Why the public should get to vote on the future of spring hunting

MaltaToday supports Coalition Against Spring Hunting • Join us and sign the referendum petition

The Short Toed Eagle shot dead by poachers - the massacre has confirmed that Maltese hunters will abuse hunting regulations whether they get wide concessions or not.
The Short Toed Eagle shot dead by poachers - the massacre has confirmed that Maltese hunters will abuse hunting regulations whether they get wide concessions or not.

Since its inception MaltaToday has consistently opposed hunting in spring. Today MaltaToday is calling on its readers to support the campaign for banning spring hunting, which both the PN and the PL oppose. To do this a referendum needs to be called but not before the coalition collects thousands of signatures. MaltaToday is enclosing a petition which can be filled in by readers and others. It is one small way to take us to the next stage, a national referendum in May of next year.

The argument between conservationists and hunters in Malta over spring hunting has been going on for years. Long before Malta joined the EU, BirdLife Malta had been campaigning to raise awareness about the impact of unsustainable hunting and working to reduce this impact by lobbying for the introduction of new wildlife protection regulations.

Significant achievements include the expansion of Malta's list of protected species, the establishment of Bird Sanctuaries in some key areas and the creation of Malta's first nature reserves managed specifically for wildlife. Sadly, these measures were not enough to save birds such as the Maltese Falcon, the Mediterranean Barn Owl and the Jackdaw from extinction, and Malta's list of breeding birds is not what it should be for an island of this size and wealth of habitats, plants and insect diversity, but without them the situation would be much worse than it is today.

For the most part, it has been a small number of people dedicated to protecting wildlife and nature who have been the driving force behind the progress that has been made in Malta towards conserving nature and protecting wildlife. But occasionally an issue comes along that is so big, and affects so many people, that it brings the normally silent majority to life and becomes a topic of national importance. Spring hunting has become such an issue.

The rights and wrongs of spring hunting are no longer just being argued by conservationists on the one hand and hunters on the other. Hunting in spring is not a marginal issue that only hunters and bird watchers care about. It is a question of national importance. The silent majority are beginning to speak. And the call is for a referendum.

DOWNLOAD the referendum petition at this link and print out


Right to hunt in spring?

So two per cent of the Maltese population want to shoot Turtle Doves (and Quail) in the spring, why should that bother the rest of us? We might not get our kicks killing birds, but everyone has to have a hobby, right? Well, rights- yours, mine and everyone else's- are what this is all about.

When you remove all the dressing and make-up, this is the fundamental argument of the Maltese hunting lobby when they talk about why they should be allowed to turn the Maltese countryside into a live shooting gallery for three weeks in the spring, at a time when the birds migrating through Malta are on their way to Europe to breed and replenish their numbers.

Never mind that the two species in question - the Turtle Dove and the 'Common' Quail - are both threatened in Europe and that shooting them in spring is expressly prohibited by European wildlife directives. Never mind the impact shooting these birds in spring has on their populations or the collateral damage to protected birds shot illegally during the spring hunting season.

Considerations about the conservation of wildlife seem to be of little importance compared with hunters' freedom to exercise their inalienable right to hunt in spring. But is shooting birds for fun really a right? Like the right to food and shelter, the right to a fair wage or a fair trial? And how does the exercising of this right by more than 10,000 Maltese hunters impact on the rights of the remaining 400,000 Maltese people?

The right of access to the countryside

Large tracts of the countryside commonly owned by all Maltese people are made no-go areas during the hunting season because hunters claim the right to fire shotguns in public parts of the countryside used at other times of the year, when it is safe to do so, by walkers, picnickers, campers and people just out enjoying nature. This conflict of interest was highlighted by the forced cancellation of school visits to Majjistral Nature and History Park and Xrobb L-Għagin Nature Park last spring amidst fears for the safety of the children while hunters were shooting inside these public parks.

And spring being the time of year when the Maltese countryside is arguably at it's most beautiful -  lush and green with flowering plants, the days lengthening again after winter and full of abundant wildlife - surely if any time of the year should be keep free from the assault of flying lead and falling birds, it should be spring.

Too often we hear and read about people in the countryside being threatened and abused by hunters for getting in the way of them doing what they want - legal or otherwise. Whether it is entering someone's garden against their wishes to collect the bird they have just killed, or threatening people on public land for disrupting their sport, deliberately showering unsuspecting walkers with a rain of lead pellets or peppering the windows of cars and houses.

The countryside is not the private kingdom of hunters and trappers, however much they might behave like it is, and everyone has (or should have) an equal right to enjoy it in safety, free from danger of injury or threat of abuse. If the majority of these people are prevented from doing so in safety because of the proliferation of shotguns being fired in public areas, this is an infringement of their rights.

Equal rights with European hunters

This is something you read and hear a lot about when the topic of spring hunting comes up. The hunters' argument goes something like, "We're being treated unfairly. In other countries, hunting in spring is allowed. We just want the same rights as hunters in the rest of Europe". It's a clever ploy - no one likes the idea of Malta being picked on unfairly. What they don't say though is this: nowhere else in Europe is spring hunting for purely recreational purposes allowed. Malta is the only country in Europe that allows hunting in spring for sport. In other countries that permit shooting in spring it is either for invasive species (pest) control, for crop protection, disease control or air safety, but NOT just so recreational hunters can shoot birds for fun.

Maltese hunters, like their European counterparts, have a five-month-long autumn-winter open hunting season in which they can legally shoot more than 40 different species of bird. Isn't that enough? Is it really unfair to ask them to give the birds a chance to recover in spring?

The right to enjoy our shared natural heritage

Protected birds like Ospreys and flamingos, which are part of the common natural heritage the Maltese people share with people in more than 48 different countries in Europe and Africa, are killed so they can be stuffed and put in a display case, sold on the black market, or (even worse) just for the thrill of killing.

Malta has completely lost several breeding bird species in the last 40 years as direct result of pressure from hunting and trapping. It is only continued pressure from spring hunting that prevents Turtle Doves themselves from breeding regularly in the Maltese Islands, and the persistent problem of illegal hunting forms an insurmountable barrier to the reintroduction and recovery of Malta's many extinct breeding birds.

Is it right that the lives of these birds and our shared obligation (individually and as a nation) to protect them should be judged less important than the political expediency of keeping the hunting lobby sweet by letting them shoot in spring?

Right or wrong?

In all of these instances hunters' assumed rights impinge on the widely recognised and accepted rights of others: the right to access public areas of the countryside in safety whatever the time of year, the right to feel secure in you own property, the right to share in the collective enjoyment of Malta's wildlife.

True rights should be enjoyed by everyone equally, not exclusively by one group of people to the detriment of others. This is why spring hunting is an issue that affects all Maltese people and why all Maltese people should have a say in its future.

Why a referendum and why now?

Successive Maltese governments (of whatever political party) have remained deaf to arguments about the impact of spring hunting on wild bird populations. They have paid little heed to concerns about safe and fair access to the countryside, or to the collateral damage caused by illegal hunting of protected species. In fact, they seem only to have ears for the hunters' demands.

A public referendum on spring hunting has emerged as the only way to make politicians listen to the will of the majority on the issue of spring hunting. In a modern democratic society issues that concern and affect all Maltese people should not be decided based only on the special interests of a minority group wielding disproportionate political influence. The guiding principle of democracy is that the varied interests of all members of the population should be given equal weight. If that means signing a petition so that the government has to hold a referendum, then that is what we should all be doing if democracy and equal rights are truly ideals to which we aspire.

Signing the petition

A referendum on spring hunting will only be possible if enough people not only want it to happen, but sign the petition to say so. Before the petition can be presented to the government, 35,000 people (10% of voters) have to sign it, giving their name address and ID card number. All of these people must be Maltese citizens eligible to vote in a general election. All information provided on the petition forms is subject to the data protection act and will be kept confidential and not shared with any third parties or used in any way other than for the petition itself.

The campaign for a referendum on spring hunting has been quietly gathering pace over the last two months, with around 15,000 people already signing the petition so far. But now we need your help to collect the rest.

The petition form that comes with this article can be filled in by up to 12 people - and you can make as many copies of the blank form as you need to collect more signatures, so you can get your friends, family members and colleagues at work to sign before returning the form to the address provided. If you want to help make sure that spring hunting is put to a public vote, please share this petition as widely as you can and encourage others to do the same.

Blank petition forms can be obtained from BirdLife Malta or from any of the Coalition partners. If you would like to help with the collection of signatures at public events, please contact BirdLife Malta, [email protected], or the Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting, [email protected]

@eddyprivi The moral aspects of killing for food is completely different to the issues concerned with a minority of 10K people who want to kill birds as a 'hobby' denying the rest of the 400K people the right to enjoy them together with denying access of the same 400K people the access to the nicest areas of the countryside of Malta. Not considering the tourists which are the lifeblood of the country's economy. Just because the law currently allows it doesn't mean its right. Bear baiting was legal in the UK and enjoyed by the royalties, but after civilisation evolved and they realised it was just sheer cruelty they banned it way back in the 19th century. If they want to have a hobby they should do something that doesn't deprive people from enjoying the same nature and public space. And I haven't even touched on their incapability of exercising hunting within the parameters of the law and respecting endangered species!
Why should a referendum be held to try and deny those whose hobby is hunting from practicing their hobby, as long as they do this within the parameters of the law and EU regulations ? What if the vegetarians - who hate seeing other people eating any kind of meat - decide to push for a referendum to ban the slaughter of all kinds of animals ? Of course, the vegetarians would not have any hope of succeeding since even those who are campaigning against hunting, see nothing wrong in killing pigs, chicken, cows, fish etc.. !
One should be careful with this type of mindset. Legislating against spring hunting might be legislating against a minority. This doesn't mean that I am in favour of hunting. Let's put it this way. What if we legislate against Eurovision because it's a waste of money and we never get anything out of it. We wouldn't dare do it even though most of the people tells you that it's a waste of money. Or what if one legislates against fireworks which are annoying to people, especially sick people. No one will dare legislate against these things so why should we nitpick on which to legislate against? P.S. I believe that only one legislation is fit, ban politics for life if they say something before election and then somehow it is never done. And mind you, I am not referring to this current government only.