BirdLife’s urgent appeal to end hunting of turtle dove in spring

A recent report by the International Union of Conservation of Nature, the world’s oldest and largest environmental network, placed the European turtle dove on the European red list of endangered species, after its populations plummeted by 80% since the 1980s. 

Vulnerable turtle dove population now risking more than ever of becoming just an image of the past
Vulnerable turtle dove population now risking more than ever of becoming just an image of the past

The European turtle dove’s new ‘vulnerable’ status has added urgency for Malta to stop hunting it in spring, BirdLife Europe has warned. 

“We believe that the current spring hunting of turtle dove in Malta does not comply with the strict requirements of the Birds Directive,” Birdlife’s European Species Programme Officer Christina Ieronymidou told MaltaToday. “The worsening conservation status of the European turtle dove makes the spring hunting derogation even less justified and adds urgency to the need for Malta to fully comply with its legal obligations.” 

A recent report by the International Union of Conservation of Nature, the world’s oldest and largest environmental network, placed the European turtle dove on the European red list of endangered species, after its populations plummeted by 80% since the 1980s. 

BirdLife Europe has acknowledged that the turtle dove’s decline is primarily due to a loss of breeding and foraging habitat, but has warned that unsustainable levels of hunting during migration is a contributory factor that could become more serious as turtle dove populations continue to decline. They have therefore called for an assessment on the hunting of the species. 

However, local hunting federation FKNK has dismissed any correlation between the turtle dove’s new vulnerable status and Malta’s spring hunting season. 

“The European turtle dove’s decline is largely due to the destruction of its habitats,” FKNK CEO executive Lino Farrugia told MaltaToday. “Hunting is not the main cause for its decline and Malta’s spring hunting season is insignificant to the greater picture.

“The IUCN doesn’t care about Malta’s spring hunting season,” he said, arguing that the turtle dove quarry shot down in Malta is just a small fraction of those shot down in Europe. 

Yet the European Commission has warned that the situation has changed since the EU Court’s most recent spring hunting judgement. 

“The data available at the time of the Court’s judgement in the Maltese spring hunting case for this year indicated that the two species [turtle dove and quail] concerned by the derogation could not be considered as vulnerable,” a spokesperson for the European Environment Commission told MaltaToday.

“Taking this into account, the Court stressed that the proportionality principle applies when derogations are granted and that spring hunting would be allowed as long as it is strictly necessary and without jeopardising the objectives of the Birds Directive.

“The situation has in the meanwhile changed. One of the two species subject to the spring hunting derogation in Malta over the last years, the turtle dove, is now ‘vulnerable’ and its short and long term prospects indicate decline.” 

The Commission added that it is now up to the Maltese authorities to draw on this recent scientific data and prove that any future spring hunting derogation doesn’t place further undue pressure on the turtle dove or jeopardise its conservation status.  

The government has so far remained tight-lipped about the implications of the turtle dove’s new status on Malta’s controversial spring hunting season. 

In response to such questions by MaltaToday, agriculture parliamentary secretary Roderick Galdes simply said that the government always takes the most recent scientific information into account before making a decision on whether to open the spring hunting season or not. 

“We will take full account of all data, including the IUCN’s, before making a decision on the 2016 spring hunting season,” Galdes said. “There is no change to the government’s approach.” 

Opposition MP Charlo Bonnici, the PN’s spokesperson on hunting, said that the Nationalist Party must analyse the IUCN’s technical report in full before reaching an official stance. 

“The Ornis Committee will have ample time to analyse and discuss the implications of this report,” Bonnici said, referring to the government’s consultative body on hunting regulations, which has been heavily criticised for its bias towards the hunting lobby. “They are technical experts on hunting and I am sure that they will discuss this report’s implications on the spring hunting season, as they do all related scientific developments.”   

Ornis chairman Mark Anthony Falzon has refused to speak to this newspaper about Ornis-related matters.

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