FKNK proposes unprecedented spring trapping season for turtle doves

Hunting organisation FKNK proposes live-capture of turtle doves in proposals for spring hunting season made to Ornis Committee

The FKNK wants to enhance the genetic pool of its breeding programme by capturing turtle doves from the wild. Captive-bred turtle doves are then released into the wild
The FKNK wants to enhance the genetic pool of its breeding programme by capturing turtle doves from the wild. Captive-bred turtle doves are then released into the wild

Hunters have proposed a trapping season for turtle doves this spring to widen the gene pool of the breed and release programme they operate, MaltaToday has learnt.

Hunting organisation FKNK included the unprecedented suggestion in its proposals for the opening of a limited spring hunting season it presented to the Ornis Committee, a government advisory body.

The Ornis Committee is expected to meet on Wednesday to decide whether to allow a spring hunting season next month. Spring trapping of turtle doves has never been a consideration so far.

The FKNK said in a statement on Tuesday morning that it is proposing the application of a derogation to allow spring hunting for turtle doves and quails, and “live-capturing of turtle doves for research purposes”.

Trapped turtle doves to be handed over to FKNK’s breeding programme

The statement did not give details of the new trapping proposal but sources close to government told MaltaToday the FKNK suggestion includes several conditions, including the use of nets with large mesh sizes to avoid the capture of other birds.

Another condition is that trappers who opt for the special trapping licence will not be able to hunt and shotguns will not be permitted inside the trapping site, including the hide.

“The FKNK wants to enhance the genetic pool of the turtle dove stock used in its breeding programme and any trapped birds will have to be handed over to the organisation,” the sources said.

Some of the captured birds will be tagged with GPS trackers and released into the wild after the closure of the hunting season.

Bag limits, spring hunt season unchanged

The FKNK is proposing that the national bag limits for turtle doves and quail remain unchanged from last year – hunters will be able to kill 1,500 turtle doves and 2,400 quails.

Any turtle doves captured alive as a result of the trapping proposal will be deducted from the national quota. Once bag limits are reached the season is shut.

The trapping season for turtle doves will run between 17 April and 30 April from two hours before sunrise until noon, the same as that for hunting. The hunting season for quails will start on 10 April and end on 30 April.

The FKNK has been running a breeding programme for turtle doves since 2017 and has released more than 2,800 birds into the wild.

“A study presented by the organisation shows that between 2017 and 2022, according to official records, 2,134 turtle doves were shot, which means the FKNK released more birds back into the wild than were killed,” the sources said.

GPS trackers attached to some of the birds have shown that most turtle doves released in Malta travelled north to Italy but a handful made it to Bulgaria and Kosovo. The latter two countries are not used for reference purposes when setting the national hunting quota for turtle doves.

Spring hunting is not allowed under EU law but Malta has been applying a derogation for a limited hunting season for turtle doves and quails with national quotas on the number of birds that can be killed.

The derogation was made possible after a 2009 European Court of Justice ruling that said the autumn season was not a satisfactory alternative, allowing a limited spring hunting season.

Bird conservation organisation BirdLife and other environmental groups had unsuccessfully tried to strike down the spring hunting derogation in a referendum held in 2015.

However, since then the turtle dove was declared a vulnerable species and last month the European Commission sent a letter of formal notice to the government after it opened a spring hunting season in 2022. The letter is the first in a three-stage infringement warning process that can eventually lead to proceedings against Malta at the ECJ.

A moratorium on the hunting of turtle dove in spring had been introduced in 2017 and was lifted last year.