Ornis Committee yet to meet despite start of hunting season

BirdLife calls for urgent Ornis meeting after not being officially contacted over start of hunting season

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana
BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana

The Ornis Committee, which usually meets to discuss concerns and enforcement plans ahead of a hunting season, has not met since May - despite today marking the start of this year's autumn hunting season.

The Ornis Committee is composed of representatives of BirdLife Malta, the Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK), the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) and the Wild Birds Regulation Unit. 

In response to an open letter presented to the Prime Minister by BirdLife last Tuesday, the government stated that the Ornis Committee had already been appointed.

Contrary to this statement, BirdLife said it had not yet received any form of communication from the government on the Ornis Committee and that it had not been officially notified that this committee has been reappointed.

At a press conference outside Castille in Valletta last Tuesday, BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana presented an open letter to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, outlining the NGO's concerns ahead of the opening of the season, which called for an urgent meeting of the Committee. In his response three days ago, the Environment Minister stated that this year’s season will be regulated as usual by Ornis like any other season.

"This gives the impression that environmental law enforcement is not being taken seriously, sending the message that law-breakers need not be worried about being apprehended," Mark Sultana said.

Sultana said this may result in more illegal hunting cases during the season, including the shooting of protected birds, such as birds of prey, which would be migrating over the Maltese Islands on their way to central Africa. 

Since last Tuesday’s press conference, more reports of illegal hunting have been received. BirdLife Malta received various reports of hunting at sea, with information concerning flamingos being hunted from powerboats in Gozo being relayed to the police. Various flocks have been seen migrating along the Maltese Islands’ coast, with a flock of around 300 flamingos seen over Comino.

On Wednesday afternoon, a hunter was seen shooting down two birds of prey at Ras il-Wardija in Gozo and another group were reported to the Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) police unit for hunting in Fawwara, despite hunting season being closed.

Other reports were filed over the past few days, concerning shots heard in various locations, including Zabbar, Delimara and Dingli as the Turtle Dove migration is underway.

During the autumn hunting season, which is open for 5 months, till the 31st of January, 2018, the law allows for the killing of 40 species of birds. It is estimated that Malta has around 10,000 licensed hunters, which is the highest density of hunters in any European Union country. 

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