This year’s spring hunting derogation for the Vulnerable European Turtle-dove is illegal
BirdLife Malta has earlier today filed a Warrant of Prohibitory Injunction in Court, requesting a judicial assessment over the manner in which this year’s spring hunting season on European Turtle-dove is being permitted, and requesting an immediate closure of the season until this assessment is carried out. We maintain that given the “Vulnerable” status of the species which is recognised internationally by the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the European Union’s experts’ requests at halting the hunting of the species, Malta’s Government is ignoring such scientific evidence simply to appease the hunting lobby.
The Injunction addressed to the court tasks the Prime Minister, the Environment Minister and the Minister for Gozo, together with the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) for such actions. The Injunction asks for the immediate suspension of Legal Notice 116 of 2022 which permits this year’s spring hunting season on the Turtle-dove.
The injunction is challenging this Legal Notice since it goes against the European Birds Directive which supersedes any local legislation. Furthermore, since becoming members within the European Union (EU), the Law Courts of Malta have the authority and responsibility to decide on any local actions that could be in breach of the European Directives. EU Directives, including the Birds Directive, do not place the responsibility of protecting the Directive only on the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Actually, it is the local courts in Member States that have the primary responsibility of upholding EU law and making sure that all actions including the enactment of legal notices do not breach such Directives. Thus the Law Courts of Malta have the power and responsibility given to them within the EU framework, which also tag along with them a level of accountability too.
Spring hunting of Turtle-dove this year has come back on the cards following years of pressure from the Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK) and an ORNIS Committee decision to lift a moratorium established in 2016 through a government notice, and recommend an open hunting season on Turtle-dove between the 17th and 30th April. 8,041 hunters have this year registered for a hunting licence in spring, with the national hunting bag limit for Turtle-dove set at 1,500 birds.
The decision to go ahead with the season came with BirdLife Malta only opposing it, outvoted by FKNK and Ministry-appointed members of the ORNIS Committee.
Speaking at a press conference in front of the Law Courts, BirdLife Malta President Darryl Grima stated: “The Government has crossed the line when opening the hunting season for a vulnerable species to accommodate votes irrespective of scientific data and also in clear breach of the Bird’s Directive. The urgency of the situation merits the actions we are taking today. Government has opened a hunting season in spring for a species which is Vulnerable to Extinction, lacking the scientific justifications that this is sustainable, and in doing so, breaching local regulations and the EU’s Birds Directive. The Maltese Law Courts have an obligation to uphold European legislation above any local law and we are here asking them to intervene with urgency and stop the season”.
Commenting on the decision to open the season, BirdLife Malta CEO and ORNIS Committee member Mark Sultana added: “That the ORNIS Committee is Government’s puppet for doing what is Government’s will is nothing new. During the last ORNIS Committee meeting, held a few days before a general election, we’ve seen a Committee vote towards the reopening of a spring hunting season on Turtle-dove, based on non-scientific evidence presented by FKNK. Hunters do not care about a declining species, and we’ve seen this in how they’ve lobbied for a hunting season on Common Quail to still open during peak Turtle-dove migration, with Turtle-dove hunting continuing illegally and indiscriminately. This year the Government coincidentally felt it opportune to legalise its hunt just before an election”.
Commenting on the Turtle-dove’s status at EU level, BirdLife Malta Head of Conservation Nicholas Barbara stated: “The scientific evidence at hand shows that the Turtle-dove that migrates through Malta in the coming days is a declining species and still recognised as Vulnerable by the IUCN. No documents prepared by the FKNK or endorsed by WBRU will change this status. In opening a season on Turtle-dove, Government is failing its obligations to protect the species, as well as ignoring EU experts’ advice which asked for a zero take on the species in 2022.
Referring to an EU Task Force meeting on the Recovery of Birds held on the 18th March 2022, which looked at the current trends on Turtle-dove and hunting seasons across the EU, the EU experts advised a zero-take approach on Turtle-dove in 2022. Environment & Resources Authority (ERA) and WBRU representatives were invited to such a meeting.”
Read the Maltese version of the press release here.
You can also find the full text of the Warrant of Prohibitory Injunction here.