Malta: Protected birds shot out of the sky on first day of spring hunting.

A number of protected birds were shot down on Saturday 12/04/2014 as the spring hunting season opened. As of yesterday, hunters legally took to the countryside but, in the process, a number of illegalities were recorded by BirdLife Malta.

Speaking with this newspaper yesterday, BirdLife confirmed that its volunteers heard shots being fired whilst observing a flock of night herons at Irdum il-Madonna, and later observed a night heron  flying with a dangling leg (a classic sign of a gunshot injury). A cuckoo had been shot down in Gozo, while a marsh harrier was seen flying with a gunshot wound to its wing.

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From 12th April Spring Hunting opened on the Island of Malta

BirdLife said that it had recorded over 1,000 shots being fired in the early hours of yesterday morning from the six locations it had under observation.

These latest illegalities are over and above the dozens of reports of protected birds being shot the organisation had received before the spring hunting season officially opened for business yesterday morning.

Yesterday morning, BirdLife Malta’s  Spring Watch volunteers spent their first morning in the countryside, monitoring bird migration and hunting, recording evidence of illegal hunting and reporting incidents to the police.

“The season has barely even started, but as soon as the first shots were fired there were protected birds on the receiving end,” said BirdLife’s Conservation and Policy Officer Christian Debono. The season closes on 30 March.

Such illegal hunting is even more brazen than in previous years, considering the enormous increase in fines recently introduced by the government, which were applauded by both BirdLife and hunters’ organisations.

The government recently issued a stark warning to anyone contemplating breaking the law, saying: “Abuses will not be tolerated and anyone caught violating the regulations will bear the full brunt of the law.”

The new regulations mean that anyone found guilty of hunting or attempting to hunt, or taking or attempting to take any protected birds listed in Schedules I and IX of the Conservation of Wild Birds Regulations (S.L. 504.71), will, upon first conviction, receive a penalty comprising of a €5,000 fine and/or imprisonment for one year, as well as the permanent revocation of his or her licence and confiscation of corpus delicti.

In case of a second or subsequent offence, the applicable penalty will rise to €10,000, confiscation and/or imprisonment for two years.

The measures represent a ten-fold increase in the presently applicable minimum fine for first time and subsequent offences, while the permanent revocation of licence and imprisonment – which at present only apply to repeat offenders – will also apply in the case of a first-time offender in such cases.

The government also appealed to all hunters to ensure the strict observance of applicable hunting regulations, including reporting obligations, during the spring hunting season.

“Compliance will be strictly enforced. Any breaches of regulations and, in particular, non-compliance with time and space restrictions, any illegal targeting of protected species, or non-compliance with SMS reporting obligations and special licence conditions will lead to repercussions not only on the individuals concerned, but on the entire hunting community, and will put the rights of legal hunters to enjoy their season in jeopardy. Should significant breaches occur, appropriate measures will be considered,” the government said.

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 Spring Watch 2014 volunteers in the countryside keeping an eye out for migrating birds. Photo by Ella Beeson, BirdLife

On the 12th April BirdLife Malta launched a new Stop Spring Hunting campaign appeal calling on the Maltese to help “make this the last spring hunting season in Malta”.

Appearing on Animal Diaries, BirdLife Malta’s Christian Debono and Nicholas Barbara talked to Moira Delia about the impact of spring hunting on birds and the Maltese countryside, and how people could support the campaign for a referendum to stop spring hunting.

“The referendum has emerged as the only way people in Malta can stand up for wildlife and for their own right to have safe access and use of the countryside in spring, when it is the best time to enjoy nature,” Mr Debono, BirdLife’s conservation and policy said.

“Everyone can support the referendum campaign and make sure that when the time comes, people get out and vote to stop spring hunting.”

The appeal is accompanied by a video animation, narrated by Ms Delia, explaining the impact spring hunting has on the European turtle dove, one of the two species, along with quail, that can legally be hunted during Malta’s controversial spring hunting season.

The video asks people to donate to and share the Stop Spring Hunting campaign fund via the Indiegogo fundraising page.

“Spring hunting is devastating for migrating birds, especially turtle doves, as their numbers are already falling drastically in Europe, Mr Barbara said.

This morning, BirdLife Malta’s Spring Watch volunteers spent their first morning in the countryside monitoring bird migration and hunting, recording evidence and reporting incidents to police.

“The season has barely even started, but as soon as the first shots were fired there were protected birds on the receiving end,” Mr Debono said.

More information about what is illegal during the spring hunting season and how to report illegal hunting and injured birds is available on BirdLife Malta’s website.

 

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