Malta, the bloody archipelago, already has a reputation amongst birders, conservation organisations, and welfare groups as the place in Europe that migrating birds go to die. Despite years of trying to bring successive Maltese Govts around to behaving with integrity and honour, just days ago the latest group of politicians, apparently bought and owned by the hunting lobby, have announced legislation that effectively makes the killing of roosting birds unpunishable.
Incredibly, Malta will now allow its already out of control hunters to shoot birds up until 19:00 – AFTER the time when exhausted birds that have made the long sea crossing from Europe are roosting! As every observer, as every volunteer, as every birder who has gone to Malta knows only too well, darkness has never stopped the gun-toting hunters. They are just as happy to shine a torch into a roosting raptor, stork, or heron’s eyes before blasting it apart as they are standing in a tower and blasting them as they circle over the land looking for somewhere to rest.
Only up until now they have to do so knowing there was a (minute) chance of them being caught by Malta’s embattled and severely under-resourced wildlife-crime officers. Now they have the virtual immunity they have always wanted. Yes, it will still be illegal to shoot protected birds, but where once the shootings were infrequent and perhaps therefore traceable, they will now be island-wide, frequent, and impossible to police.
This move is an absolutely disgraceful snub of Europe’s wildlife protection laws, which Malta signed up to when they agreed to become net beneficiaries of Europe’s largesse in terms of funding and trade. Europe’s conservation organisations spend huge amounts of money protecting the birds that the Maltese government is now offering up to their hunters as they sleep.
I have always thought that a boycott of Malta would be counterproductive: not enough people would sign up to it, it would mean that the poachers/hunters could slaughter migrant birds with no-one to record it, it would not be supported by BirdLife Malta. However, this clear breach of the duty to protect migrant birds is so flagrant that it surely calls for strong and unified action.
I have discussed this issue before, but Malta relies almost entirely on its tourism industry. Hunters must – just based on how many of them there are (Malta is the most densely hunted state in Europe) – own hotels, pubs, restaurants, or shops, or be employed in the hospitality trade. With their colleagues in the government they are destroying Malta’s international reputation and destroying Europe’s birds. It is surely time for the international community – and especially us Europeans – to hit back?
Press-release from BirdLife Malta, 13 August.
Introducing…The Wild Birds Deregulation Unit
13th August 2013 – BirdLife Malta has reacted to the news that the government is going to push back the autumn hunting afternoon curfew to 7pm by describing the team that has made this decision as Malta’s very own “Birds Deregulation Unit”.
BirdLife Malta Executive Director Steve Micklewright said, “The media revealed that the government’s new Wild Birds Regulation Unit was being staffed by hunting sympathisers last week. Today’s decision clearly shows what happens when you put hunters in charge of bird conservation.”
Describing the decision as a “licence for the illegal killing of protected birds”, Mr Micklewright concluded that, “This decision clearly shows that bird conservation on Malta is not best served by the new Wild Birds Regulation Unit under the Parliamentary Secretary for Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights.”
BirdLife Malta has today sent an urgent letter to the Prime Minister asking for his direct intervention. Mr Micklewright added, “In our letter to the Prime Minister we call for bird conservation issues to be dealt with by the Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change, the decision to remove the curfew only emphasises that these issues are in the wrong hands.”
The decision flies in the face of careful evidence placed before the Ornis Committee in July 2013. BirdLife Malta Conservation Manager Nicholas Barbara said, “We provided clear evidence to the Ornis Committee that when the 3pm curfew was not in place during the first week of October when bird of prey migration is still on, we have witnessed many more incidents of shooting at protected species in the afternoons compared to when the curfew was still in place in September. This clearly shows that the 3pm curfew was effective.”
Commenting on the decision to push back the curfew to 7pm, Mr Barbara described this decision as, “completely useless” adding that, “Having the curfew at 7pm is practically equivalent to removing it. By 7pm most birds of prey would have roosted already, after having flown at low altitude within shooting range in search of a roosting site. It is the hours before dark that are the most critical and not after sunset.”
The proposal for a 7pm curfew extended by one week was made to the Ornis Committee by the Acting Head of the Wild Birds Regulation Unit, Sergei Golovkin who described it as, “An intermediary measure of a give and take situation.” Nicholas Barbara added, “When he was challenged by BirdLife about the logical sense of a curfew push back, no concrete answer was given.”
Hunters lobbied hard for the complete removal of the curfew arguing that law-abiding hunters were being penalised at the expense of the few illegal killers. Commenting on this position Mr Micklewright said, “The target species for law-abiding hunters are turtle dove and quail. Both turtle dove and quail tend to migrate at night and they are mostly hunted during the early hours of the morning. Pushing back the curfew will therefore make no difference to most law-abiding hunters.”
For more information contact: BirdLife Malta office on + (356) 21347644-5
The BirdLife Malta website: http://www.birdlifemalta.org
BirdLife Malta is part of an international network of fully co-ordinated ringing stations and National Ringing Schemes that have been indispensable for the efficient management of scientific bird ringing in Europe. We are the leading voice in ensuring that Malta’s hunters WILL conform with EU Directives and spring hunting will be banned in accordance with those directives. Birdlife Malta currently manages two nature reserves, Ghadira and Is-Simar, and also joint manages an afforestation project known as Foresta 2000 (located adjacent to Ghadira): the two nature reserves are both Ramsar-designated wetland areas and represent the largest free-standing sources of water in Malta.