Opening spring hunting in pandemic ‘unfair to Maltese and Gozitans’ – BirdLife

While people asked to stay indoors due to COVID-19 pandemic, 1% of population get to roam country to shoot birds

Common Kestrel shot
Common Kestrel shot

Opening the spring hunting season at such a delicate time would be unfair to the Maltese and Gozitans staying inside to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, BirdLife has said.

With people being asked to stay indoors and avoid unnecessary outdoor activities, 1% of the population will, as from Friday, be allowed to roam the countryside and shoot quail, BirdLife said. “Apart from this injustice, spring hunting is against the EU Birds Directive for the simple reason that birds flying to their breeding grounds should be protected, not shot,” Birdlife said.

BirdLife said the COVID-19 situation had already put a lot of strain on the police, and cast serious doubt as to whether the government could afford the necessary amount of enforcement officers needed to control hunting in spring.  

Around 35 officers in Malta and another seven in Gozo will have to work during the hunting hours, which are from two hours before sunrise until noon.

“BirdLife Malta has already communicated with the European Commission about this issue along with the fact that once again the government has chosen the dates of spring hunting for Quail to coincide with the peak migratory season of the vulnerable Turtle-dove,” the NGO said.

BirsLife said the season, which will run until 30 April, was “designed as a smokescreen” for hunters to shoot at the protected turtle dove along with a number of other protected birds.

“The lack of enforcement and lack of discipline by the hunters themselves augurs only another spring massacre with many illegally shot protected birds. In fact, to date since the closure of the last hunting season BirdLife Malta and police have already received 21 known illegally shot protected birds… shot down during the closed season, with the latest being two common kestrels, a lesser kestrel and a barn swallow.”

Barn Swallow Zejtun Shot
Barn Swallow Zejtun Shot

BirdLife released footage of a protected purple heron being shot at by hunters over Xrobb l-Għaġin last Sunday.

“In view of this we will strive to be a deterrent to illegalities and our Spring Watch camp will focus on particular areas known to be hotspots for illegalities. While visiting various areas in the countryside we will be in constant touch with the police. We clearly need their cooperation as much as they need ours. We also need the general public to report any illegalities they witness to police on 119 and to us on 7925 5697,” conservation manager Nicholas Barbara said.

CEO Mark Sultana said that if there was ever any doubt on the egoistic practice of hunting, this became clear when during a collective national effort to control the pandemic crisis by the public.

“The spring hunting season should never be opened for various conservation reasons, however this year the pandemic crisis just adds another relevant reason. If there was ever any doubt on the egoistic practice of hunting, this becomes clear when during a collective national effort to control the pandemic crisis by the general public, the hunting lobby looks solely at its own members’ interests. This contradicts drastically with the way BirdLife Malta and other eNGOs work, that is for the common good of the country,” Sultana said.

Sultana said that to make things worse, Malta currently has a prime minister who considers the hunting lobby as a privileged section of society, even when hunting itself is already a privilege.

“All this means that we need to work harder and we are calling on the general public to support us now more than ever. We are grateful to the independent media, to civil society in general and to many personal contributors even close to the Labour Party who have expressed their disapproval about this decision. We urge others to stand up and be counted and to the general public to join us in this fight to safeguard our natural heritage,” he said.