Hunters want Gozo minister to open spring season without Ornis consultation

BirdLife: ‘Prime Minister should not open spring hunting season, hunters are not a privileged section of society’

Bird conservationists have called on the Maltese prime minister not to treat hunters as a privileged section of Maltese society and keep the spring season shut.

“It is absurd that at this delicate moment the government even considers to open a spring hunting season for this year,” BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana stated.

“If Minister for Gozo Clint Camilleri – who has no legal rights over the environmental laws – or any other Cabinet member, open a spring hunting season, this would be highly irresponsible.

“It is unacceptable that in 2020 the government continues to be spineless towards a lobby which does not show any respect for Maltese society and which has lost control of its own members.”

On 10 March, the hunters lobby FKNK requested that Gozo minister Clint Camilleri, who is responsible for the Wild Birds Regulation Unit and the Ornis Committee, open the spring hunting season for quail and turtle dove in April.

But the Ornis Committee has so far not yet been appointed, which means recommendations on how to derogate from the EU ban on spring hunting cannot yet be discussed.

The hunters want the minister to announce the derogation and the hunting season without consulting the Ornis Committee.

Hundreds of hunters are aware of the COVID-19 shutdown and the stress it has placed on enforcement authorities in Malta.

“They are abusing the lack of public and police presence in the countryside to literally do what they want. These organisations – without any shame whatsoever – are even going as far as insisting with the goverment to open a spring hunting season,” Sultana said.

“Apart from the fact that at the moment the government has far more important priorities, this is surely not the time to burden police with more enforcement at such a delicate juncture, especially when the spring hunting derogation requires strict monitoring.”

In the past weeks BirdLife Malta teams observed several episodes of illegal hunting and trapping. Reports received by BirdLife Malta from the public indicate widespread illegal hunting on hundreds of herons, waders and birds of prey which have seeked shelter in the Maltese islands, particularly last Wednesday 25 March 2020.

The illegal hunting incidents were mostly evident in Gozo. Some of the members of the public told BirdLife they had witnessed first-hand a number of hunters with guns in the countryside around Malta and Gozo – all this happening during the closed season.

In the past days a number of birds of prey were recovered, including an Osprey, all confirmed as having been illegally shot. Yesterday BirdLife Malta also received a Common Kestrel and a Lesser Kestrel, together with an Eleonora’s Falcon received earlier – all illegal hunting casualties.

But even if any decision is taken with regard to the spring hunting season, the situation remains in limbo following an illegal decision to place the hunting and trapping remit under the Gozo Ministry – a move which led BirdLife Malta to take the government to court.

BirdLife Malta deems any action or decision to be taken in this regard as illegitimate if not taken under the Minister for the Environment, as stipulated by Malta’s environmental laws.

“We also hope that the Environment Minister is not used as a rubber stamp for the Gozo Minister’s decisions,” Sultana said. “Whilst spring migration has now started for several bird species, BirdLife Malta will continue monitoring activity in the countryside and collaborating with police as is its duty.

“We thank the public for their support in reporting illegalities. At this particular moment in time we should continue to assist the authorities in their work, and in view of this we call on the general public to continue reporting and helping us reduce such incidents. At the same time BirdLife Malta continues to hope for an end to the coronavirus crisis in the country and thanks the authorities for the valuable work they are doing.”