The 2017-2018 autumn hunting season which came to a close yesterday was the worst one for illegalities in the past five years.
With a total of 62 known illegally shot protected birds retrieved during the season – which ran between the 1st of September 2017 and the 31st of January 2018 – this year we had a situation where hunting illegalities were on the rise whilst enforcement was again very low.
Out of the total of 62 known shot protected birds which were collected during the past five months of the hunting season, 49 were recovered by BirdLife Malta whilst the other 13 were received or collected by the police. A comparison of the casualties retrieved by BirdLife Malta over the past five autumn hunting seasons makes for a worrying return of illegal hunting practices (Table 1).
After a total of 43 shot birds were collected by BirdLife Malta during the 2013-2014 autumn hunting season, numbers had gone down to 21 the following autumn, and further down to 17 during the 2015-2016 autumn hunting season and again in the 2016-2017 season. This year’s number stands in stark contrast to previous years, reaching a total of 49 which is higher than five years ago. These totals refer to birds found by members of the public and reported to BirdLife Malta only which are then seen and certified as shot by a government-appointed veterinary. Adding the numbers collected by the police would push the totals further up.
This autumn hunting season was also particularly bad for the exceptional use of electronic callers with little or no enforcement on the matter. Even though, ironically, in its annual report for 2017 which has just been issued, the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) mentions only six bird callers being seized during the whole season!
On the other hand, the Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) police unit – another crucial stakeholder for enforcement of hunting illegalities – is still very much understaffed and under-resourced, meaning it is unable to respond to all of BirdLife Malta’s reports handed over to the police throughout the year.
When comparing the figures for the whole year in terms of hunting illegalities, another bleak picture quickly emerges with 2017 again resulting as the worst in the past five years. Between January and December last year, a total of 82 known illegally shot protected birds were collected by BirdLife Malta and the police, which makes 2017 the worst year for hunting illegalities since 2013 (Table 2).
Commenting on the figures for 2017, BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana stated that these clearly show that when the Government opted to take a clear stand on illegalities as demonstrated in 2015 when the spring season was closed prematurely, the illegalities went down. This is because hunters felt that abuse of the law would not be tolerated. Unfortunately, in the last two years, the Government failed to keep this momentum allowing a significant amount of illegal hunting to re-emerge.
As usual, during the first part of the last autumn hunting season, BirdLife Malta held its annual Raptor Camp with volunteers joining our staff in the field to monitor illegal hunting during the season’s peak. For the first time BirdLife Malta is documenting the work which is done every year during this camp in a video, which is being released with this press release.
Ornis Committee gives go-ahead for next spring hunting season with dates and parameters to be set by end of month
Hot on the heels of the closure of the autumn hunting season, the Ornis Committee has already given its go-ahead for the upcoming spring hunting season. In its last meeting held on the 24th of January 2018 the committee agreed to discuss the parameters of the next spring hunting season for Common Quail, with BirdLife Malta being the only entity voting against. The spring hunting of Turtle Dove is still subject to a moratorium and there will be no hunting permitted for this vulnerable species.
The next Ornis Committee meeting is scheduled for the 21st of February and is expected to set the parameters and dates of the next spring hunting season whilst respecting the moratorium placed on the hunting of the declining Turtle Dove which came into effect with Government Notice 538 dated 27th May 2016.
Whilst BirdLife Malta remains adamant that spring hunting should stop, there is a concern that this year’s spring season dates will coincide with the known peak period for the endangered Turtle Dove and could potentially serve as a smokescreen for the illegal killing of this species despite the moratorium.