Spring hunting must stop following red-listing of Turtle Doves

March 21, 2016 2:52 pm

BirdLife Malta has criticised the opening of another spring hunting season on Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur), stating the government is ignoring the scientific evidence pointing to the declared ‘vulnerable’ status of the European Turtle Dove by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). During a press conference held on Saturday 19th March in front of the Office of the Prime Minister, BirdLife Malta stated that the Government should not underestimate the implications on the species survival by opening another spring hunting season.

Population declines

European Turtle Doves passing over the Maltese islands in spring will be on their last part of a long flight towards their breeding grounds. These are the strongest birds selected by nature and it is imperative that we allow them to pass freely and safely to continue breeding. In the last 15 years, we have also seen their populations fall by 30 per cent in Europe. This is why killing in spring is unsustainable. Malta remains the only European country that hunts Turtle Doves in spring. Coincidentally, while this species breeds in North Africa, Sicily and in most European countries, it does not breed in Malta.

Unreliable reporting system

BirdLife Malta also addressed the spring hunting of Turtle Dove will be, as in previous years, largely uncontrolled. This has been shown year after year by a failed game-reporting system which relies on the hunters’ self declarations. As was the case in past years, hunters have an interest in under-declaring the actual numbers of birds killed, such that the season does not close earlier than the 30th April.

In the past five years, there has never been a declaration of more than 4,200 turtle doves killed in spring by hunters. This, along with the fact that all declarations are made in the last days of each season, shows how unreliable hunters are. If such figures were to be believed, the Government must certainly be aware that with reducing the quota for Turtle Doves killed this spring to 5,000, the impact of this year’s spring hunting season on the Turtle Dove will be no different than previous years. BirdLife Malta insisted that the Government has a responsibility to lessen the impact on this declining species by reducing, or ideally eliminating the amounts killed. This year’s spring hunting season will fail at achieving this.

Government needs courage to stop spring hunting

BirdLife Malta stated that when the Government’s decision to open a spring hunting season is taken purely on a political consideration. It is a pity the Government, on the advice of the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) within the Parliamentary Secretariat for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights, has succumbed to pressure from those who wish to continue with spring hunting. BirdLife Malta noted that the Government’s position contrasts heavily to the singular occasions when the Prime Minister showed resolve in tackling illegal hunting.

BirdLife Malta is certain that spring hunting in Malta will end in the future, as either a consequence of the Turtle Dove numbers becoming depleted or as a result of the European Commission taking action against this derogation. These are both negative scenarios which we encourage the Government to avoid by having the courage to stop this unsustainable practice once and for all.