Why not just rename Ornis the ‘Society for the Protection and Care of Hunters’?

In case it wasn’t already obvious from all the derogations Malta has already obtained from European law… we had to be reminded that the WRBU also exists only to service this one particular lobby-group

(File photo)
(File photo)

It had to happen, I suppose. Just when we thought the hunting controversies of yesteryear had finally settled into an uneasy compromise… out comes the Wild Birds Regulatory Unit [WRBU] with a new proposal: this time, a ‘year-round season’ for ‘captive-bred, released birds’.

You know, just like that. No advance warning, no consultation with the general public, no apparent scientific studies of any kind… and above all, not a word of explanation or justification. They just hatched this bird-brained scheme straight out of an egg, as part of an official ‘captive-breeding programme’ for policies and ideas that exist solely for the benefit of Malta’s community of hunters and trappers… and for no other conceivable purpose.

For let’s face it: who else can possibly benefit from a hunting season lasting a full 365 days a year? The birds? The environment? The rest of Malta’s non-hunting population?

No: just the hunters, and no one else. For in case it wasn’t already obvious from all the derogations Malta has already obtained from European law… we had to be reminded that the WRBU also exists only to service this one particular lobby-group, to the exclusion of all other considerations.

And it’s not even something they’ve ever tried to hide. According to the description on Gov.mt, the WRBU was established “to oversee and drive the implementation of Government policy in relation to sustainable hunting governance and wild birds conservation” – please note the order of priority – and item number one on its agenda is the “implementation of a sweeping reform of the relevant legislation concerning hunting and live-capturing to ensure simplification, greater effectiveness, safeguarding the rights of all citizens including hunters and live-capturers, as well as ensuring enforcement and compliance”… followed by the “the centralisation, simplification and streamlining of licensing processes and provision of a one-stop-shop service to hunters and live-capturers.”

In case it wasn’t already obvious from all the derogations Malta has already obtained from European law… we had to be reminded that the WRBU also exists only to service this one particular lobby-group

Got that, folks? A “one-stop shop service” for hunters. Not once, not twice, but three times (in the first four paragraphs of its own mission statement) the Wild Birds Regulatory Unit rubs our noses in the fact that it is concerned with one thing, and one thing only: making life easier for hunters and trappers, and more difficult for the ‘wild birds’ it is supposed to be ‘conserving’.

Oh, and it’s a member of the ‘Ornis Committee’, too… alongside two representatives of hunters’ associations; three government-appointed ‘experts’ (who always somehow approve whatever new hunter-friendly initiative comes before the committee); one ‘expert on hunting and trapping’; one ‘expert on the conservation of birds’; and two representatives of BirdLife Malta. Not to mention a Chairman who has a ‘casting vote’… and you’ll never guess how he consistently casts it…

By my count, that makes only three members (out of 11) who are there for the benefit of birds – as opposed to hunters, like the remaining eight. So the committee’s very composition was planned a priori to ensure that they would be out-voted every time.

Unsurprisingly, this is what has happened at Ornis meetings ever since the committee was first set up in 2006. Here are a few legal amendments, enacted on the advice of the Ornis Committee, lifted (once again) from the government’s website:

“LN 422/2011 - Declaration of a period for Taking Song Thrush”

“LN 108/2012 Declaration on a Derogation for a 2012 Spring Hunting Season for Turtle Dove and Quail”

“LN 303/2012: Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening an Autumn Live-Capturing Season for Song Thrush and Golden Plover…”

And on it goes: one legal notice after another, after another… all of which, without exception (you can check this for yourself at https://msdec.gov.mt/en/Pages/WBRU/Legislation--Policy.aspx) making more concessions to hunters and trappers; with not one offering any form of respite whatsoever to the birds.

In other words, not a single, solitary legal notice, in over 12 years, which places a single, solitary restriction on the activity of hunting and trapping in Malta and Gozo.

Make it just a little bit more obvious, why don’t you? You never know, there might still be some people out there who think the word ‘Ornis’ may have some sort of relevance to birdlife. So why not spell it out to them… literally?

Just change your name to the ‘Society For the Protection and Care of Hunters and Trappers’. For one thing, it would be more honest; and for another… well, the resulting acronym would suit the Ornis Committee a whole lot better, too.

SPCHT! The sound of spent cartridges being ejected from a shotgun…    

But this time, both Ornis and the WBRU have taken this unofficial mission statement of theirs slightly too far. Those other legal amendments I listed above? Controversial or otherwise, they all fell broadly within the parameters of the existing rules and regulations. Derogations are permitted under EU Law… what remains to be debated is whether they should have been permitted in those cases (and I won’t bother going into all that again).

This new proposal, on the other hand, is unlike anything I have ever seen before. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

The official aim is to “amend the law to allow huntable game, like the Chukar partridge, to be released in the wild to then be hunted. The law today already allows this but only during hunting seasons. They want to do this activity all year round…”

Erm… there was a reason, you know, why releasing ‘huntable game’ was only ever permitted during the hunting season. It’s because ‘game’ only becomes ‘huntable’ when the law permits you to actually hunt it. (At the risk of over-labouring the point: that is also what the term ‘hunting seasons’ actually means. It’s the time of year when it becomes legal to ‘hunt’… implying, inter alia, that hunting is illegal at all other times.)

Allow that same activity to take place all year round… and, well, “all year round” becomes the new hunting season, doesn’t it? Effectively, what the WBRU is proposing is not the extension of any existing season… but the abolition of hunting seasons in their entirety.

Under this absurd proposal, it will become permissible to carry a gun, and shoot certain species, literally every day of the year. And yes, sure… on paper, it will only apply to the ‘Chukar partridge’, or whatever other alien, invasive species they choose to breed and release for the purpose of shooting.

But there are two serious addenda to that (neither of which, it seems, was even considered while drawing up this proposal).

One, the Chukar partridge is actually native to Western and Central Asia. Unlike the Turtle Dove or Common Quail, it is not, and has never been, a ‘traditional’ huntable species in Malta.

I was under the impression that ‘tradition’ formed a central plank in the Ornis Committee’s arguments, in favour of both a spring hunting derogation for Quail, and also to trap Thrush and Golden Plover. Those activities were supposed to be part of Malta’s rural/cultural landscape… and that was (officially, at least) the whole point in applying to be exempted from the European Wild Birds Directive.

How did we suddenly extend that to a bird that has never been recorded here in the wild before… for the perfectly natural reason that it actually belongs on the clean other side of the flipping planet? Not to mention the possible danger of accidentally establishing a permanent breeding population here… with unforeseeable consequences for the local ecosystem.

But I’ll leave that to the ‘experts in bird conservation’ to explain at their leisure. It is the second problem that should worry us more.

We all know from past experience that ‘species-specific’ hunting seasons just don’t work in Malta. We have a derogation to shoot quail – and ONLY quail – in spring… yet year in, year out, any number of ‘protected species’ - including storks, swans, short-toed eagles, marsh harriers, night herons, etc. - get gunned down by the flock-full.

We also know that the Administrative Law Enforcement sector is too woefully under-resourced to properly monitor hunting and trapping activities, even over those few weeks in spring and autumn… so you can just imagine how effective they’d be monitoring the same situation, with the same resources, for 52 whole weeks a year.

In the absence of any serious monitoring/enforcement capability – and there’s no use lying about this: it just doesn’t exist here - the only upshot is that it will be impossible to tell exactly what is being shot, where, and by whom. Each and every single day of the year…

I mean, come on. What is that, if not a direct return to the pre-1980 era… before such things as ‘hunting seasons’ even existed; and before activities such as ‘hunting’ and ‘trapping’ were even regulated at all?

They may as well just go the whole hog, and simply abolish all hunting regulations of any kind. The hunters would be happy, wouldn’t they? And that, at the end of the day, is the only thing that has ever really mattered.

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