtered” made it clear that killing birds is not a good advertisement for a country with a large tourist industry. The call for a boycott did not lead to an appreciable drop in the number of sun-seekers; but the tourist industry experienced a nasty and lasting shock. In 1977 the first villages on the Adriatic coast began to advertise themselves as “bird slaughter free zones”.
It soon became clear that protest alone was not enough. Better laws were needed. Through petitions, expert opinions and position papers CABS was successful in engendering many decisive legal initiatives. This was facilitated by the introduction of improved nature protection regulations by many European states in the 1970s and, in April 1979, the European Union bird protection guidelines.
But good housekeeping begins at home. Bird trapping permits were still being issued in parts of Germany and the practice was still widespread, above all in the Harz Mountains and the Aachen region. A flourishing trade in trapped wild finches existed.
The trade in so-called woodland song birds was very popular, involving species such as the Bullfinch, Goldfinch and Siskin. In the 1970s CABS investigated hundreds of animal traders in Germany and uncovered a morass of bird trappers, animal smugglers and unscrupulous breeders. Legal proceedings were taken against dozens of these “bird lovers” and many were sentenced to heavy fines, in sometimes spectacular trials. The trade in indigenous wild birds fell into disrepute and, following the passing of the federal species protection law in 1986, came almost to a standstill.
At the beginning of the 1980s a further country became the focus of CABS work. Thousand of Belgian trappers set nets for finches on passage, which then spent the rest of their lives in tiny cages. CABS began a campaign against this cruel practice in cooperation with its Belgian partner LRPBO . Following an official environmental complaint, the European Court condemned Belgium for permitting this practice.
Simultaneously demonstrations and activities against bird trapping were initiated. The practice was completely ostracised in 1990 with bordering communities in Germany and the regional governments of North-Rhine Westphalia and the Rhineland Palatinate demanding that Brussels finally put an end to the outdated tradition. A complete ban came finally in 1993 signalling the biggest success for CABS up until that time.
The demonstrations on the Belgian border soon became a ritual trial of strength. Member of CABS gathered on the open border on as many as ten occasions in autumn with whistles and sirens to confront the Belgian trappers who had set up their nets and decoy birds in defiance of EU regulations. As soon as a flock of birds was spotted, CABS members created a deafening racket and the birds turned away and avoided the nets. Then what the media called the “Bird War” started. The trappers attacked the demonstrators with pitchforks whilst, in the tumult, the conservationists ran over to the Belgian side of the border, removed the nets and stole the decoy birds. Soon afterwards the Belgian gendarmes arrived and all concerned retreated to their own territory. On the one side were the gendarmes and bird trappers, the latter foaming at the mouth with rage; on the other side, only two metres away on German soil, were the demonstrators with the captured decoy birds. The birds were released and the demonstrators gradually faded away ….. until the following weekend.
Our campaigns in Italy ran at full steam from the beginning of the 1980s onwards. Every month the Italian associations organised demonstrations with more than 3,000 participants. Usually more than 500,000 signatures were collected per initiative and more than 100,000 protest postcards were sent southwards from Germany. The proof that such tactics can work came in 1984. After a campaign lasting 3 years the Tuscany regional government banned the annual dove shooting “championships”, in the course of which some 8,000 birds were shot out of the skies.
Every year regional governments, above all in Northern Italy, permit the shooting of millions of protected bird species, or blatantly allow trapping which has been banned by law for years. The only way to combat this practice is to take legal action in the Italian courts against this form of special licence. Since 1980 CABS has challenged such regional government decrees in the administrative courts when they do not conform to EU regulations. German donations have been used to finance legal proceedings in more than 100 court cases concerning some 80 special regional hunting and trapping licences. This has prevented the shooting or trapping of roughly 15 million Chaffinches, Bramblings, Skylarks, Thrushes and Sparrows.
In the meantime the CABS campaign “Wadden Sea hunting is murderous for birds” had also put the wind up German hunters. Stalking on the mud-flats, which caused the deaths of ten thousands of water birds each year, was gradually stopped from 1985 onwards. As time went on it became possible to have the hunting laws in almost all German federal states tightened up as a result of petitions, legal proceedings and lobbying. The close season for geese, partridges and gulls was extended in many states to cover the complete calendar year. CABS, by lodging environmental complaints with the EU in 1998 and 1999, made a major contribution to the governmental initiation of a long overdue revision of the German hunting law.
In 1984 CABS supplemented its work by a further aspect. In Raisdorf in Schleswig-Holstein the association purchased a pond complex which, in addition to a diverse bird life, also has a large amphibian population. The local conservation group “Naturschutzgruppe Raisdorf” supervised the measures for optimally improving the nature reserve, which expanded with the purchase of adjacent areas. In 1994 CABS purchased the neighbouring Schwentine meadows. This area with its rich biodiversity is now part of a forward-looking meadowland conservation project.
CABS began its practical activity in 1985 with its first bird protection camp in the Brescia region of Northern Italy. The annual camp soon became a well organised major campaign against poaching. From the beginning of the 1990s onwards operations were extended to Central and Southern Italy as well, and since 1996 also on Sardinia. More than 1,300 bird lovers from all over Europe have participated in these camps and have dismantled and collected in some 340,000 traps, 170,000 snares and 1,800 mist nets.
The fall of the Iron Curtain at the start of the 1990s led to a rapid increase in animal smuggling from Eastern Europe. Germany became the marketplace and the main customer for protected animals such as song birds, parrots, falcons, stuffed animals and birds and hunting trophies from all over the world. Nevertheless species protection still remains the poor relation of the environmental authorities. CABS is one of the few nature protection organisations which regularly provides the authorities with well-researched information on, and concrete evidence of, illegal animal trade. Dozens of taxidermists, parrot traders and song bird smugglers have had their illegal activities brought to an end in this way.
Nowhere in Europe are there so many bird trappers and hunters as in France. The capacities made available by the ending of bird trapping in Belgium were partly re-routed to France. Since 1992 CABS members have collected thousand of banned horsehair snares every year in the Ardennes. A campaign against the trapping of lapwing with spring nets in the Champagne region, begun in 1994, led very rapidly to the end of bird trapping in many areas. In addition, CABS has given financial support since 1996 to Basque conservationists from the organisation “Organidexka Col Libre” in their fight against hunting in the Pyrenees passes which are very important for migrating birds.
CABS activities took on a new dimension in 1999 with the agreement of the Italian forest police to cooperate in anti-poaching operations. This meant that the conservationists were no longer operating on their own, but in coordination and with the support of the authorities. This cooperation enabled the police to make many more arrests than had previously been possible. In Brescia alone CABS could notch up some 120 bird trappers caught in with their pants down. In North Italy, as on the islands in Southern Italy, poaching is in decline. Cooperation with the forest police and the Carabinieri has also led to major successes in the fight against the illegal trade in animals. In 2001 a Yugoslav smuggler gang, which had delivered tens of thousands of frozen birds to restaurants in Italy, was broken up.
In the course of EU expansion, the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta were targeted by CABS. Italian members of CABS were first active on Cyprus in 2001. In several operations financed by donations from Germany they managed to collect some 4,000 lime sticks which are set up in concealed locations along the south coast of the island. The first-rate experience with the Italian authorities was the basis for our Malta campaign which began in 2002. We were not only able to make contact with partner organisations from the start but also cooperated close with the Maltese environmental police. It is still too early to talk of far-reaching success on Malta, but there are already hopeful signs of improvement on the islands. The European Commission is keeping a watchful eye on Malta; the environmental police (ALE) are being allocated more personnel and the local organisations report growing support for nature protection among the population.
You can read an obituary of our deceased (2002) chair Eugen Tönnis here ...