First year of PM Abela’s rule stained with worst record for illegal hunting

February 1, 2021 9:25 am

The first year of Prime Minister Robert Abela’s rule will be a year stained with the worst record for illegal hunting in Malta in the recent past. A record that has been also noted by the European Commissioner for the Environment as a worrying fact in his latest communication with the Maltese Government.

A year also marked by the EU challenging Malta on all ongoing hunting and trapping derogations

Following the end of the autumn hunting season on Sunday 31st January, figures for 2020 as a full year now show that it was the worst year in the last eight for illegal hunting casualties recovered by BirdLife Malta and police. Last year has now in fact been established as the new record year for illegal hunting in Malta since 2013, with a total of 210 known illegally shot protected birds.

This amounts to nearly double the total of illegal hunting casualties recovered in 2018 which was – so far – the record year for illegalities (114) since 2013. The total also represents a big spike in numbers when compared to the previous year (2019) when the number stood at 99, which also means that 2020 had as many illegally shot protected birds as the totals of 2019 and 2018 put together!

The numbers for the autumn hunting season – which had been running since the 1st of September 2020 – have also doubled on the previous autumn hunting season’s, reaching a total of 101 as compared to 53 the previous autumn. These numbers are only the tip of the iceberg as they represent only a small fraction of the total of illegally shot protected birds since most of those shot are collected by hunters, mainly for taxidermy, and never recorded.

This rare Short-toed Eagle (Ajkla Bajda) was one of the illegal hunting casualties retrieved by BirdLife Malta this autumn hunting season

2020 is a new record year for illegal hunting, with 210 known illegally shot protected birds retrieved

Last year had as many illegal hunting casualties as the totals of 2019 and 2018 put together

The situation with enforcement and justice still leaves much to be desired, as witnessed during both the hunting and trapping seasons; with police struggling with resources, and with the newly set up Environmental Protection Unit (EPU) proving to be just a change in name from the Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) unit, having so far failed to make any significant inroads. Testament to this is the fact that the wildlife crime cases which BirdLife Malta and the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) have reported to the police are now facing the risk of falling through due to late summoning. This was reported recently in the media where suspects in 2018 cases have allegedly walked scot-free from justice due to them not being summoned within the two-year period stipulated by law. This is a gross lack of good governance and BirdLife Malta has already called for an investigation on the matter.

It therefore comes as no surprise that in December the European Union (EU) announced it is taking action against the Maltese Government on all ongoing hunting and trapping derogations. Through fresh Infringement Proceedings it initiated against Malta, the European Commission is questioning Malta’s spring hunting season allowing hunting of Quail, the trapping derogation allowing trapping of Golden Plover and Song Thrush, and also the trapping of finches for research purposes – a derogation which was enacted for the first time last year in defiance of the 2018 landmark European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling against Malta. Both trapping seasons (that for Golden Plover/Song Thrush and the smokescreen season allowing finch trapping under the guise of a scientific research) also came to a close during December and January. They had been running since October.

The two Letters of Formal Notice sent by the European Commission to the Maltese Government also cover the illegal hunting situation in the Maltese Islands together with the failure of the game-reporting system by hunters, and the Government is now obliged to respond by informing the EU how it intends to remedy the situation highlighted by the Commission within two months of receiving the warnings. The looming deadline expires in the coming days, precisely on 3rd February.

A shot Honey-buzzard retrieved from Siġġiewi

In the meantime the Ornis Committee, which advises the Minister on bird hunting seasons and derogations, has been defunct for a number of months now, and is still in the process of being reappointed. It is not clear whether the Committee will be able to discuss the situation with the infringements and the outcome of the past trapping seasons given the deadline ahead. This, in spite of the fact that BirdLife Malta formally called for a meeting when the infringements were issued on 3rd December 2020.

All this confirms the failure of the Gozo Ministry to manage the situation with the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) which is supposedly also responsible to aid the police on enforcement issues. The abysmal results obtained following the wrong decision by PM Abela to transfer the hunting remit from the Environment Minister to Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri – and which BirdLife Malta is still contesting in Court – speak for themselves: seeking the hunting lobby’s interests over and above the conservation of wild birds has only landed Malta in hot water once again at a European level!

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.

Note: BirdLife Malta runs a 24/7 rescue service for wild birds. Members of the public finding shot and injured birds frequently call on the organisation as well as police authorities to retrieve protected species. These are taken to a government-appointed veterinary clinic which diagnoses the birds for their respective injuries. The numbers quoted represent the number of birds collected by BirdLife Malta and confirmed as shot by veterinarians and include a fraction of the number of birds collected by police which BirdLife Malta is aware about. More shot birds may be recovered by government authorities which are not included in these statistics. The numbers quoted are compared from year to year as an indication of the trends in the illegal killing of birds in Malta at a national scale.

Comparison which shows how 2020 was a record year for illegal hunting in the past eight years
The illegal hunting casualties of the autumn hunting season 2020