Private company gets €116,000 for two months of ‘bird-watching’

Environmental company Ecoserv was the only bidder for a tender for the project released back in June 2013

Environmental company Ecoserv is being paid €116,230 by the government to see how many turtle doves and common quail fly over Malta during the upcoming autumn hunting season.

The study will commence on 1 September, the first day of this year’s autumn hunting season, and will continue until 31 October.

Ecoserv, which has had experience on studies on fisheries, will set up at least 20 monitoring stations in strategic locations around Malta, Gozo and Comino.

Six of those stations will be manned by at least two experienced ornithologists or field assistants every day. They will count turtle doves by observing them as they fly overhead or roost within the study area. Since common quail tend to seek cover on the ground, the observers will have to search the ground for them themselves, sometimes by using dogs to flush them out.

The government released a tender for the project back in June 2013. The government confirmed with MaltaToday that Ecoserv were the only bidders.

The study is crucial since its results will determine whether the European Commission will allow Malta to legislate a spring hunting season: if results of this study show that only a few turtle doves and quail pass over Malta in autumn – showing that hunters have no alternative but to shoot quarry in the spring – then the government and the hunters’ federation, FKNK, will present a case with the European Commission to be allowed to derogate from the EU ban on spring hunting for these two bird species.

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 At the moment, each registered hunter is only allowed to shoot down four turtle doves or quail in spring.

FKNK chief executive officer Lino Farrugia declared in a statement that the hunters’ lobby was “fully supporting” the independent study.

“Such studies should occur on a regular basis as they are the only way we can obtain scientific and unprejudiced information about these birds’ movements,” the FKNK said in a statement. “For the fourth consecutive year, BirdLife Malta refused to participate in such a study.”

But BirdLife said they were not consulted on the methodology of the tender, which will be crucial in determining whether Malta derogates yet again from the EU ban on spring hunting.

“We chose not to participate in this study for three reasons,” BirdLife’s conservation manager, Nicholas Barbara, said. “If this study is independent then there’s no need for us to be involved. The government didn’t consult us much about the methodology of the study before they released the tender that was eventually awarded to Ecoserv. Moreover, we’re focusing most of our resources on preventing the illegal hunting of birds of prey.” 

In 2009, the Nationalist government introduced a hunting curfew of 3pm for 15 days of the autumn hunting season, between 15 and 30 September. The reason was that protected birds of prey tend to fly low over Malta during that period.

BirdLife had proposed to extend this autumn curfew by a week while the FKNK wanted to push the curfew back to 7pm. In 2013, the newly-elected Labour government went halfway, extending the curfew till 7 October and pushing it back to 7pm.

“Turtle doves and quail are usually hunted in the early hours of the morning,” Barbara said. “Any hunting after 3pm is likely to be of protected species.”

“Moreover, by 7pm it will be too dark to ensure that the curfew is being respected. We therefore consider the Government’s decision to be equivalent to removing the curfew entirely.”

“This independent study will probably confirm that more turtle doves and quail fly over Malta in spring than they do in autumn,” Barbara said. “However, BirdLife’s argument is that enough of these birds fly over Malta in the autumn to satisfy the hunters.”

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