Myths of spring hunting by Hon. Roderick Galdes, MP – Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights Malta


“This year’s season was, by far, the best ever in terms of enforcement and compliance.” Photo: Jason Borg

“ It is being claimed this year’s spring hunting season was, by far, the best ever in terms of enforcement and compliance.”

Photo: Jason Borg

This year’s spring hunting season for turtle dove and quail ends today. What in most European countries would arguably pass as a rather mundane occurrence, hardly meriting a mention, this year’s spring hunt in Malta was characterised by media coverage of unprecedented intensity.

A well-organised and connected anti-hunting lobby succeeded in mobilising considerable media resources to flood the media space with ‘front-line reporting’. A flock of UK professional ‘celebrity naturalists’ flew over to augment media presence with ‘broadcasts from the war-zone’ and occasional ‘tweet storms’.

Predictably, hunters entered the fray with protests over ‘provocations’ and ‘exaggerations’ of ‘abolitionists’. Unsurprisingly, media frenzy whipped up by both camps left the public at large rather confused and, possibly, sick of it all.

This war of words gave birth to a number of myths, which presented the target audience with a stark and inescapable choice: pick a side on the strength of one-sided arguments or use own wits to navigate a narrow passage between the Scylla and Charybdis of spring hunting mythology. Let’s examine some of the main ones.

Myth 1: hunting in spring is outlawed by EU legislation. Only Malta permits spring hunting of birds in blatant defiance of EU law.

Bird shooting in spring can be legally permitted under EU legislation in very specific and restricted circumstances. The European Court of Justice recognised Malta’s specific circumstances in 2009. All hunting seasons since this judgement were permitted in strict accordance with the law.

Several EU member states, including the UK, also allow hunting of wild birds in spring. In the UK, certain bird species can be recreationally hunted all year round, while particular game species, such as geese, may be legally hunted in spring in the Isle of Man. According to EU statistics, these two particular species are also hunted in some Austrian provinces in spring.

Should, what is good for the goose, be also good for the gander?

Myth 2: Maltese hunters massacre millions of migrating birds. The legal hunting season is only a cover to mask rampant illegal shooting of protected birds. This claim is an unbelievably gross exaggeration.

Malta’s geographic location on the eastern-most periphery of the central European fly-way simply does not lend itself to migration intensity even remotely comparable to influxes along the main Mediterranean fly-ways. For example, only a fraction of a per cent of migrating birds of prey in the Mediterranean fly over Malta. But relative scarcity of birds over Malta is hardly the point. The point is that, while some 20 years ago illegal shooting was indeed rife, this is no longer the case and any incidents of illegal shooting today are truly isolated.

Objective enforcement statistics document a steady trend of decline in the illegal targeting of protected birds, particularly over the past two years. What we have in practice is that fewer incidents occur but these few instances are considerably more publicised, which gives a false impression that the problem increased.

While, arguably, even a single protected bird shot is one bird too many, one has to keep in perspective a sense of proportion. The rate of illegal targeting of protected birds in Malta is no higher, per capita, than elsewhere in Europe, particularly in comparison with those countries where large- scale problems, such as illegal poisoning of raptors, exist.

Today, the rate of illegal targeting in Malta is actually lower than in most Mediterranean regions. Several hundred protected birds may still be illegally shot in Malta over a year but this is a far cry from the situation only a few years ago and certainly nowhere near the ‘millions’ claim.

What matters is that the number of illegalities is steadily declining, mostly due to substantial increase in the legal deterrent, while the rate of disclosure of such crime is on the increase, due to improved field enforcement.

Indeed, today, Malta boasts the highest ratio of enforcement deployment per square kilometre of countryside anywhere in Europe and our penalties for bird-related crimes are also the harshest in the EU.

Ironically, it is much harder for a criminal to evade the law during legal hunting season, when enforcement is more intense and the presence of hunters acts as a deterrent, than it would be if the season were to be abolished. Indeed, should the spring hunting season be abolished, the enforcement situation is likely to deteriorate and not improve.

Myth 3: bag statistics reported by hunters cannot be trusted because hunters have an incentive not to report the truth. The system is fatally flawed. There is no verification and no real controls.

Should the spring hunting season be abolished, the enforcement situation is likely to deteriorate
In reality, Malta’s spring hunting season is possibly one of the most tightly-regulated and controlled hunting seasons in Europe. The system incorporates multiple verification and control mechanisms, ranging from daily, seasonal and national quotas, to SMS and carnet de chasse reporting requirements, to independent study of migratory influxes, to minimum legal standards pertaining to enforcement deployment.

Data collected is subject to rigorous internal quality control procedures and checks. Harsh penalties await those who do not comply with their legal obligations. The threat of these penalties by far outweighs any hypothetical benefit of breaking the law. Our record of prosecution shows that these penalties are being applied in practice.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for someone to evade the law. During this spring hunting season, around a fifth of all licensed hunters have been physically inspected in the field by the police. All processes are being closely scrutinised by the European Commission and the Malta Ornis committee. Official reports are published for all to see.

Myth 4: hunting for turtle doves and quails in Malta is causing a decline in the population of these species in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Decisions to allow spring hunting seasons are taken on spurious and fictitious data dreamed up to appease the hunting lobby.

Over three million quails and 2-3 million turtle doves are legally hunted throughout at least seven EU member states. While the population of these species, particularly turtle dove, declined in some EU countries, especially in the UK, where hunting of turtle dove is prohibited, other European regions, including countries like France, where the species is hunted on a large scale, have seen an increase.

The UK’s population of these species does not migrate over Malta and the birds that do migrate over the islands originate mostly in regions where the population is stable or increasing. By no stretch of the imagination can one credibly attribute a decline in the UK to hunting in Malta. The number of turtle doves and quails that can be legally shot in Malta is minuscule in comparison with bag statistics in other countries.

Myth 5: in cahoots with the hunting lobby, the government is steadily eroding the few remaining controls over hunting. The removal of licence fees, armbands, the removal of a requirement to obtain a hunting licence within 48 hours and allowing hunting on Sundays and public holidays is a testimony to this.

The government’s decision to modify certain legal parameters should not be seen as an attempt to ‘relax’ controls and enforcement. Armbands were a costly and ineffective measure that did not really aid enforcement but served to antagonise legal hunters.

A requirement to apply for a licence within a 48-hour period was totally unreasonable from an administrative point of view, causing undue pressure and additional expense both for the authorities and for the hunters, without any corresponding benefit in terms of enforcement. The removal of a special licence fee should be seen in the context of the overall hunting fees structure, which is presently being reviewed.

Allowing hunters, the majority of who are working people, to hunt on three Sundays and during one public holiday until noon did not increase the season’s duration or intensify the hunting effort. To the contrary, this year’s season has been shortened, in comparison with the previous one, through a corresponding reduction in permitted hunting hours during weekdays and through the shortening of the season by two full days.

All of the above modifications must also be seen in conjunction with a real and considerable increase in enforcement on the ground, greatly increased legal deterrents and generally raised standards of hunting governance.

Truth is the first casualty of war.

Regular factual updates on the progress of the enforcement operation, published by the government, were largely drowned amid the chorus of emotional claims and counter claims.

Ironically, this year’s season was, by far, the best ever in terms of enforcement and compliance. Yet, a cursory glance at the media’s virtual reality imparts an impression that the season was rife with illegalities of unprecedented proportions.

Inevitably, factual, objective truth was the first casualty in this meaningless war of words. If only a fraction of the energy spent by the NGOs on sensationalist campaigning, whatever the cause, were to be channelled into real conservation on the ground, the problem of illegal targeting of protected birds would have already been fully consigned to history.

Take a look at the protected raptors shot down illegally on Malta this year to understand to truth of what is taking place, despite what the Hon. Roderick Galdes, MP – Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights Malta is telling the public.


4 comments to Myths of spring hunting by Hon. Roderick Galdes, MP – Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights Malta

  • John Miles

    A reply to me from London –
    Good afternoon,

    Herewith you may find the reply for the captioned letter.

    Malta is fully committed that any possible future spring hunting derogations
    will be based on a rigorous assessment of the necessary scientific data and
    will be in line with the strict controls, enforcement and supervision
    required by the Birds Directive and enshrined in Maltese national
    Malta remains committed to its increased efforts in order to ensure strict
    enforcement of the established rules. This commitment is clearly noted
    through the establishment of the Wild Birds Regulation Unit, with in the
    Ministry for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change.
    The main aim of this Unit is to deal with all aspects of sustainable hunting
    In October 2013, the Government implemented a legal reform with regard to
    the enforcement of illegal hunting, doubling the penalties for hunting
    offences. Malta’s legal deterrent against illegal hunting offences may be
    considered to be amongst the harshest regimes in Europe.

    Clint Borg
    First Secretary

    Kindly consider your environmental responsibility before printing this
    e-mail 36-38 Piccaddily, London, W1J 0LE

    Editor’s Comment. Come on every one, please send your opinions to Clint Borg at Malta’s High Commision in London

  • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

    With the Hon. Roderick Galdes, MP in charge of animal rights on Malta, little wonder Maltese hunters have a free hand to shoot anything that moves, protected or not. A very similar situation on Red Grouse moors in England. Only one difference, in England hunters rarely if ever get caught, and when they do its community service and a paltry fine.

  • paul williams

    Re:- Mark Avery’s peaceful Hen Harrier protest organised by..Birders Against Wildlife Crime allegedly the rspb will now take place at 4 different moorland locations-Derbyshire,Yorkshire Cumbria and Northumberland….WHAT!!! No Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland…England’s Hen Harrier stronghold up until 2 years ago.Is the Forest of Bowland too sensitive boys? Or have you like the Hen Harrier been moved on?

  • Ringtail

    The Forest of Bowland has been the English Hen Harrier stronghold for many years. Dotted around these beautiful Moors is a welcoming logo of a Hen Harrier. Who has made the decision not to include Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland in the peaceful HH protest? Surely if you want to make an impact about the disappearance of the Hen Harrier you go to the “Forest of Bowland The home of the Hen Harrier” as depicted on the Logo.

    Editor’s Comment. Ringtail thank you for these wise words, but do organisations who were working to protect birds of prey in Bowland, including the HH which has now disappeared, want the media poking around just in case they report the truth?