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Malta to open spring hunting season despite illegalities on record

Birdlife Malta received a number of illegally shot birds found by members of the public before the controversial spring hunting season even started.

A Common Kestrel was found in Birgu last Saturday, with an injury on its wing from a shot. The following day, a Scopoli’s Shearwater was found in Marsascala with its wing “completely blasted off”. The bird was shot out at sea against all rules, and managed to swim in where it was collected among boats where it was collected in the bay.

On Sunday, another protected species – a Marsh Harrier – was recovered in Gozo with a gunshot wound on its right wing. “It was found running on the ground because it could not fly with this injury,” the organisation’s conservation officer Nicholas Barbara said.

“Even though the season is closed, we are already getting the first signs of illegal hunting,” he added.

Despite the illegalities recorded by Birdlife, as well as the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) on trapping, the Ornis Committee, yesterday decided that a new spring hunting season for Quail would be opened between 10 – 30 April.

“Hunters will still be able to target the Turtle Dove, and this year’s spring hunting season – supposedly only for Quail – will only serve as a smokescreen for hunters to illegally shoot the declining Turtle Dove,” Birdlife said.

European law bans spring hunting, on the grounds that the birds are on their migration route to reproduce. It has been a highly controversial topic in Malta as the two main political parties have pandered to the hunting lobby’s interests.

Advances were made under a PN government to increase regulation and limit spring hunting. While they were not far-reaching, any gains made in the interest of conservation were rolled back under a Labour government to gain favour with the hunting lobby.

More illegalities were reported by CABS. The organisation reported 14 cases of illegal bird trapping in Malta involving at least 20 individuals and leading to the confiscation of dozens of live protected birds.

CABS also reported two poachers in Hal Far after the organisation filmed two hunters shooting at birds during the closed season. Both men used illegal silencers to suppress the noise of their shotguns, CABS said.

The birdwatchers alerted the environmental unit in the Malta police, the A.L.E., who caught both men in the act. Their shotguns and illegal bird callers were seized. “After being confronted with the fact that their illegal activity has been recorded on camera both men admitted to the charges,” CABS said.

Petra Caruana Dingli at The Shift News

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