Birdlife Malta files judicial protest against derogation which allows spring hunting on the island.

BirdLife Malta has filed a judicial protest calling for the repeal of derogation from the European Birds Directive, arguing that it fails to take into account the unfavourable conservation status of Turtle Dove and Quail • The Maltese Government claims ‘facts prove BirdLife allegations on spring hunting are unfounded’.

MALTA-TRAPPING

Police officer removing illegal nests used to snare migrating birds.

Conservationist NGO BirdLife Malta last week filed a judicial protest against Malta’s spring hunting, arguing that successive Maltese governments have “repeatedly” failed to satisfy the criteria for spring hunting season to be opened.

In March, the Maltese government announced that the spring hunting season would be opened from 12 April to 30 April, while a national hunting bag limit of 11,000 Turtle Doves and 5,000 Quail was set.The government’s decision to open the spring hunting season means that Malta – currently the only the country in the European Union to have a recreational spring hunting season – would once again derogate from the Birds Directive, which normally prohibits the hunting of migratory birds during such a crucial stage of their life cycle.However, BirdLife has taken exception at the government’s decision for Malta to once again derogate from European legislation.“The government is failing to take into account the unfavourable conservation status of Turtle Doves and Quail in Europe.”

“Prior to spring hunting can be even be considered, it must be ensured that there is no detrimental impact to the European populations of the species hunted,” argued Nicholas Barbara, BirdLife Malta’s Conservation Manager.

The NGO has insisted that Malta’s National Framework Legislation – the body setting out the criteria for spring hunting season to be opened – is incorrectly referring to the global conservation status of the species – a move which is seeking to “justify spring hunting in Malta.”

Defending its decision to launch a legal challenger against spring hunting in Malta, BirdLife has insisted that it had raised these issues with the Malta Ornis Committee and the Wild Birds Regulation Unit – only for these to be “brushed aside”.

“It is clear that these serious concerns were not receiving proper consideration by the responsible authorities, and consequently, we have been forced to highlight these issues in front of the judiciary instead,” it said.

In addition, BirdLife argued that successive spring hunting derogations have also failed to meet several other conditions specified by the Framework Legislation.

“The opening of a hunting season in spring for Turtle Dove and Quail is dependent on the number of these birds reported shot and bagged by hunters in autumn, but these figures have shown to be unreliable,” Barbara said.

“The government acknowledges this fact but then continues to base its decision to allow spring hunting on these very same figures,” he continued.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, similar arguments were put to the EU Environment Commissioner, Janez Potocnik, on behalf of the 39 MEPs from 11 countries who signed a letter last month calling for the European Commission to immediately suspend any further derogations to allow spring hunting in Malta.

Hailing from, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom, the MEPs are calling for immediate and urgent action to stop Malta’s abuse of the Birds Directive by systematically failing to satisfy the conditions of successive spring hunting derogations since 2010.

With 44,376 signatures submitted to the petition for an abrogative referendum on spring hunting, a public referendum is emerging as the only way spring hunting can be challenged in a fair and democratic way by Maltese voters, Birdlife continued.

Government reaction

The parliamentary secretariat for animal welfare has rejected BirdLife’s claims in a judicial protest it filed in court against a derogation from the ban on spring hunting.

BirdLife says that the government’s derogation does not satisfy Malta’s national framework legislation, a body of laws that lays down the specific criteria by which the country can derogate from the Birds’ Directive’s ban on spring hunting.

Birdlife also accused the authorities of failing to prevent widespread illegal killing of protect species and a lack of adequate controls to limit the numbers of turtle dove and quail killed.

In a statement, the government said Malta – the smallest EU member state – had “the highest ratio of enforcement deployment per square km of countryside” during hunting seasons of any country in Europe.

It also said Malta had one of the harshest penalty regimes, recently hiked up after the police failed to curb yet more illegal trapping and hunting, with fines increased tenfold to €15,000, two-year prison sentences, and permanent revocation of license and confiscation. On 2 April, two poachers were fined a total of €10,000 for shooting a protected Black Winged stilt and had their license revoked for life and three years respectively.

The secretariat also said 97% of bird-related crime prosecuted with the assistance of the Specialist Enforcement Branch of the Wild Birds Regulation Unit, resulted in convictions.

“Malta deploys one of the most elaborate and rigorous hunting bag verification and control regimes anywhere in Europe, comprising harsh legal deterrent against potential non-reporting, a system of spot-checks in the field, rigorous data quality controls, exceptionally high rate of hunters’ compliance with their legal obligations to return completed carnet de chasse to the authorities following closure of autumn season (99.6%), an independent scientific monitoring study of bird migration, a real-time reporting system and multiple layers of enforcement of national and individual daily and season’s bag limits,” the parliamentary secretariat said.

According to the Malta’s  ‘Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtle Dove and Quail Regulations’, the government must take into account “conservation status of the species” in deciding whether to permit spring hunting season for turtle dove and quail.

The scientific assessment of the latest conservation status for both species, prepared by the government’s own Wild Birds Regulation Unit, considered conservation status at EU, pan-European and global level.

“This assessment noted a decline in the population status of the two species in some European regions, as well as improvement in conservation status in other regions… the magnitude of the latest reported negative trends in the population status of both species is scientifically insignificant – a fraction of a percent change between 2012 and 2013.

“The analysis noted that most Turtle Doves and Quails that migrate over Malta originate in EU member states that have either stable or increasing populations of these species.”

This analysis will be published in the coming weeks together with the detailed report on the outcome of spring hunting season.

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