International nature watchdog urges Vella to close Malta spring hunting season

International Union for Conservation of Nature calls on European Commissioner Karmenu Vella to protect the Turtle Dove against spring hunting season in Malta

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has urged the European Commission to request the closure of the spring hunting season to protect the European Turtle Dove.

This year, Malta has proceeded with opening its spring hunting season, which will allow 5,000 birds to be shot. 

“This is concerning given that the species has undergone a rapid decline in numbers in recent years and has now been up-listed to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species,” the international organization said. 

In a letter to the EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella, IUCN highlighted the conditions for sustainable hunting within the Birds Directive. 

In the case of species with an ‘unfavourable conservation status’ or with ‘very low population levels’, the Birds Directive clearly stipulates that a derogation should not be granted.

Research is still ongoing as to why the Turtle Dove is declining faster than other migratory bird species, but there is already evidence which links the serious fall in numbers to agricultural intensification, diseases and over-hunting. Until further research can be carried out to understand these threats and there is proof that can clearly demonstrate that spring hunting is sustainable, IUCN considers the practice to be questionable.

In order to save the Turtle Dove from a real threat of extinction, IUCN has requested the Commission to apply an urgent moratorium on spring hunting of the species in Malta. This should remain in place until sustainability and recovery of the Turtle Dove can be clearly demonstrated, the organization said. 

Malta remains the only country in the European Union that allows the killing of turtle doves during spring. Conservationists BirdLife have said that despite reports and scientific arguments that show that this bird is in danger due to an extraordinary decline, the Ornis Committee ignored all this to suggest another spring hunting season. 

“The Maltese government chose to open the hunting season in spring even though the Turtle Dove has been declared as a vulnerable species and although it is known that there is a strong presence of individuals who kill protected birds,” CEO Mark Sultana said. 

BirdLife has urged Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to close the season but so far the government has not shown any willingness to cut the season short as it had done last year following a series of illegalities. 

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