Understanding effects of harvest on population dynamics is of major interest, especially for declining species. European lapwing Vanellus vanellus populations increased from the 1960s until the 1980s and declined strongly thereafter. About 400,000 lapwings are harvested annually and it is thus of high conservation relevance to assess whether hunting was a main cause for the observed changes in lapwing population trends. We developed a multi-event cause-specific mortality model which we applied to a long-term ring-recovery data set (1960-2010) of > 360,000 records to estimate survival and cause-specific mortalities. We found no temporal change in survival over the last 50 years for first-year (FY) and older birds (after first-year; AFY) originating from different ringing areas. Mean survival was high, around 0.60 and 0.80 for FY and AFY individuals, respectively. The proportion of total mortality due to hunting was <0.10 over the study period and the estimated proportion of harvested individuals (kill rate) was <0.05 in each year. Our result of constant survival indicates that demographic processes other than survival were responsible for the pronounced change in lapwing population trends in the 1980s. Our findings lend support to the hypothesis that hunting was not a significant contributor to the large-scale decline of lapwing populations. To halt the ongoing decline of European lapwing populations management should focus on life history stages other than survival (e.g. productivity). Further analyses are required to investigate the contribution of other demographic rates to the decline of lapwings and to identify the most efficient conservation actions.