Hunters now practically granted nine out of twelve months to hunt

May 24, 2019 9:45 am

The amendments to the Wild Rabbit hunting laws which were announced out of the blue at the end of last week by the government will practically mean that with immediate effect hunters are now being granted a field day to hunt during nine out of twelve months.

Following the five months of the autumn hunting season (September-January) and the three-week spring hunting season for birds (in April), at the stroke of a pen they have now also been granted a further additional three months of rabbit hunting season extending from June to August every year. This means that they now can hunt for a duration of nine months throughout the year.

The relaxing of the Wild Rabbit hunting provisions will give rise to more wildlife crime and illegal hunting

Wild Rabbit. Photo by Alvin Farrugia

The 2019 amendments to the Environment Protection Act’s Protection of Wild Rabbit Regulations were announced by the Minister for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change together with the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights through Legal Notice 100 of 2019.

Although the legal notice amends Malta’s so-called Environment Protection Act, one asks where is the interest of nature protection in all this. The legal notice published on Friday and which becomes law with immediate effect relaxes two crucial provisions:

  1. Where previously rabbit hunting licence owners could only practice with permission of land owners, this has now been amended to allow rabbit hunting in all areas where bird hunting is allowed
  2. Where previously restriction to train dogs involved the use of leashes, this was also removed
Wild Rabbit. Photo by Aron Tanti

The repercussions of these amendments are various. First and foremost the opening up of huntable areas and use of dogs in all areas during the breeding season of most birds, is a cause of disturbance. Secondly, hunters who use the disguise of such season to kill breeding birds and other migratory species who migrate over the summer months (such as waders) will now have a free roam. Only last August, a flock of 18 White Storks were wiped out over a week, during the open season for rabbits, which consents hunters the use of guns during such a period.

These provisions also cover various Natura 2000 sites where hunting is permitted. Where previously rabbit hunting was only permissible on private land with the permission of the land owner, with the ultimate objective being pest control, this is now being expanded over a wider territory. A vast expanse of Natura 2000 sites is government land which will now be open to rabbit hunting.

Two of the 18 White Storks which were gunned down in August 2018 during the Wild Rabbit hunting season. Photo by Alice Tribe

BirdLife Malta finds it difficult how the Environment & Resources Authority (ERA), who is the caretaker of Natura 2000 sites in the Maltese Islands, has consented to such disturbance – a decision which is deplorable.

This announcement follows hot on the heels of a spring hunting season where enforcement on the ground was its lowest levels for the past years in Malta. The situation repeats itself every hunting season, with police not being able to cover enough ground, and with the situation even worse in Gozo where the Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) police unit is not permitted to operate.

In view of this latest development announced just a week before Saturday’s European Parliament elections, BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana stated: “Parliamentary Secretary Clint Camilleri continues listening only to the hunting lobby’s request to relax laws, yet does not take heed of the Ornis Committee’s advice to set up a wildlife crime unit. Now more than ever, with such lax legislation, the need and onus of enforcement is crucial to ensure that Malta’s environmental laws are respected by one and all.”

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.

Note: According to the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU)’s Game Reporting Data Report for 2018, last year hunters reported only 14 hunted Wild Rabbits and just 2 trapped Wild Rabbits. This contrasts with the total of 2,691 hunting licences and 56 trapping licences issued.