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A sticky business

Limesticks in Provence

Few birds survive the limestick tortureFew birds survive the limestick tortureProvence does not necessarily deserve its reputation as a wonderful place to visit - at least not for birds. The feathered guests that come to spend the winter in the mild climate of the hilly countryside are persecuted and brutally trapped and killed on a massive scale

As in Northern Italy most hunters in Provence shoot at migrant birds from camouflaged hunting hides. A hide is built on a specially cleared are in the woods where the hunter lies in wait for his prey. The cleared area around the hide is strewn with food for the birds and watering places make it attractive for the birds. But the most essential part of the death trap is the call of the decoy birds that lures their wild companions in front of the guns.

In order to ensure an adequate supply of decoy birds the French government permits trapping of thrushes. In five Provence Départements thousands of hunters are permitted to set out sticks coated with very adhesive lime on which song birds land - and remain stuck. The requirements for licence holders are strict. Each trapper is only permitted to catch 20 birds a year, must be present throughout to ensure that the birds do not suffer injury, and may only set out his limesticks in the early morning hours. Sale of the birds is strictly prohibited.

Not all hunters in the outlying Provence villages, with no bothersome tourists admiring the fields of lavender in November, comply with these restrictions. CABS research has uncovered a brisk trade in the birds - not only to other French hunters but also to owners of hunting hides in North Italy.

CABS staff member with limesticks found in ProvenceCABS staff member with limesticks found in ProvenceThe quota is a figment of a civil servant’s imagination. The trapping season last for eight weeks in autumn and each trapper sets out hundreds of limesticks. It is unrealistic to believe that after catching his 20 birds - in at most a week (which local trappers freely confirm) - he then packs up his limesticks and goes home - especially if some profit is to be made on the side. Most continue trapping illegally and there are no effective controls.

It is reasonable to believe that some 300,000 thrushes and other song birds fall victim to limesticks in Provence every year. France is the only EU member state that still permits trapping with limesticks. With the support of the German Wildlife Conservation Society CABS conducted a research expedition in Provence in 2009 and collected information and data on trapping in the region. The results were presented to the European Commission in a comprehensive position document. Since then the political pressure on the authorities in the affected Départements has somewhat increased