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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

The need for dialogue on hunting and conservation

Celebration of the 35th anniversary of FACE (Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the EU

Brussels, 7 September 2012

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here today and celebrate with you not only the 35th anniversary of FACE (Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the European Union), but also the 20th anniversary of the Habitats Directive, the cornerstone - together with the Birds Directive - of Europe's nature conservation policy.

Let me start by thanking you, in particular your president, Mr Gilbert de Turckheim, and Secretary-general, Mr Yves Lecocq, for your contribution and constructive role in supporting Member States' and the European Commission's efforts to preserve Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats.

The continuing deterioration of natural habitats and the threats posed to certain species are of great concern to the EU. The unprecedented loss of biological diversity that we are witnessing today, threatens to push our planet's life support systems beyond the point of no return.

The EU has taken a strong stance to invert this trend. Through the Natura 2000 network of protected sites – one of the main pillars of our legislation - the EU has built a network of 26.000 protected areas across its Member States and an area of more than 750.000 km2. This is equivalent to approximately 18% of the EU territory and protects over 1.000 animals and plant species and over 200 "habitat types".

Our objective is to invert current trends and halt the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services by 2020. This is an enormous challenge. Legislation alone, however, will not be sufficient. To succeed we need to join forces, we need to work more closely together, and most importantly, we need to want to go in the same direction.

We can look back at the last 35 years with some satisfaction. We have made significant progress in key areas. The Sustainable Hunting Initiative is a very good example of constructive dialogue between all different parties involved and shows how much can be achieved through proactive involvement and cooperation. The 10-point agreement signed by BirdLife and FACE under the auspices of the Commission in 2004, that resulted for example in activities such as the Hunting Guide in 2007, has been an important milestone in this regard. But we can and must do more.

We need to make more progress on sustainable hunting: we have to recognise that many semi-natural ecosystems have deteriorated and are continuing to do so. And, often, rather detrimental intensive hunting-practices are adding pressure in these areas. We need take steps towards more sustainable approaches. This will imply adapting some hunting-practices. But, I think that we can work together to promote an outcome which benefits both the hunting community and nature. Hunters would benefit from improved hunting conditions with healthy habitats as well as a greater acceptance of their activities by the public at large.

We already have a very good basis. The already mentioned agreement between BirdLife and FACE has already delivered a lot at the EU level, what we need now is to make further efforts to implement it on the ground, at national and regional levels.

We need to work closely together to improve the current monitoring system: Bag statistics, especially for migratory bird species, are of paramount importance to ensure their sustainable management. I therefore encourage you to play a more active role in supporting the co-ordinated monitoring-schemes which are being established in Europe.

We also need greater cooperation in the fight against illegal killing: Illegal killing of birds, for example, still occurs and we count on hunting associations to help Member States and local authorities to fight against this, and to continue participating in constructive initiatives in this field, as FACE has been doing for many years.

And finally - and I come to the issue of greater concern to you - large carnivores. I am aware that the protection and conservation of large carnivores generate strong emotions among hunters and that they represent a challenge for conservation in a crowded continent like Europe. I am also aware that some hunters do not welcome the return of wolves, bears and lynx.

But large carnivores are an important part of our natural habitat and we need to learn to coexist again. Large carnivores play an important function within healthy ecosystems and are part of the European biodiversity heritage. They need their prey for survival and predation is part of the natural processes that biodiversity conservation aims to restore. As it is crucial that all stakeholders – including you, hunters - accept the need to restore large and viable populations of large carnivores in Europe, it is also important that us, 'nature' people responsible for preservation of biodiversity, listen to your concerns and your ideas. We need a dialogue, based on good will and good intentions, taking into account the overall objective of restoring and protecting large carnivore populations in Europe.

Hunting associations are well-placed to play a key role in this by promoting the respect for legality and a better understanding and acceptance of these animals. In this context, I very much welcome FACE's decision to participate in the Commission's recent initiative to support a constructive dialogue between stakeholders on large carnivores at EU level.

As you are aware, last April the Commission has started a dialogue among the different stakeholders who have an interest in large carnivores. The process should build on the results of earlier similar initiatives, lessons from implementing the Habitats Directive, the Commission guidance population-level management of large carnivores, and the work of the Council of Europe and the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe. We will build on the positive experience of the sustainable hunting initiative and of the LIFE programme.

Let me conclude by thanking you once again for your involvement and support, your constructiveness and readiness to help and cooperate. Even if our views sometimes diverge, in essence we share the same vision: managing wildlife and their habitats sustainably to ensure long-term maintenance of healthy populations of species. It is a vision worth of our joint efforts!

Thank you.

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