Spring hunting moratorium on turtledove announced

Government declares moratorium on spring hunting of turtledove but will allow hunting for quail

Turtle Dove  Photo: David Tipling, Nature Picture Library/IUCN
Turtle Dove Photo: David Tipling, Nature Picture Library/IUCN

The government has declared a moratorium on next spring’s hunting season of the turtledove, a move that follows the classification of the turtledove by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as a vulnerable species.

Hunters will still be allowed to hunt quail.

In a statement, parliamentary secretariat described the hunters’ call for a moratorium as “mature and responsible”.

“Upon considering these proposals, as well as recommendations of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and European Commission, the government has agreed to declare moratorium on the application of spring hunting derogation for turtledove,” the parliamentary secretariat said.

“The moratorium shall remain in force until such time that maintenance of the EU population of turtledove at satisfactory level is scientifically ascertained.”

MaltaToday’s Wednesday edition reports that a spokesperson for EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella refused to confirm whether the European Commission was considering taking Malta to court over this year’s spring hunting season. The spokesperson also declined to answer whether the Commission was ready to drop any future infringement procedures if the Maltese government voluntarily applies a moratorium on spring hunting.

Informed sources in Brussels have told MaltaToday that today’s agenda of the Commission included a discussion on possible infringement proceedings against Malta – a reference which was allegedly removed at the last minute. Questions sent to the European Commission remain unanswered.

The government has argued that, at present, there was no scientific evidence pointing to any detectable impact of Malta’s extremely limited derogation on the population of this species. The numbers that were allowed to be hunted (maximum of 5,000 birds) under strict supervision by means of derogation were well below the Birds Directive’s threshold of 1% of annual mortality of the population and negligible on a European scale.

“However, Malta shall voluntarily apply this moratorium as a precautionary measure to allow for an impartial and objective scientific assessment to be conducted at European level to establish the causes of the turtledove’s population decline and to provide for measures necessary for the conservation of this species in Europe.

“Furthermore, due to Malta’s long history of scientific research and monitoring of the turtledove, the Maltese Government is willing to contribute to the technical and scientific process for updating the EU Management Plan for the Turtle Dove, which will provide information on the species’ status, ecology, and threats as well as the key actions needed to improve its population status in Europe.”

IUCN lists the major threats for the decline of the turtledove as being transformation of agricultural land, destruction of hedges, loss of semi-natural habitats, changes in agricultural practices, use of chemical herbicides, diseases, desertification and drought, as well as competition with other species.

 “It is therefore certain that the turtledove decline cannot be solved without addressing these factors in a systematic, impartial, scientifically justified, proportionate and fair manner involving collaboration amongst all EU Member States and all stakeholders,” the parliamentary secretariat for animal rights said.

“Therefore the Government is willing to contribute and has much to offer towards the conservation of the turtledove in Europe and calls upon the international conservation community to be involved in ongoing and future initiatives which aim to benefit the turtledove.”

Shortly after the government’s statement, Kaccaturi San Ubertu (KSU) issued a statement lauding the government’s decision to implement a moratorium on the spring hunting of the turtledove.

“KSU and other hunting organizations reacted maturely and responsibly soon after the IUCN called for this measure on April 26, four days before the official closure of the spring hunting season, and Commissioner Vella’s announcement on the eve of the season’s closure,” the hunters said.

KSU called on the Commission to use its powers to tackle the known threats expediently for the benefit of all bird species.

“KSU offers all its resources towards any beneficial measures and studies related to Europe’s birds and deplore the local anti-hunting lobby extremism deviously describing this moratorium as a ‘set up’,” it said.

In a reaction, hunting federation FKNK insisted that the government should not rest on the IUCN to end the moratorium, arguing that the IUCN’s Red List is entrusted to Birdlife International, associated with Birdlife Malta.

“It would be totally discriminatory for someone to believe such a classification issued by an entity that has been trying to ban hunting from the Maltese Islands,” chief executive Lino Farrugia said.

Farrugia argued that the IUCN has also encouraged the European Commission to take action against Malta, “a step which is new to the IUCN”.

Farrugia said the FKNK disagreed with the moratorium but that it was forced to choose “the lesser of two evils”.

“The moratorium must have an expiry date,” Farrugia said, accusing Birdlife Malta of being only interested in banning hunting for good.