Spring Watch 2014: Hope for Change

April 25, 2014 8:58 am

By Liz Knowles, Camp Volunteer

A Marsh Harrier passes close to a hunter –
wonderful proof that birds appear to be safer in Malta
than ever before.  Image: Lawrie Phipps

In the UK, I am used to watching Marsh Harriers cruising tranquil reedbeds, and Great White Egrets and Grey Herons feeding undisturbed at the edge of calm, quiet pools.  It’s always therefore a sad shock to come out here to Malta to see the same species with which I’m so familiar in such close proximity to the multitude of hunters, hides, trapping sites and, yes, guns.  

Just this morning I saw a huge bird on the horizon from a coastal watchpoint.  Knowing this could be a highly desirable prize to an unscrupulous hunter, we drove along the coast a little. There we found a Grey Heron battling the brisk morning wind that had been making us shiver for the past hour. Unfortunately we couldn’t track it for long – it flew down behind a clump of trees, in which, just visible, was a stately and robustly built wooden hide.  A minute later a single gun shot was heard, and the heron was not seen again.  Of course nothing can be conclusively drawn from this by any means, but given the BirdLife’s many experiences of recording illegal hunting I personally feel my concern for this bird is well founded.  

Not long before this we had witnessed several Kestrels, Lesser Kestrels and Montagu’s Harriers also battling the coastal winds and flying very close to some hunters.  Perhaps surprisingly, as most hunters are well aware if BirdLife teams are close by, a few shots were fired as a male Montagu’s Harrier passed over their lookout.  Again, we cannot say whether these shots were fired at this bird or one that it’s legal to hunt, but my heart skipped a beat and filled with dread as it flipped in the air before racing away.  We are always ready with our camcorders just in case in order that evidence of any illegalities can be proven and prosecuted.

Purple Heron by Dave Clarke

At the moment the UK nature reserve I work at, RSPB Dungeness, is host to a majestic purple heron – a real ‘exotic’ treat which brings with it the hope that they may one day breed again there following the successful rearing of a chick in 2010.  In 2011, a male and juvenile purple heron were again seen on the reserve, but no female returned.  Seeing all these protected birds battling the Maltese islands in order to complete their spring migration makes me wonder, as I do every year, what it was that happened to that female.  Birds face so many challenges in order to successfully breed; I truly hope she met a natural end rather than having her life snatched away for the sake of target practice, or for the chance to make a quick buck – stuffed and sold as a collectors item. 

Luckily, as the above photo of the Marsh Harrier shows, there does appear to be significant change in the air.  Just a few years ago this sort of view could barely be imagined – I feel very positive that this Spring Watch is seeing the beginning of better fortunes and increased understanding of the need to preserve all our nature, together.


BirdLife Malta has been campaigning against illegal and unsustainable bird hunting on the Maltese islands for more than 50 years. If it was not for all of our work, we would not have reached the point we are at now, with the vast majority of people on Malta wanting to see spring hunting ended. Now is the time to turn that dream in to reality.
There are several ways you can help us:
  • You can help our campaign at a political level: click here to write to your MEP and ask them to support this urgent call for action to stop spring hunting in Malta.
  • Join BirdLife Malta to support our work for birds and nature in the Maltese Islands. As a member you will receive our regular members’ magazine, Bird’s Eye View, and email updates about our work. Your membership fee will help to make sure we can continue fight for birds and nature.
  • Make a donation towards our Stop Spring Hunting Campaign at http://igg.me/at/stopspringhunting  You can also help spread the word about our campaign – share this page and our video about spring hunting through Facebook and Twitter – please ask your friends and family to share and donate to our campaign if they can. #stopspringhunting

By working together we can end spring hunting on Malta forever.

The League Against Cruel Sports have been supporting Spring Watch and Raptor Camp for a number of years.  Security for this camp has been paid for by Stiftung Pro Artenvielfalt,  ensuring the safety of our volunteers.