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CABS puts birds and tourists first

Daily baptism of fire ceases as hunters are moved on

The garrique habitat of the Ta' Cenc plateauThe garrique habitat of the Ta' Cenc plateauThe Ta’ Cenc Plateau, an extensive rocky garrique biotope poised high on towering cliffs above the clear blue Mediterranean, would in any other country be a treasured and protected habitat for flora and fauna. Not least because its cliffs are home to a large colony of Cory’s Shearwater, a rare seabird species; recently a pair of Peregrine Falcons - the original ‘Maltese Falcon’ also attempted to nest there, and were shot by hunters. Situated on Malta’s small sister island of Gozo it has become an unsupervised adventure playground for hunters and trappers from Gozo and Malta, most of whom have the aim of trapping or shooting down anything that flies. Until CABS decided to take a hand that is! After negotiations with the landowner Mr Victor Borg, who also owns the 5 star Ta’ Cenc Hotel & Spa adjoining the plateau, we were issued with a written authorisation to ask unwanted trespassers - in particular hunters and trappers whose activities are forbidden on Mr Borg’s private land - to leave and not come back.

Montagu's Harrier leaves its night roost at Ta' CencMontagu's Harrier leaves its night roost at Ta' Cenc The plateau is a paradise for ground roosting birds on passage. In addition to large flocks of Barn Swallows, House Martins and Swifts, that criss-cross the area feeding on the plentiful insects to be found in the garrique, the bushes and grasses offer overnight cover for birds of prey such as Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers. Groups of song birds including Whinchats can be seen flitting from bush to bush, Bee-eaters and raptors pass overhead and, from time to time, the looping flight of the colourful Hoopoe delights the passer-by. And, in addition to the other tourists and local nature lovers, who would appreciate this bi-annual spectacle if the presence of armed hunters and skulking trappers did not sully the natural beauty, are the residents of the adjacent Ta' Cenc hotel. Instead of the peace and quiet associated with a holiday in an otherwise exclusive rural location, horrified visitors from other European states are almost literally ‘blasted’ out of bed by gunfire that begins before dawn and goes on unrelentingly until well after the breakfast room closes.

Emboldened by the presence of the CABS and SPA Bird Guards in their distinctive T-shirts in and around the hotel, a delegation of guests approached the owner and asked him what action could be taken to rescue what was left of their not inexpensive holiday on Gozo. The answer was to hand. The negotiations with the Foundation Pro Biodiversity (SPA) and the CABS team leader on Gozo were swiftly concluded and, over Mr Borg’s signature, authorisation was given to members of the CABS and SPA teams to exercise domiciliary rights on behalf of the owner.

Bird Guards on GozoBird Guards on GozoBefore dawn the following morning seven Bird Guards, accompanied by local supporters to cope with any language problems, assembled at the entrance to the property. On the previous evening the Gozo police had been alerted in case of any trouble; but they were to remain in reserve and act only if aggressiveness was shown towards the Bird Guards. With one exception, which was dealt with by our competent local guides, this was not the case. After initial deployment around the perimeter by vehicle the teams swept across the plateau on foot. Seven hunters (one clearly a trapper with a live decoy Turtle Dove but no nets set out) were accosted and politely asked to leave private property. Where necessary our written accreditation was shown and explained when the hunter was unable to understand legal English. One became very excitable but was calmed down somewhat and sent away. On weekdays up to 12 hunters can be expected, but the high winds did not favour hunting. More can be expected at the weekend when many Maltese hunters cross on the ferry to hunt on Gozo.

A CABS volunteer removes trappiung equipment from the plateauA CABS volunteer removes trappiung equipment from the plateau Our efforts were concentrated on the hunters so a detailed search for trapping paraphernalia was not carried out. Nonetheless decoy cages and pull wires were found in various locations and either removed or destroyed on the spot. Some shooting hides, most of them containing hunters’ litter were rendered unusable. The clearance of foreign material and restructuring of the former hides (with due regard to ecological aspects) is a mid- to long-term follow up task.

On the following morning CABS and SPA teams manned the entrance gate and conducted a visual control of vehicles entering the property. No hunters attempted entry, but several vehicles were seen to approach the entrance and turn around. At about 7.00 a.m. two vehicles entered and reported to us that they were representatives of the FKNK (spring hunting monitor) and MEPA. We informed them that the Ta’ Cenc private property area was free of hunters and advised them to monitor the valley to the south-east where shooting had taken place since dawn, which they then did. A number of local people and tourists entered the area for their morning walks, remaining on the marked tracks.

A downcast hunter leaves Ta' CencA downcast hunter leaves Ta' CencThe Ta’ Cenc property will continue to be monitored by CABS until the end of the bird protection camp, particularly this coming weekend (27/28 April) when hunters may arrive who are not aware that the owner’s rights to ban hunting and trapping are now being exercised.

The general public and tourists appear to be well satisfied with the ‘hunting free’ zone; it is hoped that the ecology of the area, both flora and fauna, will profit in future from the lack of disturbance, reduction in lead pollution and removal of litter and foreign materials - including hazardous waste.

The Committee Against Bird Slaughter and Foundation Pro Biodiversity (SPA) are aware that the rights of other landowners on Gozo and Malta to ban hunting and trapping on their property is often abused and difficult to enforce. CABS is willing to advise and actively assist where possible in such circumstances.

Gozo, 24 April 2013