Hunting derogation flies in face of Birds Directive, EU task force says

European Commission task force on Birds and Habitats Directive says Malta derogation from EU ban on hunting in spring “is contrary to the Birds Directive”

The shooting of turtle dove cannot start on Sunday when the spring hunting season opens since the court has provisionally upheld an injunction requested by BirdLife Malta
The shooting of turtle dove cannot start on Sunday when the spring hunting season opens since the court has provisionally upheld an injunction requested by BirdLife Malta

In a meeting that groups officials from the European Commission and member states, as well as other NGO representatives, members of the Commission and the environmental directorate-general said Malta’s derogation was “in contrast to the Birds Directive”.

According to the minutes of the last meeting in March of the Habitats Committee & Expert Group on Birds & Habitats Directives – which gathers members of the EC, the environment DG, hunters’ lobby FACE, and BirdLife International, as well observers from member states such as Malta’s Wild Birds Regulation Unit and the ERA – the group said that “in view of the continuing declining trend of the Turtle Dove population in the Central-Eastern flyway, the Commission considers that this derogation is contrary to the Birds Directive and the efforts by the Commission and the Task Force to recover this species across all EU Member States.”

Malta’s continued derogation from the EU ban on spring hunting is already the subject of an infringement notice from the Commission, which will see it taken to the European Court of Justice unless rectified.

BirdLife Malta has challenged the government’s latest attempt to legislate, once again, a derogation from the EU ban.

The Habitats Committee discussed the continued population decline of the Turtle Dove, the quarry Maltese hunters shoot in spring.

In 2022, Malta was said to have misled this task force on expert advice recommending no hunting for turtle dove, as minutes of the meeting confirm.

The task force was then discussing an experts’ report that proposed no hunting of turtle dove in countries that fall within the central-eastern flyway. Malta is one of these countries.

Only two days earlier, the Ornis Committee, a hunting advisory body, had recommended to the Maltese government the opening of a limited spring hunting season for quail and turtle dove. The recommendation effectively ended the spring hunting moratorium for turtle dove introduced in 2017 when the European Commission threatened action.

But when a BirdLife representative on the task force expressed concern about a possible spring hunting derogation that was being considered in Malta, the Maltese representative from the WBRU stated that “no decision had been made and the possible derogation was being discussed in the Ornis Committee”.

By that time, the consultative committee Ornis had not only discussed the matter but also made the recommendation for turtle dove to be included in the spring hunt.

The task force in 2022 “urged Malta not to adopt a spring hunting derogation, as this would go in the opposite direction than the conservation actions discussed in the task force meeting.”

A previous European Commission recommendation had been a 50% reduction in the hunting bag limits for turtle doves in countries on the central-eastern flyway. These countries include Italy, Greece, Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania and Malta. No decision on the temporary complete ban for hunting on turtle dove has been taken.

Hunting in the EU is allowed in autumn and banned in spring although exceptions can be allowed. Malta has been adopting a derogation for spring hunting on quail and turtle dove after a European Court ruling allowed a window of opportunity given Malta’s specific situation.

The turtle dove was declared a vulnerable species by the IUCN, an international body, in 2015. Two years later, Malta introduced a moratorium on the spring hunting of turtle dove after the European Commission threatened action.