After the matter was brought before the urgent applications judge of the Conseil d’État by two animal protection organisations a few days ago, the judge suspended authorisations to hunt skylarks using nets (pantes) and cages (matoles) that had been issued for the 2022-23 season by the Minister for the Environmental Transition and Cohesion in the French departments of Gironde, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne and Pyrénées-Atlantiques. The judge found that there were serious doubts about the conformity of the ministerial authorisations with EU legislation on the protection of birds.
The organisations One Voice and the Ligue pour la protection des oiseaux (LPO) asked the Conseil d’État to suspend the ministerial authorisations to hunt skylarks using nets (pantes) in the Gironde, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne and Pyrénées-Atlantiques departments, and using cages (matoles) in the Landes and Lot-et-Garonne departments for the 2022-2023 hunting season.
The European Birds Directive of 30 November 2009 prohibits techniques for the mass capture of birds regardless of species, including nets and traps. However, it provides for exemptions to be granted on two conditions: 1) that there is no alternative technique for capturing a particular species, 2) that the technique makes it possible to only capture that species, or if it captures other species it only does so in very small quantities without causing injury.
The urgent applications judge of the Conseil d’État observed that the ministry had not demonstrated, at the current stage of the investigation, that these traditional hunting methods were the only ones available for the capture of skylarks in the departments in question. The judge also noted that human consumption of the captured birds, which is the aim of the hunting according to the ministerial authorisations, can also be achieved by shooting or breeding.
The judge further noted that the methods authorised led to the capture of other birds, and could not be considered “selective”. At least 15% to 20% of other bird species are captured in matoles, which does not correspond to the “small quantity” required by European law as interpreted by the Court of Justice of the European Union. The ministry did not provide any figures for pantes, where nets can cover up to 50 m² with a mesh size that does not allow other birds to escape. Such methods can also trap protected bird species for which hunting is banned, and cause them significant harm.
While the disputed decisions emphasise the aim of conserving a "traditional" hunting method, the CJEU has found such grounds insufficient. In view of the emergency situation created for the species affected by these decisions, and the serious doubts concerning their legality, the urgent applications judge of the Conseil d’État suspended the authorisations granted on 4 October 2022 by the ministry for the environment, pending a decision on the merits.