BirdLife Malta slams MEPA’s unprofessionalism and double standards on bird conservation.

Today it has been announced from Malta that an open season has been created for the shooting of Turtle Doves and Quail between the 12th April 2012 and Monday, 30th April 2012. A limit of 11,000 Turtle Doves and 5000 Quail has been set. Malta is the only country in the European Union to permit a spring shooting season which all too often results in the illegal shooting of other birds especially Birds of Prey like Marsh Harrier, Black Kite, Kestrel and even Osprey. Rarer migrants in Malta like Lesser Spotted Eagle and Short toed Eagle are often targeted as well. The raptor camp in Malta was set up especially to monitor this illegal shooting with record numbers of people from around Europe applying for places this year. It is significant that the agreed shooting season coinsides precisely with the annual northerly migration across Malta of hundreds of  thousands of migrating birds, including  tens of thousands of raptors – coincidence, not at all, just mindless irresponsibility on the part of the Maltese government.

Press Release from the Maltese Government,

Notice of Derogation for Spring Hunting 2012

Today the Government published a Legal Notice providing for a derogation for a 2012 SpringHunting Season for Turtledove and Quail (LN108/12). Government makes reference to the Conservation of Wild Birds (Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtle Dove and Quail) Regulations LN 221 of 2010 (as amended), and to the advice received from the Ornis Committee dated 20th March 2012, by virtue of which the Ornis Committee recommended the opening of a hunting season for Spring 2012 for a maximum number of birds that is not to exceed 11,000 turtle doves and 5000 common quails.

Having considered the said recommendation made by the Ornis Committee, and the legal provisions regulating hunting, as well as the Policy Guidelines for Hunting and Trapping of Birds in Malta, the Government has today published LN 108 of 2012 (Declaration on a Derogation for a 2012 Spring Hunting Season for Turtledove and Quail Regulations). By means of this Legal Notice, the 2012 Spring Hunting season shall be open between Thursday, 12th April 2012 and Monday, 30th April 2012, both days included.

In line with recommendation submitted by the Ornis Committee, and in accordance with the provisions of Annex 1 of LN 221 of 2010, after taking into account data pertaining to Autumn 2011 hunting season, the national hunting bag limit for Spring 2012 has been established at not more than 11,000 turtle doves and 5,000 quails. The season shall be terminated immediately by means of a press release should this national bag limit be reached before the 30thApril 2012.

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) shall be issuing a Special Licence for the Hunting in Spring 2012 to all eligible applicants as per procedure established by law. This non-transferrable licence would permit the hunting of two bird species only, namely turtle dove and quail. Only the holders of a valid carnet de chasse (licence to hunt birds) shall be eligible for the Special Licence for the Hunting in Spring 2012. Eligible persons may apply for this Special Licence between the 4thApril and 5thApril at any Malta Post branch in Malta and Gozo, during the normal business hours. Upon submission of the application form, the applicant is required to pay €50 Special Licence fee and must present his or her Identity Card and Carnet de Chasse booklet for2012-2013. Compliance with the relevant provisions of the Special Licence during the season shall be monitored and supervised by Police and hunting marshals appointed by the Malta Environment andPlanning Authority.

An independent ornithological monitoring study shall be carried out during the period of the season to provide additional scientific assessment of migration flows of turtle dove and quail and to help in verification of enforcement measures. The Government will continue in its efforts to ensure strict supervision and enforcement of the conditions for allowing this spring hunting season, including through the enforcement measureswhich were applied in 2011. Licensed hunters will therefore be required to wear numbered armbands and carry their Spring Hunting License at all times, report their catches through an SMS system and through their Carnet de Chasse before leaving the hunting zone and abide by time restrictions and a daily bag limit of 2 birds and a season bag limit of 4 birds.

The Police and hunting marshals shall monitor closely the observance of hunting regulations andconditions. Government demands nothing short of strict compliance with the hunting regulationsestablished at law. Infringements will not be tolerated. It is the duty of each and every individualhunter to comply and adhere vigorously with the law. It is in the interest of hunting organisationsand of individual hunters to ensure that no illegal hunting takes place since this would otherwisejeopardise any possible future hunting derogation.It is to be recalled that Malta is the only EU Member State for which the Court of Justice of the EUhas accepted that a Spring hunting derogation for turtle dove and quail may be justifiable. END

 Press Release issued by Birdlife Malta April 2012

BirdLife Malta today revealed that the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) will be commissioning a last minute study on Turtle Dove and Quail migration in spring which is planned to start in only nine days. BirdLife received an invitation last Thursday evening from an environment consultancy firm appointed to carry out the study, giving BirdLife Malta a deadline until Sunday, April 1st to confirm its participation.

The invitation comes as a surprise to the organisation, which was invited to participate at the last minute, without any prior consultation and without being provided any justification whatsoever for commissioning this study at the doorstep of possibly another spring hunting season in April 2012. This study is one of a series of events that have highlighted the run-up of the 2012 spring hunting saga, with decisions being taken behind closed doors and without proper discussion and consultation at the Ornis Committee.

A phone call to the company’s director by BirdLife Malta on Friday revealed that the consultancy firm was approached by MEPA only very recently with a deadline to start the surveys on April 9th.

“MEPA has left almost no time to concerned parties to contribute to the methodology of the proposed study and take an informed decision before they can commit their resources,” said Joseph Mangion, BirdLife Malta President.

Last year MEPA had commissioned the same consultancy firm to conduct a similar study in May, missing out on the peak migration periods of Turtle Dove and Quail in April.

“MEPA’s so called study suggests that birds should be counted by a hunter, a BirdLife ornithologist and a third person. Yet, when it comes to the counts of birds shot or trapped, MEPA conveniently relies solely on hunters and trappers’ declarations. This alone shows MEPA’s double standards and its bias towards the hunting lobby,” continued Mangion.

BirdLife Malta stated that the proposed Turtle Dove and Quail migration ‘study’ is to be based on the flawed methodology of the government study initiated in 2007 to justify its spring hunting derogations. The initial methodology had been devised by J.C. Ricci who has affiliations with the French hunting lobby and who produced studies with the aim of extending hunting periods for migratory species. Ricci’s methodology in 2007 was heavily criticized by some Ornis Committee members, BirdLife and the British Trust for Ornithology, one of Europe’s most respected ornithological organisations.

Furthermore, the government study had also employed Giuseppe Micali as a monitor who represented hunting organizations in Italy. Following Ricci’s departure from the study in August 2007, Christos Thomaidis a Greek game biologist was entrusted with the study in November 2007. Despite the fact that the methodology and supervisors of the study had changed several times during the study period 2007 to 2009, Thomaidis produced a ‘report’, which was released to the Ornis Committee in May 2011.

The report had a number of serious scientific flaws such as the change in methodologies, incomparable results, and lacked presenting raw data amongst others. Thomaidis in his report had also gone as far as deriving conclusions on Quail migration although he admitted that the Quail data was not sampled systematically. He also drew conclusions based on hunter’s bag counts although these were never verified. Hunters were paid to carry out the study whilst being allowed to shoot birds as they ‘counted’ them.

“We believe that MEPA is not interested in studying the importance of Malta for Turtle Dove and Quail migration. If this was the case, the employed methodology would have the backing of professional ornithological institutions, and would also consider studying the autumn migration of both species in order to analyse trends and difference in migration patterns,” concluded Mangion.

BirdLife Malta stated that it distanced itself from the proposed study and expressed concern that such rushed and flawed studies were only being commissioned to fulfill reporting requirements to the European Commission for spring hunting derogations, rather than into evaluating Malta’s strategic importance for the migration of European birds. END

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