BirdLife files court injunction to stop spring hunt for turtle-dove

BirdLife Malta is asking the court to suspend a legal notice allowing the hunting of turtle-dove in spring, moots second referendum

BirdLife Malta officials stand outside the law court: the organisation has asked the court to stop the spring hunt on turtle dove (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
BirdLife Malta officials stand outside the law court: the organisation has asked the court to stop the spring hunt on turtle dove (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

BirdLife Malta has filed a warrant of prohibitory injunction asking the courts to suspend a recently-issued legal notice permitting the hunting of turtle-doves in spring.

The application for the injunction, filed today, asks the court to order the Prime Minister, the Environment Minister, the Minister for Gozo as well as the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) to immediately close the spring hunting season. 

The bird conservation group also warned that a second referendum on hunting is “on the table”. This is the second time in as many months that BirdLife has mooted another referendum.

The opening of a spring hunting season for turtle-dove came after years of pressure from hunting organisations, despite the bird being listed as a vulnerable species. A moratorium on turtle-dove hunting was introduced in 2017.

However, the hunting advisory committee, ORNIS, recommended last month the lifting of the moratorium, recommending a spring hunting season between 17 and 30 April that included turtle-dove, apart from quail.

More than 8,000 hunters have registered for a spring hunting licence, although the national hunting bag limit is set at 1,500 birds.

The decision to open the season was opposed by Birdlife, who were outvoted by FKNK and government-appointed members of the ORNIS committee.

Speaking at a press conference outside the law court in Valletta, BirdLife Malta President Darryl Grima said the government had “crossed the line when opening the hunting season for a vulnerable species to accommodate hunters for votes, irrespective of scientific data and also in clear breach of the Birds Directive.”

This left the organisation with no choice but to file the injunction, he said.

“It [the Birds Directive] is an EU law, a law above any Maltese law,” Grima said, adding that it was not necessary to take recourse to the ECJ, as local courts have a duty to enforce the directive.

He described the legal notice as a “flagrant breach of the Birds Directive, done only to win votes”. “This is unacceptable,” Grima said.

BirdLife CEO Mark Sultana, who is also its representative on the ORNIS committee, was scathing in his criticism. “That the ORNIS Committee is the government's puppet is nothing new. During the last ORNIS committee meeting, held a few days before a general election, we’ve seen a committee vote for reopening of a spring hunting season on turtle-dove, based on non-scientific evidence presented by FKNK. Hunters do not care about a declining species,” he said.

Commenting on the turtle-dove’s status at EU level, BirdLife Malta’s Head of Conservation, Nicholas Barbara stated that the scientific evidence at hand shows that the species migrating through Malta in the coming days is a declining one, categorised as “vulnerable” by the IUCN, an international body.

“No documents prepared by the FKNK or endorsed by the WBRU will change this status,” Barbara said.

He accused the government of failing in its obligations to protect the species and of ignoring EU experts’ advice not to allow hunting of the turtle-dove in either spring or autumn.

Asked by reporters whether another referendum on spring hunting was being considered, Sultana said the organisation was going to take “all legal steps” and confirmed that a referendum was “on the table.”

BirdLife Malta was working on building up resources for this purpose, he added. “At this stage, we are asking the court to say this is a breach of the Birds Directive. I am convinced that we will succeed.”