[WATCH] Hunters moved to Gozo for lax police enforcement in spring free-for-all, BirdLife says

As spring hunting season comes to end, BirdLife reports “indiscriminate massacre” of protected species during the spring hunting season

Osprey shot illegally
Osprey shot illegally

BirdLife Malta has reported an “indiscriminate massacre” of protected species during the spring hunting season.

Now closed after reaching quotas for the shooting of turtle-dove, BirdLife said this year’s season had been riddled with illegalities, and warranted immediate scrutiny by the European Commission.

“While Minister Clint Camilleri knows that the European Commission is not happy with his decision to open a spring hunting season on the protected Turtle-dove, he is also aware that this was illegal and breaches the EU Birds Directive which specifically does not allow any hunting in spring on this species due to its vulnerable status,” CEO Mark Sultana said.

“To add insult to injury, it was also another season where hunters were witnessed breaking the law with widespread use of electronic callers and targeting of Turtledoves illegally during the first week when only Common Quail (Summiena) could be shot.

“This also included a number of cases of illegal trapping of Turtle-doves, some of which could easily end up in FKNK’s aviaries. Such birds are then declared as being bred in captivity and used to greenwash the hunting activity effects on biodiversity by releasing them back into the wild.”

BirdLife Malta Head of Conservation Nicholas Barbara also said the season was marred with the hunting of protected birds, from birds of prey like Marsh-harriers, Common Kestrels, Red-footed Falcons and Ospreys, to others like Nightjars, Bee-eaters, Golden Orioles and Hoopoes.

“The illegally shot birds retrieved by BirdLife Malta and police are only the few birds which hunters do not manage to get hold of, and represent an indicator to the level of illegal killing of various protected species that ensues whenever Malta opens a hunting season during the spring migration of these European species,” Barbara said.

While over 8,000 hunters were given a licence to practice for three weeks of hunting season, Barbara said thousands of protected birds were massacred to be added to personal taxidermy collections under the 1997 and 2003 amnesties, a practice further revived with recent changes in legislation issued before the last election.

Barbara accused the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) of being a spectator rather than a regulator to this illegal trade in wildlife.

During the period 10-30 April, BirdLife Malta recovered a total of 18 shot birds belonging to 15 protected species whilst Environmental Protection Unit (EPU) police retrieved a further 16 illegal hunting casualties. Even more birds seen or found with shotgun injuries included Grey, Night and Purple Herons, Hobby, Cuckoo, Woodchat Shrike and even a Yellow-legged Gull.

“All in all, our annual Spring Watch camp – which fielded an average of just three teams a day across a number of watchpoints in Malta and Gozo – has witnessed over 208 illegal hunting incidents during the period,” Barbara said.

“The lack of control over the hunting of protected species spanned also to the target species of the spring hunting derogation – the red-listed Turtle-dove and Common Quail – supposedly controlled by quotas allocated for the season. BirdLife Malta reiterates that there is no doubt that the national hunting bag limit of Turtle-doves was exceeded.”

Barbara in fact noted that the climax proving the lack of control on hunting activity was the fact that hunters themselves admitted they could not access the digital game reporting system while Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK) President Lucas Micallef was quick to urge hunters not to complain, as this could dent their future spring hunting season chances. “The lack of control on the hunting derogation and the impunity of the hunting community was this year shown through new phenomena such as luring and killing of Nightjars, the luring of Turtle-doves with electronic callers as well as the hunting of Turtle-doves before the 17th April. In one particular case a hunter persisted in hunting after being caught red-handed hunting Turtledoves before the 17th of April,” Barbara said.

Sultana said Malta had seen a free-for-all its spring hunting season with a very evident mass movement of hunters on the island of Gozo that was not matched by police enforcement.

“The lack of enforcement on Gozo is also indicated by the significant number of cases of shot protected birds retrieved from the island. The end result remains that hunters in Malta and Gozo are getting used to getting away with targeting protected birds. If one had to compare the last five years since 2018 to date with the previous five years (2013-3017) one would realise that the amount of illegally shot protected birds has nearly trebled.”

Malta shrugged off requests by EU Member States and the European Commission (EC) not to open a spring hunting season on the Turtle-dove.

It appears the island’s derogation from the Birds Directive’s ban on spring hunting will now be scrutinised by the EU.