Environment law enforcement must be new minister’s priority, BirdLife says

Statistics show upward trend in number of protected birds illegally shot as BirdLife reiterates call for Wildlife Crime Unit to be set up within the Malta Police Force

Environmental law enforcement should remain under the Environment Ministry and become a priority, BirdLife Malta said as two new ministers, Aaron Farrugia and Anton Refalo, take up their roles as minister for environment and parliamentary secretary for animal protection.

While it is still unclear which ministry will cater for the conservation and protection of wild birds, biodiversity and the natural environment, BirdLife said these should remain under the Environment Ministry, and has already shared its concerns on the way forward in line with Malta’s European and international obligations and responsibilities.

“It is imperative that environmental law enforcement, including that of wild birds, becomes a priority in order to curb the constant illegalities that have remained on the increase without any effective enforcement for the recent years,” BirdLife CEO Mark Sultana said.

“Statistics held by BirdLife Malta show an upward trend in the number of protected birds being illegally shot and we have for the past years called for a proper Wildlife Crime Unit to be set up within the Malta Police Force to focus on such crimes along with an enforcement unit under the Environment Ministry. This call was unanimously supported by the Ornis Committee.”

Malta has various obligations and commitments to adhere to, including the European Birds and Habitats Directives along with European Court judgements and open infringement proceedings. “Further breaches of these obligations would be unjustified and irresponsible,” Sultana said.

BirdLife also said there was a need to avoid having biased persons as either advisors or officials within units or departments that aim to protect the natural flora and fauna of our country. “No officials should have any affiliations with NGOs in order to avoid conflicts of interest and instil back the credibility needed in areas which, today, hold very little credibility.”

“Our final concern is that Malta and Gozo need more protected areas and the country needs to safeguard the few pockets of natural habitats that we have. Malta – the most built-up country in the EU – needs to make sure that in regard to such protected areas biodiversity is given priority, for the enjoyment of the general public. Needless to say, no more areas should be designated as hunting sanctuaries especially since our society already allows thousands of hunters the privilege to roam all over the countryside, including in Natura 2000 sites, with loaded shotguns for over eight months every year.”

Sultana said flowers, trees, birds, wetlands and all biodiversity in natural habitats are the few elements our society can still enjoy today, free of charge. “The Government has a social obligation to safeguard this. Now more than ever, the people of Malta and Gozo are voicing the need to protect the environment and to allow everyone to enjoy it without destroying it, killing it or spoiling the opportunities of others to enjoy it. BirdLife Malta has worked for this aim for 58 years and we are willing to continue to collaborate with all stakeholders for the benefit of the common good.”

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