BBC naturalist back in Malta on anti-spring hunting mission

BBC's Springwatch presenter Chris Packham returns to Malta to monitor the spring hunting season on 'the island where doves die' • Hunting lobby FKNK warns that 'infamous Englishman's' visit is unwelcome

Chris Packham holds an injured Turtle Dove, one of the huntable quarries during Malta's spring hunting season
Chris Packham holds an injured Turtle Dove, one of the huntable quarries during Malta's spring hunting season

Naturalist and BBC presenter Chris Packham has returned to Malta to raise awareness on the plight of turtle doves that fly over the island during the spring hunting season.

Packham, who presents the nature show Springwatch on BBC, had monitored the 2014 spring hunting season in a video diary entitled ‘Malta-Massacre on Migration’. However, his visit ended on a sour note when the police held him for five hours, following complaints by hunting federation FKNK that he had breached their privacy and “defamed the hunting fraternity”.

He has now returned to monitor this year’s spring hunting season – the first since a report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that the European turtle dove populations have plummeted by 80% since the 1980s.

BirdLife’s conservation manager Nick Barbara told MaltaToday that Packham has returned to Malta of his own volition and that he intends to film another documentary.

Using the hashtag #wheredovesdie, Packham is urging his followers to tweet European environment commissioner Karmenu Vella and parliamentary secretary for animal rights Roderick Galdes to ask why endangered turtle doves are being “slaughtered” over Malta.

“At Delimara – about 200-300 hunters in 3 square kilometres. Nothing arriving here has a chance – nothing,” he tweeted.

“Constant gunfire. Just seen a turtle dove blown out of the sky – way too high for a clean shot. It tumbled into a field,” the naturalist said in another tweet. 

Malta’s spring hunting season will run until 30 April, with the government setting the total turtle dove quota at 5,000 birds. It announced this as a “conservation measure”, referring to a reduction from previous years’ quotas of 11,000 turtle doves.

However, BirdLife Malta revealed on Saturday that the European Commission has formally asked the Maltese government to justify why it opened a spring hunting season this year. 

BirdLife chief executive Mark Sultana said that the Ornis committee’s decision to open this year’s spring hunting season was based on political, rather than scientific, justification.
“It will be difficult for the government to cite political arguments with the European Commission,” he said. “The EC didn’t raise questions when the season quota was set at 11,000 turtle doves, and yet is now doing so when the quota has been reduced to 5,000 birds? This is because the goalposts have changed after the IUCN’s report, and the turtle dove is now in a vulnerable state. This could also mean that Malta is breaching a ruling on the season by the European Court of Justice.”

‘Packham’s visit to Malta is unwelcome’ – FKNK

The FKNK were quick to lash out at Chris Packham, accusing him of deploying “deceiving tactics” and warning that his visit to Malta was “unwelcome”.

“We warn our members not to give in to any provocation that they may be exposed to by the likes of Chris Packham, who is well known for such deceiving tactics,” FKNK chief executive Lino Farrugia said in a statement.

Farrugia pounced on a statement by the German-based eNGO Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), who said that fewer birds are now being shot over Malta.

CABS later clarified that they oppose a legal spring hunting season and that the shooting of turtle dove is not sustainable.

However, Farrugia insisted that CABS had “praised the Maltese hunters for their exemplary observance of the hunting regulations” and that BirdLife has now requested the aid of Chris Packham as a “Plan B”.

“BirdLife, who in all probability is fuming over the CABS statement, since this may have ruined their present anti spring hunting campaign, seems to have put plan B into action by requesting the aid of the infamous Englishman, Chris Packham,” he said.