Spring hunting season 2018 monitoring report to be sent to European Commission, illegalities video released

May 8, 2018 11:45 am

BirdLife Malta is today releasing a video summing up the findings of its annual Spring Watch camp which monitored this year’s spring hunting season for illegalities across Malta and Gozo.

This video, which will now be submitted to the European Commission as part of a report on the 2018 spring hunting season, presents a chronological account of illegalities witnessed every day of the season summarizing the main incidents encountered by our teams during the season dates – for a total of 148 illegal killing incidents showing the shooting at protected birds species migrating this spring, in particular the vulnerable Turtle Dove.


Following a moratorium of the spring hunting of the protected Turtle Dove declared in 2016, the Maltese Government this year deliberately opened a spring hunting season for Quail during the period when Turtle Doves migrate over the Maltese Islands. A spring hunting season for 6,900 hunters across Malta and Gozo opened between the 1st and 21st April 2018, against all scientific data and against the advice of BirdLife Malta and the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA). Hunters were supposedly allowed to shoot just Common Quail for which a national quota of 5,000 birds was set.

Rampant shooting of protected Turtle Dove

However, as widely anticipated by BirdLife Malta, due to the change in season dates, illegal hunting on Turtle Dove was rampant across Malta and Gozo and the season was indeed a smokescreen for hunters to target this vulnerable red-listed species. Thousands of Turtle Doves have been shot over our islands, in particular during the last days of the season when shooting at this protected bird spiralled out of control. This was witnessed by our volunteer teams during BirdLife Malta’s annual Spring Watch which monitored the hunting season from start to end.

BirdLife Malta releases video summing up the findings of its annual Spring Watch camp

Summary of findings

An average of two volunteer teams patrolled the countryside around Malta and Gozo every single day of the season, encountering no less than 148 illegal killing incidents including the shooting at other protected birds species migrating this spring, apart from the Turtle Dove. Here is a summary:

  • Various illegal electronic callers for Common Quail characterised the start of the season, with most of these callers operating unabated with little or no police enforcement.
  • 30% of illegal killing incidents involved the shooting at protected species, the majority of which involved the killing of protected Turtle Doves, especially during the last week of the so called ‘Quail hunting season’.
  • Other species that were observed being hunted illegally during the season include herons, Common Cuckoo, Short-eared Owl, European Roller, Common and Lesser Kestrel, Pallid, Montagu’s and Marsh Harriers.
  • A total of 18 illegally shot protected birds were found by members of the public during the period, 14 of which were handed to BirdLife Malta, and another 4 were recovered by government authorities which is a higher number than 2017. This makes this year’s season one of the worst spring hunting seasons in past years and definitely worse than last year’s.
  • This means that the total of illegally shot protected birds as confirmed by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) veterinarian from the beginning of the year up to the end of April 2018 now stands at 27 (which includes the 18 shot birds recovered during the spring hunting season). This is a higher figure than that for the same period last year. Since 2017 was the worst year in the past five years, it is worrying to see that this year we are already witnessing a worse scenario in terms of illegal hunting.

A fraction of the real picture

All this represents just a small fraction of the illegal killing that has characterised this year’s spring hunting season. Government authorities will in the coming weeks submit a report to the European Commission, justifying the spring hunting derogation for Common Quail. The European Commission shall then judge the validity of this season.

BirdLife Malta’s report to the European Commission

This footage is part and parcel of BirdLife Malta’s own report to the European Commission’s Environment Directorate-General, which will seek to question whether the decision to allow hunting during the Turtle Dove’s peak migration goes against the spirit of the European Birds Directive and any form of derogation from it.

The video we are releasing today is just a snippet of what our Spring Watch teams have witnessed during the three-week hunt with a day by day account of the season…exposing the harsh reality of Malta’s spring hunting season and its impact on Europe’s birds, in particular the declining Turtle Dove!

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.

The “SPRING WATCH 2018: a summary of illegalities witnessed during this year’s spring hunting season” video can be previewed further up in this page. It has also been uploaded to our YouTube channel here.