Hunting and trapping seasons now closed, five months of illegalities and lack of enforcement

February 3, 2020 2:43 pm

Whilst the hunting and trapping situation remains in limbo following the illegal move in the ministerial portfolio over which BirdLife Malta has taken legal action against the Government, on Friday 31st January the 2019 autumn hunting season came to a close. It had been running for five months, since the 1st of September of last year. The same period was also characterised by a trapping season extended by 10 days which the Government still needs to justify to the European Commission. The trapping season also closed in January, on the 10th of the month. It had been running since the 20th of October.

Shot Grey Heron retrieved in September, one of the 53 known illegal hunting casualties of the last autumn hunting season (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

2019 second worst year for illegal hunting in the last seven years, average of eight reports a day received from the public in response to our #NoMoreCallers campaign

The hunting and trapping seasons were characterised by an Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) Police unit at its lowest-ever capacity in recent years, with zero backup from the Specialist Enforcement Branch within the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU). The unit has ended up with zero staff assigned to it following various resignations in the past years. This has led to a nonchalant attitude by the Government towards illegalities, as characterised by:

  • 99 illegal hunting casualties retrieved by BirdLife Malta and police last year, making 2019 the second worst year in the past seven (since 2013) for illegal hunting. These numbers only represent the tip of the iceberg since many other shot birds are never found or end up in taxidermy collections.
  • Widespread and unregulated use of electronic bird callers which led BirdLife Malta to launch the #NoMoreCallers public campaign to collect the necessary information about this illegal abuse so that following an analysis of the situation, action can be taken. In a month and a half we received nearly 400 reports from the public, an average of eight a day.
  • Uncontrolled trapping of song birds which should be illegal following the landmark European Court of Justice judgement delivered two years ago transforming this year’s season into yet another smokescreen for the illegal trapping of song birds and putting Malta at risk of facing an escalation of the open Infringement Proceedings which the European Union has already put in place over the Song Thrush and Golden Plover trapping derogation.

Despite all this, the Government continues to ignore the proposal for the setting up of a Wildlife Crime Unit which enjoys the unanimous backing of all the members of the Ornis Committee. More than a year has passed since the official recommendation was sent to the Hon. Clint Camilleri – at the time Parliamentary Secretary – in November 2018.

In 2019 there were a total of 1,895 authorised trapping sites across Malta and Gozo. 1,587 trapping licences were issued (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

In the present situation of a closed season, amid legal uncertainty on how hunting and trapping shall be regulated, and enforcement capabilities stretched to their limits, support from the public and environmental NGOs remains crucial. BirdLife Malta would like to thank the public for their collaboration in the past months, particularly in regard to the strong response we’ve had to our campaign against the illegal use of bird callers. All the information gathered will now be compiled into a report which will be sent to the European Commission. We would also like to thank the general public for their support during the hunting season. In the past five months we collected over 50 illegally shot protected birds, of which 17 were admitted into rehabilitation and successfully released back into the wild. Such results are only possible thanks to public support.

At the same time, however, we appeal to the public to remain vigilant to any illegality they may encounter during the closed season. Illegalities should be reported immediately to ALE Police on 119 and to BirdLife Malta on 2134 7645/6 (office hours) or 7925 5697 (emergency number).

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.

Total number of protected birds confirmed illegally shot in the last 7 years (2019 was the second-worst year since 2013)