Thank you for your email which will be brought to the attention of the Ministry. Hereunder you may find our position on the subject:
Clearly, the issue of bird hunting is very much in the public spotlight throughout Europe and beyond. In Malta, owing to country’s size and population density, public debate on this issue is particularly intense. It is, at times, characterised by extreme polarisation of opinions, which range from strong a priori rejection of the socio-cultural value and indeed the very place of traditional hunting practices within modern, heavily urbanised society; to extreme advocacy of a presumed right to hunt with little regard for the necessity of conserving biodiversity.
Publicity-seeking efforts of individuals do little to contribute to this healthy debate constructively. Instead, they thrive on sensational exaggerations, if not outright fabrications, and trivialise what is essentially a legal, social and an environmental issue.
Cheap, publicity-seeking claims of “millions of migratory birds blasted out of the sky”, “unregulated hunting seasons” and similar statements fall apart in the face of the following facts:
• Hunting and shooting of wild birds is a legitimate activity practiced widely throughout Europe and beyond, including in the UK. In Malta, the activity is subject to tight controls and restrictions that aim to ensure sustainability. Indeed the country boasts one of the most elaborate, tightly controlled and rigorously enforced regulatory systems in Europe. For instance, Malta deploys one of the most elaborate and rigorous hunting bag verification and control regimes anywhere in Europe, comprising harsh legal deterrent against potential non-reporting, a system of spot-checks in the field, rigorous data quality controls, exceptionally high rate of hunters’ compliance with their legal obligations to return completed carnet de chasse to the authorities following closure of autumn season (99.6%), an independent scientific monitoring study of bird migration, a real-time reporting system and multiple layers of enforcement of national and individual daily and season’s bag limits.
• Malta has the highest ratio of enforcement deployment per square km of countryside during hunting seasons of any country in Europe. In this year’s enforcement operation, various law enforcement authorities have collectively deployed over 70 enforcement officers to monitor the countryside and enforce the law during spring migration. This deployment comprises mixed patrol and surveillance techniques including vehicular patrols, foot patrols, mounted patrols, covert surveillance operations including using unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles (drones) and stationary observation posts located in strategic vantage locations. All officers participating in the enforcement operation received specialized training.
• Malta has one of the harshest, if not the harshest in Europe penalty regimes against illegal shooting and taking of wild birds, with penalties including up to €15,000 fine, imprisonment of up to 2 years, permanent revocation of license and confiscation. Malta’s record of prosecution for bird-related crime shows that these penalties are being applied in practice. A case in point is that on 2nd April 2014, two poachers have been fined a total of €10,000 for shooting a protected Black Winged stilt and had their license revoked for life and for 3 years respectively. By way of comparison, the highest penalty envisaged for illegal hunting in the UK is GBP 5,000 fine.
• In 2013 and 2014, 97% of all cases of bird-related crime prosecuted with the assistance of the Specialist Enforcement Branch of Wild Birds Regulation Unit resulted in convictions, which is excellent rate comparable to best practices EU-wide. Since October 2013, criminal prosecution for minor hunting offences has also been supplemented with new efficient administrative fines system which shows impressive results in curbing minor infringements which previously used to clog our justice system but are now dealt with swiftly through harsh administrative fines.
• Malta has one of the best in the EU track records on the implementation of EU Management Plans for huntable species, including for Turtle dove and Quail.
• A limited spring hunting season in Malta is permitted in strict accordance with EC Birds Directive and the outcome of 2009 judgement of the Court of Justice of the European Union, in which the Court explicitly recognised that “hunting for quails and turtledoves during the autumn hunting season cannot be regarded as constituting, in Malta, another satisfactory solution, so that the condition that there be no other satisfactory solution, laid down in Article 9(1) of the (Birds) Directive, should, in principle, be considered met”. On the basis of this judgment, the right to apply derogation for spring hunting in Malta has been explicitly recognised, subject to the strict conditions of the Birds Directive.
• The decision on whether to open a hunting season is taken after consideration of a rigorous scientific assessment of the conservation status of the species concerned, as well as statistics pertaining to bags of these species in previous autumn. There are no scientific indications that the limited hunting of turtle dove and quail in Malta has any detrimental impact on the maintenance of the populations of these species in the UK, anywhere else in Europe or beyond.
• The conditions for a limited spring hunting season in Malta are severely restricted. This year’s season is open from 12th April until 30th April, both dates included. Hunting can only take place from 2 hours before sunrise until 1400 on weekdays and until 1200 on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. Only those hunters who are licensed under special spring hunting license are authorized to participate in the season. Hunters must carry with the a valid carnet de chasse, ID card and spring hunting license with them at all times while hunting. Hunting is allowed for turtle dove and quail only. No other species can be hunted or taken during the season. Hunters are permitted to shoot a maximum of 2 turtle doves and/or quails on any given day and up to 4 birds during the entire season. Hunters are obliged to inform the authorities by means of SMS immediately a turtle dove or quail are caught, and to record catch in their carnet de chasse immediately before leaving the hunting area. These controls and restrictions are by far tighter than most hunting controls in the UK.
• Uptake of the national quota allowed under the terms of spring hunting derogation, namely 11,000 turtle doves and 5,000 quail is being monitored in real time through the SMS system. This is a far cry from the false claim of “massacres of millions of birds” on Malta, which simply do not migrate over the Maltese Islands in such numbers, owing to the fact that Malta is geographically located on the Eastern-most fringes of the Central European Flyway, over 200 km East from the primary Siculo-Tunisian flyway. During spring hunting season, government deployed independent observers manning 10 ornithological observation stations on any given day throughout the season, to assess the extent of migratory influx of turtle dove and quail over the Maltese Islands. This observation data is being used to estimate the total extent of migration, which estimate provides an additional, independent mechanism for verification of reported hunting bags.
Clint BorgFirst Secretary