Hunting lobby claims BirdLife International manipulated Turtle Dove populations

Hunters say reclassification of Turtle Dove to vulnerable species was made possible by incorrect estimation of bird populations

Turtle Doves inside a cage used to attract prey
Turtle Doves inside a cage used to attract prey

One of Malta’s hunting lobbies has claimed that BirdLife Internatoinal changed the way it calculates the populations of the European Turtle Dove, suggesting it prompted the reclassification of the bird by the IUCN form “least concern” to “vulnerable”. 

The St Hubert Hunters (KSU) said 2004 figures for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature by BirdLife was of an estimated breeding population of 3.5 million to 7 million pairs, and 10.5m to 21.6m individuals. 

KSU president Mark Mifsud Bonnici claimed this figure, obtained from multiplying the breeding population by three to allow for immature or non-breeding birds, was changed in 2015, when the populations fell to 3.1m to 5.9m for pairs and 6.3m to 11.9m for individuals. 

“KSU fail to understand how immature and non-breeding birds were left out of the 2015 calculation of European individuals when it is undisputed fact that the European population of Turtle Dove is not only made up of mature birds. Clearly this makes a drastic difference to the estimated European population of Turtle dove and calls for an explanation,” Mifsud Bonnicu told European Commissioner for the environment Karmenu Vella in a letter. 

It said that using a multiple of three, as in 2004, instead of two, would result in populations ranging from 9.4m to 17.8m, quoting studies that recommended the multiple of three to allow for immature or non-breeding birds in each population. 

“Can the Commission please explain why this recommended method repeatedly used for other previous assessments of Turtle Dove populations has suddenly been altered to justify the Vulnerable status and left unquestioned by the Commission?” Mifsud Bonnici asked. 

Hesaid the autumn 2018 season which ended on 30 September was characterised by a total lack of Turtle Dove over the Maltese islands. “The 2018 season has yet again proved to be an unsatisfactory solution for the hunting of Turtle Dove for Maltese hunters where the absolute majority failed to even see a dove.” 

The season remains open as an alternative to the spring hunting season, during which the EU bans hunting. The Maltese government has been instructed to close the spring season after the European Court of Justice ruled that its derogation from the ban was illegal. 

Since then, the IUCN has also reclassified the Turtle Dove as a “vulnerable” species, declaring that an “urgent moratorium” was needed in Malta to save the Turtle Dove from a real threat of extinction. 

But KSU said the statement itself was ironic given that the Maltese were allowed a quota of just 5,000 Turtle Dove under derogation in spring. when at the time figures available to the Commission confirmed 2 to 3 million shot each autumn by other states. 

“KSU note the common factor in the IUCN’s unique pronouncement on Malta’s spring hunting following the reclassification of the species as ‘vulnerable’ as being BirdLife. Such IUCN statement had no effect on the prolific harvesting of the species in mainland Europe, but specifically targeted BirdLife’s objection to the ECJ’s acknowledged use of the limited and strictly controlled spring hunting derogation in Malta. This scenario ultimately results in the blatant discrimination of Maltese hunters to hunt this species in satisfactory numbers unlike their European counterparts and fits the objection to spring hunting by the Birdlife community perfectly,” Mifsud Bonnici said. 

“This conclusion is further confirmed by the fact that, since their objective was obviously reached, neither the IUCN nor BirdlLife, notwithstanding the ‘vulnerable’ classification of the species in question, lobbied to implement a moratorium on all EU states that hunt Turtle Dove in autumn as publicly pronounced by yourself as Commissioner.” 

Mifsud Bonnici reiterated that a species action plan for the bird to be hunted in autumn would be no solution for Maltese hunters’ “specific circumstances” when the 2009 court decision of the ECJ declared that Turtle Dove can only be hunted “satisfactorily” during Malta’s traditional spring hunt. 

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