Despite the fact that this year’s autumn hunting season is scheduled to start at the end of this week (on Friday 1st September), the Ornis Committee which usually meets to discuss concerns and plans for enforcement ahead of the season has not yet been reappointed after June’s general election, leaving the last committee meeting dating back to last May.
Ornis is composed of representatives from BirdLife Malta, the Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK), the Environment & Resources Authority (ERA) and the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) whilst occasionally also summoning the Malta Police Force when it comes to enforcement issues.
During a press conference held in front of the Prime Minister’s Office at Castille soon after he presented an open letter to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana explained that the laws allow for the killing of 40 species of birds (12 of which also from the sea) during the autumn hunting season which spans over 150 days between September 1st and January 31st – a period which amounts to almost half a year. The rest of the species are protected both by local and international law. BirdLife Malta reiterates its annual appeal for everyone to observe these laws that are enacted to safeguard especially protected bird species in Malta and to report any illegality which may occur during the next five months.
BirdLife Malta also calls on the authorities, namely the Government and the Malta Police’s Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) unit, to place environmental law enforcement as a priority during this period in which around 10,000 hunters (the highest density of hunters in the EU) could be out in Malta’s countryside to hunt. During the past four autumns BirdLife Malta received a total of around 100 illegally shot protected birds.
This is only the tip of the iceberg representing only a small percentage of the total amount of birds which are illegally shot during the hunting season. It confirms that the autumn hunting season is used by many as a smokescreen to illegally shoot other protected birds such as birds of prey which would be migrating over the Maltese Islands on their way from northern Europe to central Africa. By mid-September these birds will be flying over in their hundreds, looking for a place to spend the night as the raptor migration reaches its peak.
The autumn hunting season comes after several reports from the general public about a number of protected birds illegally shot at during the closed season, mostly raptors. On July 31st a shot Honey Buzzard was recovered from Birguma, limits of Naxxar, with no less than 10 pellets lodged inside its body. Later on during the same week, on August 4th, an Italian resident who was swimming in Xrobb l-Għaġin recovered a juvenile Black Kite which was washed ashore after falling to the sea in the area. An X-ray taken by the veterinarian revealed the bird had been illegally shot at, causing a fracture in its wing, and resulting in it crashing into the sea.
Then, just last week on Wednesday, birdwatchers at Buskett observed a Marsh Harrier which was shot at twice and eventually hit at Dingli’s Ix-Xagħra tal-Isqof area, an illegal hunting hotspot. The bird of prey was part of a flock of around 15 Marsh Harriers providing a spectacle in the sky as the autumn migration began to pick up. During the same day several shots on swifts were heard coming from outside Buskett’s boundaries.
A few days later, on Friday morning, a hunter was reported to police for shooting at birds during the closed season within the Għadira bird sanctuary, close to bungalows where people reside.
With reference to previous statements about reducing fines and penalties, BirdLife Malta reiterates that this would only benefit those who break the law as these fines are the only deterrent against the shooting of protected species and are meant to discourage the practice.
BirdLife Malta will be, in the coming weeks, organising its annual Raptor Camp to monitor illegal hunting during September and October and ensure that the birds that are traditionally targeted during this time of year are protected. Camp volunteers will observe bird migration, report illegal hunting, and assist enforcement authorities.
Anyone witnessing illegal hunting should immediately report the case to the police and to BirdLife Malta in order for immediate action to be taken. Illegalities and cases of injured birds can be reported to us on 2134 7645/6 during office hours or on hotline 7925 5697 (strictly for wildlife crime emergencies) during evenings and weekends.
This morning’s press conference was also addressed by BirdLife Malta’s Conservation Manager Nicholas Barbara.
Read the Maltese version of the press release here.
Click here to read the press release issued by the Department of Information to announce this year’s autumn hunting season and here to read the open letter presented by BirdLife Malta to the Prime Minister.