Contrary to what was stated in a Government press release by the Ministry for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change on Tuesday to respond to BirdLife Malta’s earlier press conference, up till today BirdLife Malta has not yet received any form of communication from the Government on the Ornis Committee and has not been officially notified that this Committee has been reappointed.
This means that despite the fact that the autumn hunting season opened today, up to now no Ornis meeting has been called as is usually the case to discuss an enforcement plan for the season.
After BirdLife Malta last Tuesday complained in an open letter to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and during a press conference in front of Castille that Ornis had not been reappointed after June’s general election despite the fact that the hunting season was about to commence, in a press release the Government replied that the Ornis Board has been officially approved and its members were being notified before the season opens. In his response three days ago the Environment Minister also stated that he will be meeting the Committee and that this year’s season will be regulated as usual by Ornis like any other season.
But contrary to what the press release stated, despite the season having now opened BirdLife Malta has not yet been notified or summoned to any Ornis meeting although it is common practice that such meetings take place before any eventual hunting season. The last Ornis Committee meeting was held in May.
Due to this situation, BirdLife Malta’s CEO Mark Sultana today wrote again to the Government, this time to Minister Josè Herrera directly as Minister for the Environment. In his letter, he pointed out that up till this morning BirdLife Malta has not been contacted yet about Ornis and called for Ornis to urgently meet as is normally the case before the hunting season to discuss the present situation and plan enforcement.
Mark Sultana explained that BirdLife Malta is worried as this gives the impression that the Government is not taking environmental law enforcement seriously thus sending a message to those that tend to break the law that they should not worry about being apprehended.
This would result in more illegal hunting cases during the season that every year is being used as a a smokescreen to illegally shoot other protected birds such as birds of prey which would be migrating over the Maltese Islands on their way to central Africa. Recent incidents we had this year during the closed season confirm that unless enforcement is efficient more protected birds will be shot.
In fact since last Tuesday’s press conference more reports of illegal hunting came in. On Tuesday BirdLife Malta received various reports of hunting at sea and information was relayed to the police concenring hunting at sea of Flamingos from powerboats in Gozo. Various flocks have been seen migrating along the Maltese Islands’ coast with a flock of around 300 Flamingos seen on the day over Comino.
On Wednesday afternoon, a hunter was seen shooting down two birds of prey at Ras il-Wardija in Gozo. The police responded an hour later and to our knowledge they did not reach the area by foot as their vehicle could not reach the site. Also on Wednesday, a group of hunters was reported to the Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) police unit for hunting at Fawwara even though the hunting season was closed.
Other reports over the past days were about shots which were heard in various locations in the early morning as Turtle Dove migration is underway. The places mentioned include Żabbar, Delimara and Dingli. On announcing this year’s autumn hunting season, the Government also communicated this year’s quotas for the hunting of Turtle Dove. These were supposed to be effective as from today but Turtle Dove hunting was already happening before this date.
During the autumn hunting season which is open for five whole months until 31st January 2018, the laws allow for the killing of 40 species of birds. It is estimated that Malta has arond 10,000 licensed hunters which is the highest density of hunters in any European Union country.
Read the Maltese version of the press release here.