A spring hunting season has already opened illegally on Turtle-dove

April 13, 2023 2:30 pm

The current spring hunting season on Common Quail which has been open since Monday has already resulted in a significant number of European Turtle-doves killed illegally, despite the question of whether Turtle-doves may be hunted legally in Malta is pending a court decision. A court hearing on Friday shall be deciding the fate of the Vulnerable Turtle-dove this spring, following a warrant of prohibitory injunction filed by BirdLife Malta last week which was provisionally upheld by the court. The injunction was filed in reaction to the fact that a decision to hunt Turtle-doves between the 17th and 30th April is based on false data disregarding the periled conservation status of the species.

…and now risks being opened legally on the basis of twisted facts

BirdLife Malta officials addressing the media on the steps of the Office of the Prime Minister this morning (All photos by Antoine Monnier)

This Friday, a court presided by Judge Giovanni Grixti shall be contesting a number of fundamental issues concerning the proposed hunting season, which include BirdLife Malta’s right to demand that EU law is upheld in front of the Maltese law courts, its interest in safeguarding birds from being harmed by a hunting season, and the impact an open hunting season on Turtle-doves would have on this European species which is classified as being Vulnerable to Extinction.

The recommendation to open a hunting season on Turtle-dove had been made at an ORNIS Committee meeting on the 29th March, on the basis of a report tabled by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) which stated that Malta’s reference population on Turtle-doves has increased between 10-12%, with the Committee agreeing to a quota of 1,500 birds to be killed over a two-week period. BirdLife Malta shall be contesting the science behind such flawed calculations especially given the fact that top experts and scientific institutions regard the European Turtle-dove as continuously declining, with their populations being at the lowest since 2003. The most up-to-date data on declining Turtle-dove populations was recently tabled during a meeting of the EU’s Task Force on the Recovery of Birds, for which officials from the Ministry for Gozo’s WBRU also attended. During the meeting experts recommended a Europe-wide suspension on the hunting of Turtle-doves to mitigate the continued loss of the species, and even singled out Malta.

The stark warning to not impact further the species is one in a series of alerts the Ministry for Gozo has received in the past months, and which were ignored in the decision-making process at ORNIS and Ministry level. These include a similar recommendation to halt hunting made in March 2022, a letter from European Commissioner for Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius to Minister Clint Camilleri in May 2022, and a formal EU warning on the hunting of Turtle-dove awarded to Malta this February 2023.

Addressing journalists in front of the Office of the Prime Minister in Valletta, BirdLife Malta President Darrly Grima stated: “It is our right to bring the matter in front of the court to seek justice on this travesty of a season which risks damaging a declining species such as the European Turtle-dove. Were it not for BirdLife Malta to contest the issue, who would see to ensuring that Malta upholds its international obligations in protecting this species? We cannot wait for lengthy contestations of the derogation at EU level and keep opening a spring hunting season on Turtle-doves regardless. The writing is on the wall that Turtle-doves are declining and we cannot risk losing even a single bird.”

The dead Turtle-dove that was recovered earlier in the day after it was found by a member of the public at Delimara

Continuing on, BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana insisted: “Clint Camilleri’s notion of Dak li hu tagħna, jibqa’ tagħna is a motto which holds no value when it comes to Turtle-doves. These are not birds that belong to Malta but to the European countries where these birds nest and for which conservation efforts are in place to ensure they make a recovery. Camilleri is intent to ensure that Malta is listed as a cause of extinction of the species rather than one which protects it. The hunting lobby might not be bothered with such a notion, but we and a good part of the Maltese community care about this, and this is why we are taking the government to be answerable to court on the matter.”

Latest statistics on the status of the European Turtle-dove that migrates over Malta according to expert reports presented to Maltese and European officials at the EU Task Force on the Recovery of Birds

This year’s warrant of prohibitory injunction was filed ahead of the publication of the legal notice, thus blocking government from issuing a legal notice permitting the hunting of Turtle-doves. In its pleas the State Advocate is also expected to contest this matter on the basis of the conclusions of a similar injunction last year, which was however filed after the legal notice was published.

Irrespective of the court proceedings, the past days have nonetheless seen daily incidents of Turtle-doves being killed illegally witnessed by BirdLife Malta’s Spring Watch teams. Hunters poised in hunting towers clearly not hunting for Common Quail, and awaiting incoming Turtle-doves are an all-too-common sight across Malta and Gozo with police presence resulting not as common so far. Out of all watchpoints visited by BirdLife Malta teams in the past three days, police units were only observed in locations when called in for reports of illegal hunting by BirdLife Malta. Other illegal hunting incidents have included the targeting of protected species like Pallid Harrier, Montagu’s Harriers and Marsh-harriers, with some incidents of shooting after hours.

At the end of the press conference, BirdLife Malta officials presented a dead Turtle-dove which had been found by a member of the public earlier during the day from Delimara, a notorious illegal hunting spot. “Virtually the hunting season is already open on Turtle-dove with hunters out en masse mostly to hunt Turtle-doves and not Quail. The timing and manner in which the season has been opened over the past years practically ensures that hunters hunt Turtle-doves irrespectively. It is a known fact that police cannot keep up with controlling what each and every hunter hunts, let alone are we to believe that should this hunting season go through, 7,900 hunters will just limit themselves to 1,500 birds just because this bird is in a Vulnerable state,” concluded BirdLife Malta Head of Conservation Nicholas Barbara.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.