Updated | 29 MEPs petition Muscat to close spring hunting season

Group of MEPs join BirdLife in urging government to close spring hunting season after marsh harrier found shot at Selmun  

The protected marsh harrier was shot in its right wing. Photo: BirdLife Malta
The protected marsh harrier was shot in its right wing. Photo: BirdLife Malta

29 MEPs from each of the seven largest political groups in the European Parliament are pressuring the Maltese government to immediately close the spring hunting season.

The MEPs have sent a formal letter to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and parliamentary secretary for animal rights Roderick Galdes, urging them to safeguard migratory birds that pass over Malta en route to Europe.

“According to nature conservation organisations, each year more than 100,000 birds are killed in Malta,” the MEPs wrote. “Among those are species of which the populations are in serious decline, such as turtle-dove and quails. Unfortunately, illegal practices are still being record. Unacceptable practices, such as the use of illegal bird traps, the killing of endangered species and the hunting by night or in areas protected by Natura2000 keep on occurring.”

They are being spearheaded by Dutch MEP Anja Hazekamp from the Party for the Animals, who visited Malta last week to observe the hunting grounds.

“This appeal to Malta to close the spring hunt represents a broad political spectrum,” she said. “The hunting of migratory birds returning to their breeding grounds is cruel and causes a threat to bird populations as a whole. Spring hunting on migratory birds is therefore prohibited by international conservation agreements.”

She said that she saw several electronic bird callers, which are illegal under the EU Birds Directive, during her visit to Maltese hunting grounds last week.

Dutch MEP Anja Hazekamp has lambasted Malta's spring hunting season as 'cruel'
Dutch MEP Anja Hazekamp has lambasted Malta's spring hunting season as 'cruel'

“As Malta is currently holding the EU Presidency, we count on the Maltese government to take the lead in improving the protection of nature areas in general, and migratory birds in particular,” she said. “We call on the Maltese government to set an example by swiftly and properly implementing the Birds and Habitats Directives and to offer migrating birds a safe resting place during their trip to the North.”

Hazekamp has already run foul of the hunting federation FKNK, who dismissed her petition to ban spring hunting as a “charade”.

Downloadable Files

 ‘Petition a charade’ – hunting lobby

FKNK chief executive Lino Farrugia said that the European Court of Justice had in 2009 affirmed Malta’s right to derogate from the Birds’ Directive and permit spring hunting, and that the Maltese public had voted to maintain the tradition in the 2015 referendum.

“The FKNK did try to set up a meeting with Ms. Hazenkamp so that the may be fully versed on matters about which she expresses herself, and thus keep her abreast about facts and circumstances that she may not be fully conversant with,” Farrugia said. “However, our two e-mail requests have remained unanswered.”

FKNK CEO Lino Farrugia has dismissed the petition as a 'charade'
FKNK CEO Lino Farrugia has dismissed the petition as a 'charade'

Marsh harrier shot down in Selmun

Earlier this morning, a marsh harrier was gunned down in Selmun the first reported incident of illegal hunting since the spring hunting season was opened on Saturday.

BirdLife Malta said it was contacted by a person who found an injured male marsh harrier in his field at Selmun. After BirdLife volunteers attended to its rescue, the bird of prey was taken to a vet who confirmed that it was shot and was suffering from injuries to its right wing.

In a statement, BirdLife said that this case proves that hunting seasons serve as a smokescreen for people who want to shoot protected birds and urged the government to close the season with immediate effect.

“While the spring hunting season should have never been opened, such illegalities should push the government to close the season with immediate effect as it had done in the past in order to enable enforcement to do its job,” it said.   

More in Nature