[WATCH] Ornis Committee yet to meet despite hunting season starts in three days

BirdLife Malta presents letter to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat urging government to prioritise environmental law enforcement

Ornis Committee yet to meet despite hunting season starts in three days

The Ornis Committee, which usually meets to discuss concerns and set out an enforcement plan ahead of a hunting season, has not met since May – despite the fact that this year's autumn hunting season is set to open on Friday, BirdLife Malta said this morning. 

The Ornis Committee is composed of representatives of BirdLife Malta, the Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK), the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) and the Wild Birds Regulation Unit. 

At a press conference in front of Castille in Valletta, BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana said he had just presented a letter to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, outlining the NGO's concerns ahead of the opening of the season. 

The autumn hunting season lasts 150 days, until 31 January, and allows for the killing of 40 species of birds, 12 of which are hunted on the sea. 

Sultana called on the authorities to place environmental law enforcement as a priority during this period, in which around 10,000 hunters could be out hunting. 

"During the past autumns, we have received around 100 shot protected birds," he said. "This is only the tip of the iceberg representing only a small percentage of the total number of birds which are illegally shot during the season."

BirdLife Malta will be organising its annual Raptor Camp in the coming weeks to monitor illegal hunting during September and October, when birds of prey would be migrating over the Maltese islands in their hundreds. 

Forty-five minutes after BirdLife Malta started delivering their press conference outside the Prime Minister’s office, the parliamentary secretariat for animal rights – led by Clint Camilleri – issued the autumn hunting season notice through the Department of Information

“As was the case also in previous years, according to Conservation of Wild Birds Regulations (S.L. 549.42) the hunting of birds on land shall be permitted between the 1st September and the 31st January, between two hours before sunrise and two hours after sunset on any day between Monday and Saturday, and between two hours before sunrise and 1pm on Sundays and Public Holidays.

“However the hunting of birds on land between the 15th September and the 7th October (inclusive of both dates) shall not be permitted from Monday to Saturday between 7 pm and two hours before sunrise of the following day.”

The same time restrictions also apply to the hunting of wild rabbit, which is permitted until December 31.

The hunting of birds at sea shall be permitted between the 1st October and January 31 during the same times as those applicable to hunting on land, provided that between October 1 and October 7, inclusive of both dates, hunting at sea shall not be permitted from Monday to Saturday between 7 pm and two hours before sunrise of the following day.

Hunters can only hunt the species for which they are licensed according to their license category.

In line with the Legal Notice 69 of 2016, licensed hunters are required to report the birds caught via telephone reporting system prior to leaving the hunting area in accordance with instructions as stipulated in information booklet distributed together with hunting licenses.

Due to re-classification of the legal status of Red Breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) in 2016, the hunting of this species is no longer being allowed.

Moreover, according to Legal Notice 77 of 2016, hunting of Turtle Doves (Streptopelia turtur) shall be permitted between September 1 and 30 only, subject to maximum national quota of 7,000 birds.

Targeting of the Turtle Dove outside of this period is not permitted.

The Wild Birds Regulation Unit notes with satisfaction that exemplary improvements in compliance achieved over the past three years produced extremely visible positive change that was hardly conceivable in the past. However this progress, which is a result of cooperation between the government, members of the hunting community, and bird protection NGOs, needs to be further maintained and consolidated.

Whilst calling upon all hunters and hunting organizations to continue to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to illegalities, the Unit and other law enforcement entities shall continue to rigorously monitor and enforce compliance with applicable regulations through field surveillance, spot checks and inspections.

Camilleri wished hunters a good season and urged them to observe the laws “so that hunting is after all safeguarded”.

Environment ministry reaction

In a reaction, the ministry said that it would like to clarify that the board of the Ornis Committee “has already been formed and the members are being notified, before the season opens”.

It added that the board of the Ornis committee would be presided over by retired magistrate Dennis Montebello, with Sergei Golovkin acting as the board’s secretary. Members of the hunting community and NGOs will also be on the committee, it said.

According to the ministry, Environment minister Jose Herrera said he would be meeting the committee in “the coming days” and that the coming season, like all others, would be regulated by the Ornis Committee.

“In recent years, progress has been made. When compared with the level of enforcement before 2013, the number of enforcement officials has more than doubled, the number of on-site inspections increased by more than four times, while the number of protected birds which have been killed or injured has also decreased significantly,” read the statement.

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