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Caught in the wire: European border fences threaten wildlife

PRESS RELEASE 23 June 2016 - The ongoing refugee crisis in Europe has seen many countries rush to construct security fences along their borders. These fences, however, do not only affect people, but unintentionally block the movements of wild animals as well.

The problem is surprisingly severe, according to new research conducted by an international team of scientists, including Arie Trouwborst of Tilburg University. This follows a trend of border fence construction across Eurasia during the post-9/11 era. 

The researchers chart the dimensions of the problem in an article published in the prominent journal PLoS Biology. They estimate the total length of border fences in Europe and Central Asia to be between 25,000 and 30,000 kilometres. The article documents the various ways in which these fences threaten wildlife.

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Major consequences for biodiversity

Border fences can block migratory routes and dissect already vulnerable animal populations straddling international boundaries. Besides, animals unfortunate enough to get entangled in a fence’s barbed or razor wire when attempting to cross, are likely to face a slow and grisly death. Large animals are especially affected, including large carnivores (bears, wolves, lynx) and herbivores (deer and bison in Europe, and a long list of Asian ungulates).

The researchers propose concrete measures to prevent and mitigate the adverse impacts of existing and planned border fences on wildlife as much as possible.

The end of transboundary conservation?

Arie Trouwborst, associate professor of environmental law with Tilburg Law School’s Department of European and International Public Law, scrutinized the international law and policy concerning biodiversity conservation in light of the border fence issue.

He notes the irony of the simultaneous rise of transboundary wildlife conservation paradigms in recent decades, such as the promotion of transboundary protected areas and the taking of coordinated action by countries sharing transboundary animal populations. According to Trouwborst, “the steep increase in border fencing is a huge spanner in the works of these transboundary wildlife conservation policies.”

Violation of international obligations

The researchers conclude that erecting or maintaining a border fence can entail the violation of obligations under international and European nature conservation law, including the Bonn Convention on Migratory Species and the EU Habitats Directive.

Red deer - Photo by Dejan Kaps

Red deer - Photo by Dejan Kaps

Note for editors

  • For additional information and photographic material  please contact dr. Arie Trouwborst at the Department of European and International Public Law of Tilburg Law School, e-mail a.trouwborst@tilburguniversity.edu; tel. +31 13 4668704.
  • See also J.D.C. Linnell, A. Trouwborst, L. Boitani e.a. (2016) Border security fencing and wildlife: the end of the transboundary paradigm in Eurasia? 14(6) PLoS Biology, available at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002483 (open access).