Reducing Illegal Trapping of Migrating Birds in Northern Egypt

Project location: EGYPT
Project start date: June 2014 - Project end date: June 2017
Project number: 2014-017
Beneficiary: Birdlife International


Owing to its strategic location at the intersection of two continents, Egypt is situated on internationally important migration routes for birds traveling between their breeding grounds in Eurasia and their wintering sites in Africa.  Each spring and autumn, many hundreds of millions of birds make the journey across the Mediterranean, including large proportions of the world populations of many European migrants. On the African-Eurasian flyway, 64 (34%) of the 188 passerine migrants are in decline. Major losses have been detected in iconic species such as European Redstart, Barn Swallow, Eurasian Cuckoo, Yellow Wagtail and European Turtle Dove, whilst species such as Red-backed Shrike and Eurasian Wryneck have suffered massive reductions in distribution and are already missing from large parts of their former range.

The hunting of migratory birds in Egypt is an ancient practice that has endured for centuries and is a significant socio-economic activity in the region, particularly in rural areas, involving thousands of people supporting a variety of groups at both a subsistence and livelihoods level.     The quarry species is quail, but the nature of the hunting is totally indiscriminate with a wide range of migrants being caught at the same time. Shrikes and Corncrakes are particularly vulnerable, but warblers, wheatears, larks, pipits, wagtails are also caught. Birds are offered as a delicacy in markets and restaurants across Egypt. Falcons are also caught in significant numbers, using specialised techniques.

Evidence emerged last year that this practice extends along around 700 kilometres of Egypt's Mediterranean coastline (approx. three quarters of Egypt's northern coast) with up to 3 rows of fine-mesh trapping nets set contiguously along the coast.  These nets are very difficult for many migratory birds to avoid as they form a barrier across their flight path, either across the Mediterranean or the Sahara, when they are looking for a place to rest.  Experts estimate that tens of millions of birds are caught in this way each year.  Additional illegal traps are also used; including the munsaab, a trap composed of grass or sticks in a tent like structure to catch ground- dwelling birds seeking shelter (quail, larks, wheatears, corncrakes etc.), and eb nets where trees and scrub are covered in large mist nets to catch perching species.  Other capture methods include the use of lime and targeted falcon catching, as well as hunting with guns.

The scale and indiscriminate method of today's hunting activity, particularly in the context of wider threats such as extensive habitat destruction and climate change, is unsustainable and is believed to be affecting many African-Eurasian migrants at the population level. 

While certain forms of bird trapping are already illegal in Egypt and there are statutory requirements in place to regulate mist netting (such as minimum distances between nets and maximum stipulated heights) the legal framework is very complex and therefore little understood by both the hunting community and those responsible for enforcement. (see also Activity 1 below)

Egypt has signed international agreements on the protection of birds, including the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). In 2012, it also became a signatory to the Raptor Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), agreeing to halt and reverse the declines in birds of prey numbers.  However, while there is strong commitment at a national level to abide by these agreements, resources and capacity among relevant government institutions and NGOs, for on the ground enforcement, are limited - therefore translation of the principles contained in these agreements into measures and actions to address the scale of  illegal bird killing has been minimal to-date.  This limited enforcement is exacerbated by poor public and hunter awareness of the impact of hunting and, in some cases, the legal restrictions. 

Action to address the proliferation of bird trapping also requires a greater understanding of the socio-economic drivers of the activity, and hence how to work with relevant communities to remove or adapt these and to explore alternative livelihood initiatives.

In November 2013, BirdLife and the Secretariat of the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) were instrumental in calling an emergency meeting in Bonn specifically to address the trapping of birds on the North African Mediterranean coast.  This was the first time such a meeting had been convened for a specific issue and was sponsored by the German Government in cooperation with the German Birdlife Partner, Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU).  Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE), the Birdlife Partner in Egypt, were funded to develop a draft action plan to bring to this workshop, which was then revised at the meeting, working with representatives of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), the Libyan Government, NABU, and members of the BirdLife Global Secretariat together with the scientific officers of CMS and the Raptor MOU.

The resulting draft action plan is undergoing final review and will be circulated to all workshop participants for implementation by end February 2014.  The proposed project will support the implementation of key aspects of this Action Plan and initiate a programme of work that will have a positive impact, both short- and long-term, on the trapping of migrating birds.

In December 2013, Birdlife International representatives, Marcus Kohler, Senior Programme Manager (Flyways), and Richard Grimmett, Director of Conservation met with the CEO of EEAA, Prof. Dr. Amr Al-Sammak,   in Cairo, Egypt. In this meeting, Dr. Amr expressed his commitment to support the action plan and address the scale of this practice, resources permitting.

The Nando Peretti Foundation has awarded a grant for this project. The following are the main activities involved in the project.

Activity 1

Establish a regular monitoring programme to record, analyse and share data on the scale of trapping practices.

Action 1.1

Establish monitoring methodology and indicators

It is critical that the scale and extent of bird trapping and illegal killing is appropriately monitored and a baseline for the extent of the practice is identified.  This will enable an accurate interpretation of the species involved, the relative numbers, and the development of a phenological understanding of the capture of non-quarry species. An efficient and standardized survey technique needs to be developed.

Action 1.2

Implement monitoring programme along the Mediterranean coast

This will require repeatable surveys during autumn each year and a pilot spring monitoring in year one, to assess the need for further spring monitoring.  The trends and the impact of the work being undertaken through the project to enforce legislation to restrict the practice will be evaluated through this action.

Action 1.3

Produce and disseminate annual monitoring reports.

An annual report will be produced outlining survey results and ultimately identifying trends. This will need to be disseminated to interested parties; donor sources and international conservation NGOs, the secretariat of the CMS; national partners of BirdLife and governments within the African-Eurasian flyway and feed into the communication plan (Activity 4) in tandem with the results of the socio-economic survey (Activity 5).


Activity 2. 

Clarify the legal aspects of bird trapping   

The situation with regard to the use of netting on the coast is very complex. In theory, regulations on bird hunting are issued by the Nature Conservation Sector of the EEAA, specifying which birds can be hunted and the duration of the hunting seasons. Although the EEAA and the Coast Guard are designated with enforcing such regulations and issuing the required permits, no clear roles have been allocated for such enforcement. There are complicated rules and regulations defining the length of netting allowed and quarry species. These rules are poorly understood by all stakeholders and do not, in principle, permit hunting within protected areas, which are also known to be used extensively for this practice along the coast.

There is a very real need to clarify the legal aspects and licencing procedures and, through greater understanding, also develop an effective means of implementation and a simplified means of regulating and addressing the indiscriminate nature of the practice.

The Action Plan has identified the need to conduct an in-depth legal review of existing legislation, international obligations, administrative structures and enforcement as an immediate priority to inform the means by which practical enforcement can be delivered. The results of this legal review will then be disseminated to the decision makers, judiciary and enforcement agencies, through the most appropriate means.

This specific component of the project will be implemented in coordination with EEAA's legal department, to ensure their participation and dedication to the Action Plan.


Activity 3.

Strengthen On-the-ground enforcement by relevant local agencies and demonstrate intent through short-term intervention to stop recognised illegal activity  

According to Law 4/1994, EEAA, the technical arm of the Ministry of Environment responsible for environmental management, has the central role in organizing and coordinating hunting management in Egypt. Law 4/1994 gives the EEAA responsibilities for the following:

-       Oversee compliance to international environmental conventions which

obligate the nation to set-up a system of hunting management and wildlife resource utilization;

-       Nominate species to be protected under Law 4;

-       Specify the circumstances when the hunting of protected species is to

be allowed;

-       Investigate and approve requests to hunt protected species;

-       Propose the areas where the provisions of the law shall apply;

-       Co-ordinate with the relevant bodies to insure that the necessary decrees are issued.

Furthermore, the legislation further obliges the EEAA to define the requirements of a hunting license, identify the competent authorities to carry out the provisions of the law and undertake other required actions to facilitate the application of the law. The Nature Conservation Sector is the department of EEAA responsible for biodiversity conservation. It is divided into two main sub departments: Protected Areas and Biodiversity. Hunting management falls under the latter. To date, the main focus has been management of the Protected Areas, but no hunting management unit has ever been formally established. There are no facilities, vehicles or other equipment explicitly for this purpose. While the Ministry of Environment has had some success in regulating hunting, its power and authority have been limited and for the most part it has been unable to fulfil its mandate under the law.

The key to delivery of enforcement mechanisms is to empower EEAA with a hunting management unit which can contribute to both the monitoring and enforcement of their international commitments in addressing this practice. There is a clearly identified commitment and will to do this, and staff can be allocated to deal with this issue, but the unit needs support with training and resources to deliver effective enforcement.

Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE) is developing an MOU to highlight and confirm the Egyptian government's commitment to the agreed Action Plan. This MOU will highlight the tasks and responsibilities to be undertaken by the hunting management unit within the EEAA, support for which is being sought through this grant request. The MOU is scheduled to be signed by April 2014.

Alongside empowerment of the EEAA, rangers at the National Parks along the Mediterranean Coast, who have a responsibility for enforcement within these protected areas, require a greater understanding of the legal aspects of hunting and their role in enforcing the regulations and capacity building in biodiversity conservation and monitoring to enhance their ability to manage and promote sustainable hunting practices along the coast.

Action 3.1

Provide hunting management staff with the necessary field materials and equipment to effectively detect and respond to illegal activity and to monitor the coastline.

Action 3.2

Organise targeted training workshops and make accessible existing and new training materials for employees of the hunting management unit of the EEAA, and young park rangers located along Egypt's Mediterranean coast.

Action 3.3

Strengthen and maintain cooperation of EEAA with the Environment Police, Coast Guards and local governorates (regional administrations) in Egypt.

By supporting the hunting management unit of the EEAA, a special emphasis will be placed on strengthening and maintaining cooperation with the security apparatuses responsible for the enforcement of laws and regulations. This is a crucial step, in light of recent security lapses and the instability over the past three years in Egypt, which has placed the conservation of nature as a lower priority in the eyes of executive bodies. Such cooperation will lay the foundations for implementing the law relating to biodiversity conservation and hunting management.

Action 3.4

Efforts to end illegal bird hunting along Egypt's northern Mediterranean coast will be piloted at designated protected areas located along the coast, in coordination with the Nature Conservation Sector of the EEAA, the Coast Guard, as well as Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE).  Such efforts will serve to demonstrate the intent of authorities, and can also be used as case studies in replicating these enforcement actions along the rest of Egypt's northern coast.


Activity 4.

Raise awareness of the impact, and the legal aspects, of hunting amongst local communities, relevant society groups, institutions and sectors within project area

Action 4.1

Informed and guided by the conclusions of the socio-economic study (outlined under Activity 5 below) and the factors influencing and the drivers behind bird trapping, produce a targeted Communications Plan, identifying key target audiences, key messages, and relevant communication channels and mechanisms to raise awareness of the impact of hunting and the regulatory framework governing the practice.

Action 4.2

Guided by the Communications Plan and informed by the results of the socio-economic study, ensure support from political and respected social leaders through local conservation groups (LCGs). Specific political and social leaders will be approached to ensure that sustainable hunting practices are adopted and promoted amongst the different local communities on Egypt's Mediterranean coast through meetings, roundtable discussions and public presentations as appropriate.

Action 4.3

In line with the Communications Plan, coordinate media work across all stakeholders (Multilateral Environmental Agreement Secretariats, BirdLife, EEAA, EGA, and NCE) to deliver international outreach activities to promote the activities and developments of the action plan.

During the summer of 2014, an MPhil student, supervised by the International Education Officer at the RSPB, BirdLife Partner in the UK, will be developing an environmental education strategy in support of the plan to address illegal bird trapping in Egypt.  This work will complement and work alongside the awareness raising activities outlined in the Communications Plan.


Activity 5.

Assess and Document the socio-economic drivers of bird trapping

An understanding of the socio-economic drivers behind the practice of bird trapping on the coast is crucial in ensuring an appropriate and measured response that is both enforceable and acceptable to local communities. It is known, for example, that some Bedouin communities have undertaken this practice since ancient times. 

This aspect of the action plan is being co-financed by the Swiss Embassy in Egypt.

Action 5.1

Establish survey methodology, including questionnaires and structured interviews.

Action 5.2 

Conduct survey amongst local community members engaged in hunting communities within the project area.

Action 5.3 

Produce and distribute survey report


Operational procedures:

BirdLife will implement the project in partnership with Nature Conservation Egypt, and in collaboration with key stakeholders within the wider CMS framework, principally UNEP/AEWA, and BirdLife's Migratory Soaring Birds Project (focused on raptor protection).

Nature Conservation Egypt will co-ordinate and manage activities in-country and at a local level, working with established contacts within the EEAA, and other relevant agencies, and within the regional governorates.  A proportion of NCE's Responsible Hunting Officer's time will be dedicated to delivery of the project - see attached budget for further detail.

BirdLife International will oversee project implementation and disseminate project results, through co-ordination of the Partnership's Global Flyways Programme.

In conclusion these are the main objectives of this project.

Project Aim:

To reduce the level of illegal hunting of migratory birds along the Mediterranean coast of North Egypt, through regular monitoring, strengthened legal enforcement and increased awareness of the impact amongst relevant communities and stakeholders.  

Expected Outcomes:

1.      Increased understanding of the scale and bird population impact of trapping (legal and illegal) on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt

2.      Increased understanding of the socio-economic drivers of bird hunting in Egypt, informing implementation of the agreed Action Plan

3.      Increased understanding of the existing laws and regulations related to bird hunting and trapping in Egypt amongst all key stakeholders and revisions to legislation advocated where necessary

4.      Timing and extent of netting at targeted protected areas along the Egyptian Mediterranean coast reduced by at least 50% by autumn 2017 through stronger on-the-ground enforcement

5.      Timing and extent of illegal trapping along the Egyptian Mediterranean coast reduced by 20% by the end of the project, through stronger on-the-ground enforcement.


Multiplier effects:

The project will contribute to the wider cross-regional and global aims of the BirdLife's Flyways Programme; working on the ground to protect chains of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas that are critical for migratory birds, and to reduce threats along their migratory routes.  The results of the project will help to inform actions to address illegal hunting elsewhere along the Africa-Eurasian flyway, and flyways in other parts of the world.

The project actions to address illegal trapping, will support the aims of the Migratory Soaring Birds project, positively impacting on birds of prey.

Experience gained through the project, and the relationships maintained and established with government agencies and local communities, will build the capacity and profile of national NGO Nature Conservation Egypt, strengthening their position and effectiveness in bird and nature conservation. 

think global, act local
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