Bird protection camp against the Ortolan bunting in Southern France
Until recently, Ortolan trapping is in the southwest of France was widespread and a good business: Gourmet diners pay up to 200€ in high class restaurants for a single bird. The endangered bunting species is caught with small traps and live lures. The authorities have turned a blind eye to this problem for decades. That is until the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) started our bird protection camps in Les Landes.
Since 2011, the committee has been carrying out operations in the southern region. The focus is on the villages around the small town of Mont-de-Marsan - the "epicentre" of Ortolan poaching in Europe. This is where most of the trappers do their work and where local politicians, hunting associations and authorities also support the criminal bird trappers.
The operations have turned out to be quite tricky, as the trapping sites are usually in the immediate vicinity of houses. The trappers are aggressive, but so far it has almost always been verbal threats or small chases with the car. In one case an Italian CABS member was threatened with a firearm, in another case a poacher shot at a CABS team with shotgun - albeit from a distance. The police had to attend more than once to protect committee teams from angry bird trappers.
And the authorities weren't always on our side either: in the summer of 2013our teams were expelled from the Les Landes department - allegedly for our safety. In reality, the officers wanted to prevent us from taking any further action against the Ortolan trappers. We filed a lawsuit against the expulsion, which was illegal under EU law, and we were proved right - in 2014 we were able to work there again on a regular basis.
The tolerance of the ortolan trapping is now a thing of the past. Since 2016, the police have been serious in following our reports, clearing trapping sites and bringing bird poachers to court. The Ortolan trapping has almost come to a complete standstill. Where in 2010 hundreds of sites were still active for weeks, today there are probably only a few dozen that are operated during a few good days of migration. Today, our CABS members mostly rely on aerial surveys and map and monitor the known trapping areas with a small airplane. Active sites are reported to the authorities - but none have not been found now since 2017!