BirdLife Malta today took its legal battle against the Government to the next level with the filing of a Court Application (Rikors) on the claim that placing the Conservation of Wild Birds Regulations and the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) under the Ministry of Gozo goes against the Environment Protection Act and subsequent subsidiary legislation.
The Court Application was handed in this morning and comes after a Judicial Protest on the same issue was filed in January of this year, followed by a Complaint last week. This court action is also contesting the fact that Minister for Gozo Clint Camilleri issued the spring hunting licences without having the legal remit to do so. It is only the Minister for the Environment that can administer the environmental legislations and anything that derives from it, including the WBRU.
In a press conference in front of the Law Courts following the filing of the Court Application and just a few hours before the end of this year’s spring hunting season, BirdLife Malta officials explained how all this is happening during the worst spring hunting season ever. A season during which not only a record number of protected birds were witnessed being shot down, but also thousands of protected and vulnerable Turtle-doves were shot.
This season was again a smokescreen for illegalities and designed in a way to allow hunters to shoot at, and kill Turtle-doves in spite of the fact it was supposedly open only for Quail. Over just 20 days of hunting, we have had 44 known illegally shot protected birds, more than triple what we had last year with 12. In 2018 and 2017 during the same period we had 18 and 15 respectively which means that in 2020 we have just one bird less than the total number of the last three spring hunting seasons all together.
European Commission requested to scrutinize this year’s spring hunting season
What is worse and more worrying is the fact that 16 of these birds were Turtle-doves which could have been saved had the Government not opened a spring hunting season during this species’ peak migration. Two of these were found at the Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK)-claimed land of Miżieb which, as was revealed by the media a few days ago, the government is contemplating handing over to the hunting lobby granting it exclusive access to this mecca of illegalities for nine out of 12 months of the year.
The rest of the protected birds varied from bird of prey species such as Common Kestrel, Marsh Harrier, Honey-buzzard and Black Kite to Hoopoe, Bee-eater, Yellow-legged Gull, Collared Dove, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Common Swift, Golden Oriole, Nightjar, Stone Curlew and even a racing pigeon! All these are just the tip of the iceberg since they represent only those that did not land near the perpetrator or in unaccessible places. These were all certified shot following an examination by the government veterinarian. This spring hunting season’s shameful numbers bring the total of illegally shot birds so far this year up to 66, and with this rate 2020 might end up being the worst year in the past eight years. We’re still at the end of April and BirdLife Malta and police have already recovered two thirds of the full total (99) of birds received in 2019.
This year’s spring hunting season was characterised by an evident lack of enforcement on the ground. Following the opening of the season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis – despite an unprecedented unified call to the contrary by BirdLife Malta, BirdLife International, Alternattiva Demokratika, civil society NGOs and the independent media – illegal hunting was rampant, with police under strain due to the delicate situation in the country and enforcement officers struggling to control the hunting situation as requested by law.
In spite of all this, Government is still dragging its feet on the setting up of a Wildlife Crime Unit over which there has been unanimous agreement at ORNIS Committee level since August 2018. Such a unit within the Malta Police Force, if given the necessary resources and people with the right competencies, would help police to combat criminal acts related to nature and environmental law enforcement.
In the absence of such a commitment, BirdLife Malta has once again no other option than to raise all these points and issues on a European level. A dossier documented with all evidence collected will in fact soon be submitted formally to the Eruopean Commission. With these horrendous figures and and in view of the lack of discipline, strict supervision and enforcement we will be requesting the European Union to scrutinize this year’s season more than ever and start infringement procedures accordingly.
Read the Maltese version of the press release here.