Malta should not keep challenging EU by continuing Turtle-dove hunt in spring

March 29, 2023 11:36 pm

Following yesterday’s ORNIS Committee meeting and vote in favour of the opening of a spring hunting season, the responsibility of opening a season on the Vulnerable European Turtle-dove, despite the additional infringement proceedings announced by the European Commission against Malta only a few weeks ago on this derogation, now falls directly on the Prime Minister and his Government.

Following ORNIS recommendation yesterday, responsibility now falls on PM and Government

Birdlife Press release Turle-Dove Hunt
The press conference held in front of the Office of the Prime Minister in Valletta (Photo by Cinzia Mintoff)

In a press conference held in front of the Office of the Prime Minister in Valletta, BirdLife Malta President Darryl Grima, CEO Mark Sultana and Head of Conservation Nicholas Barbara stated that Dr Robert Abela will decide whether he wants to continue confronting the European Union’s Environment Directives. They explained that BirdLife Malta was the only entity at ORNIS that voted against a proposal to open a spring hunting season for Turtle-dove.

Although hunting federation FKNK tabled a last-minute proposal to also open a trapping season for Turtle-dove – once again disguised as a “scientific research” programme – BirdLife Malta insisted that this proposal should not go for a vote. The ORNIS Committee conceded to this request. Trapping goes against the European Birds Directive as it is an unsustainable method of killing birds, even less sustainable if practiced in spring.

In fact, Malta is currently facing open infringement proceedings at different levels on all of its derogations which are the trapping of Golden Plover and Song Thrush, the trapping of finches, and the spring hunting of Common Quail and Turtle-dove. BirdLife Malta has also taken the Government to the Maltese Court over the spring Turtle-dove hunt. The excuse brought forward for the trapping of Turtle-doves is again “for scientific reasons” – an excuse which has not convinced the European Commission in the case of finches, for which Malta is expected to be arraigned in front of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) shortly.

Birdlife Malta CEO Mark Sultana Turle-Dove Hunt
BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana during today’s press conference (Photo by Cinzia Mintoff)

Unfortunately, however, the ORNIS Committee still voted in favour of a spring hunting season with BirdLife Malta voting against, and the Environment & Resources Authority (ERA) abstaining due to the fact that the Committee was not briefed on the ongoing infringement proceedings. It was only last month (15th February) that the European Commission sent an additional Letter of Formal Notice to the Maltese Government in relation to Malta re-opening a spring hunting season on Turtle-dove despite its Vulnerable status. The season was re-opened last year after the lifting of the moratorium which had been in place since 2017.

The rest of the Committee members voted in favour, even though information such as last year’s catches for Common Quail were not tabled by the time of the Committee’s meeting. According to a Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) report, a total of 154 Common Quail and 133 Turtle-doves were caught during last year’s five-month autumn hunting season. However such data may be considered unreliable being based on only 387 hunters out of a total of 9,884 licence-holders bothering to report a caught bird. Spring hunting legislation mandates that spring hunting quotas depend on the number of birds hunted the previous autumn. In view of this the Committee could not recommend the exact bag limits for spring, and has left it as a governmental matter.

Birdlife Malta Turtle-Dove
The European Turtle-dove, a species classified as Vulnerable to Extinction by the IUCN (Photo by Aron Tanti)

Yesterday’s ORNIS Committee vote has disregarded the fact that Malta is facing several infringement procedures initiated by the European Commission and even worse disregarded the Vulnerable status of the Turtle-dove, which remains declining. This comes as no surprise since three supposedly independent voters at ORNIS are chosen by Minister Clint Camilleri, apart from the Chairman.

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana stated: “Political gain remains the main force of reasoning at the ORNIS Committee where all scientific facts are sidelined. This is what makes the Committee inefficient in playing an advisory role, instead becoming simply a rubber stamp for Government decisions. BirdLife Malta remains active in such a committee only because it remains a platform to declare and minute the facts.

Our country’s reputation at EU level has hit rock-bottom, very similar to the conservation status of the Turtle-dove. It is very sad that our country remains adamant to go contrary to what the rest of Europe is aiming for. The Turtle-dove is at the centre of a Europe-wide conservation effort, except in Malta, and opening a spring hunting season on this protected bird is not sustainable and goes against this effort. With a new directive – the Restore Nature Directive – coming into force this year throughout the EU, our country will face serious issues unless the culture that one can take from nature irrespective of its status changes drastically”.   

In the coming weeks, BirdLife Malta will once again be present in the field on both islands with a particular focus on Gozo, with its yearly Spring Watch camp, which sees the participation of Maltese and European volunteers aimed at monitoring the migration of birds and the activities of hunting and trapping. We encourage people to contact BirdLife Malta and the police should they witness or suspect any illegalities. We also ask for the support and cooperation of the general public in reporting any injured or shot birds found during the spring hunting season, a unfortunate yearly occurrence on these islands.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.

For the WBRU Game Reporting Data (2022) Report, click here.