No prosecution for illegal Turtle Dove hunting last year, BirdLife Malta calls on Government to stop playing with words

April 5, 2019 3:33 pm

Following an Ornis Commitee meeting, held just a week before the opening of the spring hunting season, BirdLife Malta criticised the lack of enforcement that adds insult to injury on hunting seasons purposely designed to be smokescreens for the illegal killing of the red-listed Turtle Dove during spring. Senior police officials were invited to discuss enforcement plans for the derogation period during the Ornis meeting and were confronted with last year’s results showing that not one individual was prosecuted for the killing of Turtle Doves during the spring hunting derogation period.

A spring hunting derogation such as the one to open between the 10th and the 30th of April may only be justified to the European Union (EU) if it follows a strict number of criteria including that of enforcement. As a result Maltese authorities are obliged to field a ratio of 7 police officers per 1,000 hunters. With 7,647 applications for spring hunting licences, this makes this year’s requirement a total of 54 officers at any one time. While on paper these figures would be reported as a given, their effectiveness is very limited.

This year’s spring hunting season for Quail intended purposely to be a repeat massacre on the red-listed Turtle Dove

Following the Ornis Committee’s vote on the subject last week, Government has opted to open a season for Quail only, dismissing the Federation for Hunting and Conservation’s attempt to lift the moratorium on the IUCN red-listed Turtle Dove, yet allowing a hunting season between the 10th and 30th April on the same FKNK’s request. The last two weeks of April are associated with a peak migration of Turtle Dove, while Common Quail are known to peak earlier in the month, leaving the onus of enforcement on police authorities to prevent the illegal killing of Turtle Doves during this period.

Common Quail shot during the hunting season (Photo by Luke Massey)

During the meeting, BirdLife Malta reiterated that last year’s efforts resulted in not a single hunter being prosecuted, in spite of the fact that BirdLife Malta provided police with concrete evidence of illegal hunting. One particular case involved an FKNK official who was filmed in Miżieb gunning down a Turtle Dove during last year’s Quail hunting season. Twelve months after the incident, not a single hunter has faced prosecution, meaning that these same individuals would be eligible to hunt again this spring, without facing any penalties.

The reponsibility lies with the Government to ensure that the Police Force pursue illegal hunting cases on Turtle Doves. Despite a call from the Ornis Committee to set up a proper wildlife crime unit within the Police Force to focus solely on environmental crime, the Government has done nothing in this regard.

Illegally shot Turtle Dove during spring (Photo by Filip Wieckowski)

Government’s reluctance to act on the matter follows a record year of illegally shot protected birds received by BirdLife Malta since 2013 with a total of 114 known illegally shot protected birds last year. Moreover, we have this year already received no less than 13 known illegally shot protected birds during the closed season. Ten of these were recovered since the start of spring, seven of them confirmed shot just over the past week. These figures are a mere fraction of what really happens in our countryside. All this indicates that 2019 will be yet another record year for the illegal killing of birds.

“Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has deliberately opted to open a spring hunting season during the peak migration of Turtle Dove, ignoring the value given to this bird across the European Union, at a time when the European Commission is asking countries to protect it across all European States.  This is disappointing coming from a Prime Minister that has acquired praise across the EU for his bold approaches in various areas, yet keeps Malta from abiding truly to the values of the EU Birds Directive, 40 years after this was adopted by EU member states,” BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana stated. 

The Birds Directive, whose 40th anniversary was celebrated earlier this week, bans hunting in spring and mandates the preparation of action plans for declining birds like the Turtle Dove. Last year, a Species Action Plan for the Turtle Dove published by the European Commission demanded an outright protection of the Turtle Dove, with a hunting ban also during autumn hunting seasons.

Birds should not be shot when they are migrating towards their breeding grounds and BirdLife Malta will remain adamant to bring unsustainable spring hunting to an end, ensuring Malta fully abides to the Birds Directive. Just as it did with the finch trapping saga, BirdLife Malta will be reporting its findings on the hunting season to the European Commission, after having failed to persuade the Parliamentary Secratariat in charge of regulating hunting to resort to any form of sound scientific reasonings.  

“Our country and its citizens want, and deserve to have their wildlife and biodiversity protected, and so far this Government is not delivering in this aspect,” concluded Mark Sultana.

BirdLife Malta is encouraging people to report any illegalities seen, reminding members of the public on the very evident distinctions between the Quail and the Turtle Dove which vary in appearance, call, flight patterns, hunting and luring methods. During the hunting season, we will be running our annual Spring Watch with the assistance of local and European volunteers who will keep an eye on bird migration and hunting.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.

The video at the bottom of this page shows four of the illegal hunting casualties recovered during the closed season since the start of spring 2019.

Note about the 2019 spring hunting season
This year’s spring hunting season – supposedly open only for Quail – will run from the 10th to the 30th April (both dates included), meaning that the dates were extended further towards the end of the month when compared to last year (when the season ran between 1-21 April). Effectively this means that this year’s will be an open season for the hunting of Turtle Dove since the dates clearly overlap onto the peak migration period of the vulnerable Turtle Dove during the last two weeks of April. Hunting will be permitted from two hours before sunrise till 12pm every day of the season. The national season quota was set at 5,000 Quail – both the daily quota and the individual season quota have been removed. A total of 7,647 hunters applied for the hunting licence (6,395 registered hunters in Malta, 1,252 in Gozo).