ORNIS spring hunting recommendation based on ‘unreliable’ data – BirdLife

The ORNIS committee’s recommendation to open a spring hunting season for turtle doves is “based on insufficient data” and challenges the EU Birds Directive with the Union “losing patience” with Malta, according to BirdLife Malta, which held a press conference on Thursday afternoon on the steps of the Office of the Prime Minister.

BirdLife Malta President Darryl Grima, CEO Mark Sultana and Head of Conservation Nicholas Barbara described how the ORNIS committee’s decision on Wednesday evening was based on “unreliable” numbers with less than four per cent of hunters contributing data about the previous season’s catch meant to inform the committee’s decision.

The decision to nevertheless recommend a spring hunting season for turtle dove means that Malta will continue challenging the Birds Directive at a time when its reputation with the EU has “hit rock bottom”.

The turtle dove was placed on the red list of endangered species by the European Commission in 2015. Spring hunting for turtle doves was phased out in 2017 but was reintroduced in 2022 before the general election.

The ORNIS committee was established as an independent committee made up of stakeholders related to hunting and bird conservation, which is meant to inform government decisions including those on whether to open hunting and trapping season seasons and whether to apply derogations from the EU’s Birds Directive.

Barbara explained during the press conference how BirdLife Malta was the only entity forming part of the committee to have voted against the season’s opening.

The Environmental and Resources Authority (ERA) abstained from the vote, a move that Grima said was equivalent to washing its hands of responsibility. They said, “the ERA is meant to be an autonomous authority, public officials need to stand up and be counted”.

Barbara went on to describe how BirdLife Malta would increase its efforts in monitoring for illegalities, specifically mentioning Gozo as a “Mecca for hunters where enforcement is minimal”.

Grima called on civil authorities to do their job, saying they are “meant to uphold Malta’s laws”. He said that Gozo’s Permanent Secretary John Borg was complicit in the matter. “Why doesn’t the Environmental Protection Unit (EPU) go to Gozo? The Police do nothing,” he said.

In comments to The Shift, Barbara noted how crucial data meant to inform the ORNIS committee decision was nowhere to be seen during the meeting. He specified that “the number of hunters which applied for a spring license and how many quail had been caught in autumn were both missing”.

The data that was presented to the committee, was “insufficient”, as only around 300 hunters reported their catch last season out of an estimated 10,000, only four per cent. He noted how this issue was continually faced, year after year.

The digital-only SMS-based hunting catch reporting system introduced in 2016 has been widely criticised as ineffective, seeing as “hunters have no real incentive to actually report their catch,” Barbara said .

“Hunters do not apply for a license simply not to make use of it” he continued, “it doesn’t add up”. He went on to highlight the European Commission’s recent escalated infringement proceedings against Malta’s reintroduction of turtle dove hunting in spring.

“This is what spring hunting means”, a symbolic ‘gift’ presented in front of the OPM

During the conference, Grima explained how Malta is in fact facing EU infringement proceedings on all its derogations from the Birds Directive, including the trapping of golden plover (pluviera) and song thrush (malvizz) , the trapping of finches and the spring hunting of common quail (summien) and turtle dove (gamiem).

On Wednesday, the ORNIS committee’s decision recommended that quail hunting is to be allowed from 10 to 30 April and turtle dove hunting from 17 to 30 April, two hours before sunrise until midday.

The FKNK, also part of the committee, tabled a last-minute proposal to also open the trapping season for turtle dove under what BirdLife Malta called “pseudo-scientific research excuse”. Their proposal was not conceded to.

At the end of their press conference, which was held in front of the office of the prime minister, BirdLife Malta presented a symbolic ‘gift’, a statuette of a dead turtle dove “representing what a spring hunting derogation really meant”.

BirdLife Malta appealed for the public to report any hunting illegalities to them and the respective authorities. They can be reached on Facebook Messenger or over the phone numbers listed on their site.


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