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European Commission - Press release

Commission refers Austria to Court over hunting of wild birds

Brussels, 17 May 2018

The European Commission has decided to refer Austria to the Court of Justice of the EU for allowing the hunt of woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) during its reproductive period in the Land of Lower Austria, in breach of the EU rules on the conservation of wild birds.

The woodcock is protected under the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC). The Directive recognises hunting of birds listed in Annex II of the Directive under certain conditions as a legitimate activity, but bans it during periods when birds are most vulnerable, for instance, during the period of reproduction and return to rearing grounds of migratory birds. Member States may derogate from this prohibition of spring hunting only when there is no other satisfactory solution and when only a small number of birds is affected.

Lower Austria authorises the spring hunting of woodcock from 1 March until 15 April, which coincides with the breeding and rearing season of the local breeding population.

In the view of the Commission, the strict conditions for derogation are not fulfilled and, therefore, Austria is in breach of the Birds Directive. Firstly, there is 'another satisfactory solution' in the form of autumn hunting which is widely practised in other Member States and other Austrian regions. Secondly, Lower Austria authorises a number of birds that cannot be regarded as small within the meaning of the Birds Directive.

The Commission initiated the infringement proceedings in September 2013 and sent a reasoned opinion to the Austrian authorities in May 2015. Various further exchanges at political level with the Austrian authorities took place since then but did not lead to a resolution. Lower Austria is the only remaining Land in Austria that has not yet prohibited the spring hunt of woodcock.


The Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC) creates a comprehensive scheme of protection for all wild bird species naturally occurring in the EU. The Directive bans activities that directly threaten birds, such as the indiscriminate killing or capture of birds, the destruction of their nests and taking of their eggs. The Directive recognises hunting as a legitimate activity and provides a comprehensive system for the management of hunting (limited to certain species listed in Annex II of the Directive) to ensure that this practice is sustainable. Hunting is banned, for instance, during periods when birds are most vulnerable.

For More Information

- On the monitoring the EU law in the area of Environment.

- On the key decisions of the May 2018 infringements package, please refer to the full MEMO/18/3446.

- On the general infringements procedure, see MEMO/12/12.

- On the EU infringements procedure.


Press contacts:

General public inquiries: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 67 89 10 11 or by email

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