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Spring Hunting on Malta

Hunters have no sense of 'sustainability'

Many Maltese use the spring Turtle Dove hunt as a cover for poaching the coveted migrant bird of preyMany Maltese use the spring Turtle Dove hunt as a cover for poaching the coveted migrant bird of preyThe birds returning in spring from their African winter quarters to their European breeding grounds are the core stock of the population. In autumn not only the breeding birds migrate south but also their numerous offspring. Almost two thirds of all individuals die during winter, mainly from lack of food and exhaustion. The surviving birds that return north in spring will almost all breed and are therefore of particular importance for the survival of the species.

For these reasons the European Commission has banned hunting during pre-nuptial migration in spring. The guns must remain silent from at least March.

On Malta however spring hunting has for long been a normal part of the hunting ‘tradition’. The hunters are especially keen to bag Turtle Dove and Quail. Before the island state’s accession to the EU in 2004 the hunting season was therefore opened from 25 March to 22 May regardless of the catastrophic consequences for the bird populations. After accession, the Maltese government should have immediately amended the law and banned hunting during spring migration. This was not done and the spring hunting season was opened every year up to and including 2007.

CABS protest campaign

Press conference in Brussels at the handing over of  190,000 signatures against spring hunting (2005)Press conference in Brussels at the handing over of 190,000 signatures against spring hunting (2005)Together with its Belgian partner the LRBPO and numerous other allies, CABS initiated a large scale protest and handed over more than 190,000 signatures against spring hunting on Malta to the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament. The parliament then called for an end to spring hunting on Malta.

A comprehensively formulated complaint by CABS led to Malta being censured by the European Court of Justice for contravention of European legislation.

The problem is still on the agenda

These successes have unfortunately not removed the problem from the agenda. In 2007 and 2008, while the case was still sub judice, the Maltese government did not open the spring hunting season on tactical grounds. But many hunters ignored ban and CABS teams recorded hundreds of cases of poaching. On the whole however it was quieter than in previous - a success for conservation.

Despite widespread protest and the slap in the face from the European Court of Justice the Maltese government once again permitted spring hunting in spring 2010. There were however many restrictions. For 6 days a total of 3,900 Quails and 3,600 Turtle Doves could be shot, each licensed hunter (with a special licence costing 25 Euros) was only permitted to shoot 3 birds and every bird shot had to be reported to the responsible ministry by text message. You can read more on the 2010 spring hunting season <here

As a consequence of these strict conditions most hunters did not avail themselves of the offer. Only a handful applied for a licence (and were boycotted by the hunting associations as a result) ; many others took to the countryside with their weapons and hunted illegally.

The pressure from the hunting lobby has grown since spring 2010. The Maltese government has announced that it will permit spring hunting on a wider scale in 2011. We can then expect the legal killing of tens of thousands of Turtle Doves and Quails as a spring hunting season of up to three weeks is under discussion. Then, as ever, many hunters will use the opportunity to shoot not only huntable species but once again at protected birds of prey, herons, Golden Oriole and Bee-eaters.

Together with its Maltese partner organisations, CABS will monitor the situation critically and will attempt, as in previous years, to influence the proceedings at an early stage.