BirdLife: ‘Worst year for illegal hunting’ as government gives in to hunting lobby

BirdLife says police has not deployed enough officers to patrol 10,600 hunters

Five illegally shot protected birds retrieved in just one day earlier this week
Five illegally shot protected birds retrieved in just one day earlier this week

With only nine months into 2020, BirdLife Malta has retrieved more illegally shot protected birds than the last eight years.

The conservationist society said that up to 22 September, 139 protected birds were retrieved after being shot by hunters. A total of 618 birds were retrieved since 2013, 70% of these in the last four years.

Commenting about this year’s autumn hunting season which opened on 1st September, BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana stated: “When the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) took over the enforcement of bird protection laws from the Environment & Resources Authority (ERA), enforcement deteriorated to being non-existent. To add insult to injury, last January Prime Minister Robert Abela moved WBRU – which is run by hunters and trappers – under the Minister of Gozo Clint Camilleri; a well-known pro-hunter and trapper. Malta has never experienced a government so much in favour of hunting and trapping.”

This autumn, as also documented by the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), BirdLife Malta’s Raptor Camp teams of volunteers have witnessed a high disregard for the law and poor effectiveness from the newly rebranded Environmental Protection Unit (EPU) within the Police, formerly the Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) unit.

BirdLife said that the ALE did not capacity-build for the bird migration period with 15 officers to deal with 10,600 hunters. In past years this section had been beefed up with at least 40 police officers during the migration season of birds of prey, which are the most targeted birds.

BirdLife Malta Head of Conservation Nicholas Barbara said: “CABS and BirdLife Malta are witnessing numerous illegalities, but the EPU officers are not. Illegalities such as the indiscriminate use of bird callers, shooting at protected species, hunting after the 7pm curfew, hunting after the 1pm curfew on Sundays and public holidays are now a daily occurrence.

“Calling for assistance by EPU in the last days meant waiting for the use of a single vehicle patrolling all of Malta. Our volunteers are also facing a lot of abuse and intimidation by hunters, with one particular incident in Girgenti documented and reported to the Rabat Police station – action should be taken shortly.”

BirdLife called on Prime Minister Robert Abela to boost the heavily under-resourced EPU police unit with immediate effect and to remove bird protection enforcement from a weakened and biased WBRU and transfer this remit to ERA which already has the knowhow and will to handle this remit.