An indiscriminate massacre of protected species including the Turtle-dove

May 7, 2022 9:26 pm

Following the end of this year’s spring hunting season, BirdLife Malta notes that it was once again a season riddled with illegalities, mainly the targeting of protected birds including the European Turtle-dove (Gamiema). While Minister Clint Camilleri knows that the European Commission is not happy with his decision to open a spring hunting season on the protected Turtle-dove, he is also aware that this was illegal and breaches the EU Birds Directive which specifically does not allow any hunting in spring on this species due to its Vulnerable status.

To add insult to injury, it was also another season where hunters were witnessed breaking the law with widespread use of electronic callers and targeting of Turtle-doves illegally during the first week when only Common Quail (Summiena) could be shot. This also included a number of cases of illegal trapping of Turtle-doves, some of which could easily end up in FKNK’s aviaries. Such birds are then declared as being bred in captivity and used to greenwash the hunting activity effects on biodiversity by releasing them back into the wild.

The Osprey is a highly-prized raptor species for taxidermy (Photo by Benjamin Grech)
A highly-protected Osprey was one of the illegal hunting casualties of this year’s spring hunting season (Photo by Benjamin Grech)

BirdLife Malta Head of Conservation Nicholas Barbara explained: “This season was once again marred with the hunting of protected birds, from birds of prey like Marsh-harriers, Common Kestrels, Red-footed Falcons and Ospreys, to others like Nightjars, Bee-eaters, Golden Orioles and Hoopoes. The illegally shot birds retrieved by BirdLife Malta and police are only the few birds which hunters do not manage to get hold of, and represent an indicator to the level of illegal killing of various protected species that ensues whenever Malta opens a hunting season during the spring migration of these European species. While over 8,000 hunters were given a licence to practice for three weeks of hunting season, thousands of protected birds were massacred to be added to personal taxidermy collections under the 1997 and 2003 amnesties, a practice further revived thanks to recent changes in legislation issued before the last election, while the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) remains a spectator rather than a regulator to this illegal trade in wildlife.”

This year’s spring hunting season was riddled with illegalities, should warrant immediate scrutiny by the European Commission

Illegally shot Red-footed Falcon recovered from Qormi (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

During the period 10th to 30th April, BirdLife Malta recovered a total of 18 shot birds belonging to 15 protected species whilst Environmental Protection Unit (EPU) police retrieved a further 16 illegal hunting casualties. Even more birds seen or found with shotgun injuries included Grey, Night and Purple Herons, Hobby, Cuckoo, Woodchat Shrike and even a Yellow-legged Gull. All in all, our annual Spring Watch camp – which fielded an average of just three teams a day across a number of watchpoints in Malta and Gozo – has witnessed over 208 illegal hunting incidents during the period. All this can be seen in a video we’re releasing today which documents a summary of the three weeks of this year’s spring hunting season.

The lack of control over the hunting of protected species spanned also to the target species of the spring hunting derogation – the red-listed Turtle-dove and Common Quail – supposedly controlled by quotas allocated for the season. BirdLife Malta reiterates that there is no doubt that the national hunting bag limit of Turtle-doves was exceeded. The climax proving the lack of control on hunting activity was the fact that hunters themselves admitted they could not access the digital game reporting system while Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK) President Lucas Micallef was quick to urge hunters not to complain as this could dent their future spring hunting season chances.

Shot Purple Heron found by a member of the public during the season (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

Nicholas Barbara added: “The lack of control on the hunting derogation and the impunity of the hunting community was this year shown through new phenomena such as luring and killing of Nightjars, the luring of Turtle-doves with electronic callers as well as the hunting of Turtle-doves before the 17th April. In one particular case a hunter persisted in hunting after being caught red-handed hunting Turtle-doves before the 17th of April.”

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana concluded: “The season was clearly a free-for-all with a very evident mass movement of hunters on the island of Gozo not matched by police enforcement. The lack of enforcement on Gozo is also indicated by the significant number of cases of shot protected birds retrieved. The end result remains that hunters in Malta and Gozo are getting used to getting away with targeting protected birds. If one had to compare the last five years since 2018 to date with the previous five years (2013-3017) one would realise that the amount of illegally shot protected birds has nearly trebled.”

Malta has failed to protect migratory birds during their spring migration during the past three weeks and has opened fire on a Vulnerable species which the rest of Europe is doing efforts to protect. Malta shrugged off requests by EU Member States and the European Commission (EC) not to open a spring hunting season on the Turtle-dove. It thus appears, as is expected, that the derogation’s scrutiny by the EC should initiate immediately as this is the only remedy to prevent a repeat of this next year.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.

Watch the Spring Hunting Season 2022 illegalities video below or here.

A video documenting the illegalities witnessed by our Spring Watch teams during the spring hunting season 2022