Spring hunting season opens tomorrow, supposedly only for Quail

March 31, 2018 12:26 pm

Season dates set to open during peak migration of protected Turtle Dove

Ornis Committee meeting to plan enforcement ahead of season called off due to “unforeseen circumstances”

Number of hunting licences granted unknown, requests by BirdLife Malta to be given data remain unanswered

This year’s spring hunting season opens tomorrow Sunday 1st of April and will run until Saturday 21st of April, both dates inclusive. This is one week later than that of last year, and 15 days later than what was proposed by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) to the Government.

Illegally shot Turtle Dove (Photo by CABS)

An Ornis Committee meeting usually held ahead of the start of every season on enforcement was this week called off at the last minute due to “unforeseen circumstances”. During this meeting committee members would have been briefed and provided logistical feedback on the levels of enforcement planned for the upcoming season in terms of police deployment across Malta and Gozo. The Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) would have also announced the number of hunting licences granted for this year’s season.

Shot Turtle Dove from last year’s spring hunting season (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

Although the season is supposedly only for Quail, this year the season dates have been changed purposely to coincide with the peak migration of the Turtle Dove, despite hunting on this protected species being subject to a moratorium for the second year running. The European Turtle Dove is in serious decline across Europe, with the species being classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). As a result the Government had introduced a ban on its hunting in spring in 2016, with last year’s spring hunting season moved to the start of March to avoid hunters being active during the period when this bird migrates over the Maltese Islands.

The decision by the Government to push this year’s season dates to April puts this vulnerable species at great risk of being hunted, whilst also putting the Maltese Government at risk of being subjected once again to infringement action by the European Commission over the opening of a spring hunting season. BirdLife Malta has already held meetings at Commission level in Brussels and at the end of the season, will submit a detailed report to the European Union documenting all illegalities.

Just last week, MEPs from several political groups participating in a round table discussion hosted by Dutch MEP Anja Hazekamp (GUE/NGL) at the European Parliament in Brussels called on the European Commission to open infringement procedures against Malta to stop the practice of spring hunting on migratory birds as “there is concrete evidence that the derogation from the EU Birds Directive, applied by Malta to enable spring hunting of Quail, does not meet the required conditions”. It was also announced that there will be an EP plenary debate in May on spring hunting in Malta.

Whilst reiterating its consistent position that it does not agree with any hunting during spring, as birds flying towards their breeding grounds should be protected and not killed, BirdLife Malta has already stated that the way this year’s spring hunting season has been designed to target the protected Turtle Dove will backfire. It is clear that Turtle Doves will be killed due to this change in dates, as there is no doubt either that enforcing the moratorium is going to be close to impossible. The 2018 spring hunting season follows an autumn hunting season which was the worst one for illegalities in the past five years.

Quail shot during the spring hunting season. Quail is the only huntable species this spring. (Photo by Luke Massey)

From a report published by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit a few days ago it is very clear that in 2017 the digital self-reporting system which requires hunters and trappers to declare their catch, was an absolute failure. According to the Game Reporting Data 2017 Report – also known as the Carnet de Chasse Report – just 14% of hunters and trappers bothered to participate in the telephone system which replaced the previous Carnet de Chasse system to record the number of birds killed last year. On its first page the report says that 2,167 hunters and trappers reported Carnet de Chasse out of a total of 10,467 hunting licences and 4,534 trapping licences issued last year. While these figures declared by the hunters themselves shows that the number of birds reported as having been hunted last year is extremely low, the Maltese Government will now be using these same figures to justify to the European Commission the need to open this year’s spring hunting season.

Hunting hide for Turtle Dove. If you see a hunter in one of these during the next three weeks he will probably be breaking the law as hunting on Turtle Dove is illegal this spring (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

As from tomorrow, hunting will be permitted from two hours before sunrise until noon for every day of the season. Only those who are issued with a Special Spring Hunting Licence for 2018 shall be permitted to hunt for Quail during the season. While a maximum of 5,000 Common Quail can be hunted with a daily bag limit of five Quails and a seasonal bag limit of ten Quails per hunter, the total number of registered hunters for this year’s season with dates shifted forward is not known since the Ornis Committee meeting scheduled for last Wednesday during which the figures would have been provided was cancelled without any reason being provided. Last year 6,653 hunters had registered to hunt in spring. Attempts by BirdLife Malta to get the information about the 2018 spring hunting season were unsuccessful with our official requests to the Ornis Chairman and the Wild Birds Regulation Unit to provide this data remaining unanswered.

Hunters across the country have already been observed clearing their hunting hides which is a clear indication of what is in store for the next three weeks. Quail hunting does not require the use of hides, with hunters instead having to actively search for their game on the ground rather than sitting in hides waiting for them to fly over as with Turtle Doves.

With the help of a team of local and international volunteers, BirdLife Malta shall be as usual monitoring this year’s controversial spring hunting season through its annual Spring Watch camp. We will be counting on the public’s engagement to ensure that environmental law enforcement remains a priority and urge anyone witnessing illegal hunting to immediately report the case to the police and to BirdLife Malta in order for action to be taken.

Any illegalities or shot birds witnessed should be reported to the police on 119 and to us by calling 2134 7645/6 during office hours and on our hotline 7925 5697 (strictly only for wildlife crime emergencies) during evenings and weekends.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here. You can download the WBRU Game Reporting Data report for 2017 here.

Click here for the ENG version of the #NotAQuail campaign video which we launched in the weeks preceding the start of the 2018 spring hunting season, and here for the MLT version.