[WATCH] Postpone autumn hunting season by a month, BirdLife tells Prime Minister

Birdlife has asked the Prime Minister to delay the start of the autumn hunting season to 15 October so as to avoid the peak migration period for protected birds of prey throughout September

BirdLife's call comes after storks were illegally killed over the past few weeks
BirdLife's call comes after storks were illegally killed over the past few weeks
Mark Sultana on the forthcoming autumn hunting season that opens on 1 September

The autumn hunting season is supposed to start on Saturday but BirdLife have asked the Prime Minister to postpone the opening by a month-and-a-half to reduce the possibility of illegal shooting of birds of prey.

September is considered to be a peak season for the migration of protected birds of prey.

BirdLife Malta's CEO Mark Sultana said the organisation wrote to Joseph Muscat, asking him to delay the commencement of the autumn hunting season until 15 October.

Despite the NGO’s request, the government announced shortly before the press conference started, that the Parliamentary Secretariat for Animal Rights said in a statement that the autumn hunting season on land would commence on the 1 September, while hunting from the sea would start on 1 October.

Both hunting seasons will end on the 31 January next year.

Sultana said statistics showed that illegalities soared during the open season. "The open season acts as a smokescreen for illegal hunting... If proper enforcement is not in place, then the Prime Minister has no choice but to postpone this smokescreen, especially at a time when most migratory birds of prey are flying over Malta," Sultana said.

BirdLife has long-maintained that legislation regulating the autumn hunting season has been weakened over the years. While in the past, hunters could only set foot on the Maltese countryside until 3pm, current legislation allows them this freedom until 7pm.

The bird conservation group's call comes in the wake of the recent shooting of protected storks that rested in Malta. A man is currently facing court proceedings after he was charged with the shooting of three storks.

On Wednesday German bird conservation group CABS, said the last of the storks to be left alive was presumed dead after it was no longer spotted by volunteers.

Until a Wildlife Crime Unit is established, Sultana said, the postponement is a must.

"The Prime Minister should feel sufficiently pressed by the Ornis Committee that has supported the creation of such a unit, which would be solely in charge of monitoring illegalities in the countryside," Sultana said. He emphasised that a dedicated police unit would concentrate on all kinds of environmental crimes, including what happened earlier this month at Maqluba.

BirdLife Malta President Darryl Grima, said that other green NGOs supported the organisation's call for the autumn season to open on 15 October, which would bring Maltese hunting practice in line with EU regulations.

BirdLife said 82 protected birds were killed last year, the worst statistic in five years. These were examined by veterinarians and were confirmed to have been shot. But Sultana said this was just a "tiny part of the entire picture" as most downed birds were collected by hunters to be stuffed and displayed in cabinets at home.

This year, the number of observed illegalities already stand at 44, he added. "A year ago today, this statistic was down to 27, which means that if last year's autumn practices are repeated, a total of over 100 protected birds could be shot and killed this year," Sultana said.

The Prime Minister is yet to respond to BirdLife's request.

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