Olive growers in Portugal have been banned this year from harvesting at night.
The move by the Portuguese government comes after a national study found that nocturnal suction olive harvesting was responsible for the deaths of millions of birds.
The ban on night-time harvesting is for one year only at this stage – though conservation groups are pressing the authorities to make it permanent.
Portugal’s Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests (INCF) is also to step up olive farm inspections between October and March 2021 to ensure growers comply with the ban on the use of mechanical harvesters at night.
It said the disturbance and killing of the birds was in violation of Portuguese law – and threatened than anyone caught flouting the law would face criminal charges.
Joaquim Teodósio, of Portugal’s Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA), said the one-year ban was a welcome first step.
Speaking to the Olive Oil Times, he said the practice of nocturnal olive harvesting should be permanently outlawed.
At present, the government has undertaken to review the decision on an annual basis.
“The Ministry of Agriculture hasn’t issued a statement clearly forbidding this practice, which leaves it up to authorities on the ground to interpret the law on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
“We’d like to see a firmer position from the ministry, and a permanent end to this harmful harvest.”
A study published by the INCF last year found that millions of songbirds were being killed every year in the Mediterranean basin as a result of nocturnal suction olive harvesting.
It is estimated that in Portugal alone around 96,000 birds are killed each harvest season.
Attempts to prevent the mass death of birds (including deliberately scaring them), has proved largely ineffective.
Another potential problem for Portugal’s bird population is the diminishing number of trees in the country.
Portugal loses more than three per cent of its forest to wildfires every year, making it the worst affected in Europe.
A report jointly released by the Portuguese Association of Nature and the World Wide Fund for Nature (ANP/WWF) in Portugal and Spain found the former country had lost the most hectares to accidental fires in the past 30 years.
The report, titled A Planet in Flames, said an average of 17,000 fires occurred on 120,000 hectares per year in Portugal.
That is 20 per cent more than in neighbouring Spain despite having 80 per cent less forest area, said the report.
“Portugal is the first country in Europe and the fourth in the world that has lost the largest forest mass since the beginning of the 21st century, largely due to forest fires that devastate the country every summer,” the report said.
“Year after year, the burnt area does not stop growing,” in Portugal, said WWF.