Skip to main content

Preventing the illegal capture, killing, and trade in wild birds

Despite the prohibitions of the Birds Directive, the illegal capture, killing or trade in wild birds is still a big problem in the EU.


The Birds Directive has succeeded in protecting many bird species in the EU over the past 40 years. However, there is still a significant problem with the illegal capture, killing or trade in wild birds. An estimated 25 million birds are killed every year around the Mediterranean Basin alone as they migrate between Europe and Africa.

Such wildlife crime has a negative impact on populations of certain wild bird species in the EU and beyond. It also presents a major barrier to their recovery. Although enforcement is primarily a responsibility of Member States, the Commission plays a major supporting role. It does this through awareness-raising, training of enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges, as well as information exchange and data gathering.

Policy initiatives

In 2017, the Commission updated a Roadmap towards eliminating illegal killing, trapping and trade in birds. It consists of a set of targeted actions to be carried out by Member States, stakeholders, and the Commission.

Bird crime is an international problem, especially in the Mediterranean Basin. Therefore , the EU also works actively with third countries within the framework of the Bern convention’s Tunis action plan 2013–2020 on the eradication of illegal killing, trapping and trade of Birds and of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

In 2016, an inter-governmental Task Force on illegal killing, taking and trade of migratory birds in the Mediterranean (MIKT) was set up under UNEP’s Convention on Migratory Species. Eight Member States participate in this Task Force, as well as the European Commission.

In 2022, the Commission adopted an updated EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking to put an end to illegal wildlife trade.

The Environmental Crime Directive also contains measures to counter the phenomenon. According to the Directive, the intentional and unlawful killing, destruction, possession or taking of specimens of protected wild fauna or flora species constitutes a criminal offence.  Member States are required to provide effective, dissuasive, and proportionate criminal penalties in their national legislation.

Information exchange, review and awareness raising

The EU Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL) has set up the IMPEL-ESIX communication tool. The tool is for information exchange and cooperation on bird crime between enforcement officials, national authorities and international and regional organisations of stakeholders. Activities include data gathering, strengthening links with the EU network of prosecutors, sharing expertise and facilitating information exchange, as well as developing a tool to support inspectors on the ground.

In 2022, the Commission published A review of good practices on preventing illegal killing, taking of and trade in birds in the EU. In 2013, the Commission also published a Review of measures to combat illegal poisoning.

EU LIFE Nature projects have also played a major role in piloting actions to raise awareness for and help prevent or at least reduce wildlife crime across the EU. The programme has invested more than EUR 70 million so far in over 40 LIFE projects targeting a range of illegal activities connected to wildlife, mainly across southern and central Europe. A dedicated publication shows how LIFE projects have already contributed to each of the areas identified in the Roadmap: monitoring and data collection, prevention, information exchange, training and awareness- raising, and enforcement and legal aspects.