Court ignores EU science, allows for Turtle dove spring hunting

A court decision on Monday morning revoked a prohibitory injunction requested by Birdlife Malta, removing the barrier for the government to issue the legal notice allowing for Turtle dove spring hunting, despite continued EU warnings and data recommending the opposite.

The court, presided over by Judge Giovanni Grixti, referenced a recent report by the Gozo Ministry’s Wild Birds Regulation Unit which showed an increase in Turtle dove population size, despite data by top scientific experts from both the EU and international conservation organisations saying otherwise.

In comments to The Shift, BirdLife Head of Conservation Nicholas Barbara said, “The court is giving preference to a limited report by a small, politically-motivated government department over longer-term scientific data showing a continued decline in Turtle dove population”.

Judge Giovanni Grixti, appointed by the Labour government, made a name for himself when he revoked a decision for a magisterial inquiry into the government’s transfer of three hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare.

“The WBRU is only a small snapshot, choosing to show a small increase in a longer-term decline,” he added. There have been long-standing concerns about the data collected by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit that depends on hunters reporting their catch.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has included the Turtle dove in its Red List of Endangered Species since 2015, classifying it as vulnerable to extinction. A March 2023 technical report on the European Union’s CIRCABC platform recommended a total suspension of hunting on the species.

The court decision follows a hearing on Friday after the government requested it is heard as a matter of urgency.

Earlier this week, the IUCN Pigeon and Dove Specialist Group sent a letter to the EU Commissioner for Environment, Virginijus Sinkevičius, asking him to prevent Malta from opening a Turtle dove spring hunting season this year.

Sinkevičius addressed the letter to Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri lambasting his decision to open a Turtle dove spring hunting season last year. Camilleri is a hunter who was given the hunting portfolio as a minister for Gozo in a Labour Party move to appease voters.

Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri at a Labour Party meeting.

The European Commissioner outlined how Malta’s decisions to ignore recommendations against the opening of a Turtle dove spring hunting season do not just have a local impact but go against “the collective and dedicated efforts of the Commission, Member states and stakeholders to halt the population decline and begin the recovery of the species.”

In February, the European Commission also advanced infringement proceedings addressing Malta’s spring hunting derogations, sending an additional letter of formal notice calling for the spring hunting of Turtle dove to cease immediately.

During last week’s court sitting, the State Advocate argued that the EU’s letter of formal notice was insufficient to prevent a derogation for Turtle dove spring hunting, saying that a reasoned opinion, the next step in EU infringement proceedings, is needed before Malta would have been formally requested to comply.

The government is now expected to issue a legal notice defining the times and dates within which the Turtle dove Spring hunting season will be opened.

In a Facebook post immediately following the court decision, Minister Camilleri expressed “satisfaction” at the court decision and said the season would “open following an upcoming legal notice today, until 30 April, from two hours before sunrise, until noon, with a national quota of 1,500 Turtle doves”.

The number of Turtle doves caught has been reported through an SMS system by the hunters themselves since 2016, which has been widely ridiculed for its inaccuracy.

During the autumn 2022 hunting season, less than 4% of hunters contributed data to the system. The same data was then used to inform the ORNIS Committee’s recommendations for spring hunting.

Following the Turtle doves’ placement on the IUCN Red List in 2017, the Maltese government placed a moratorium on Turtle dove Spring hunting, only for the decision to be overturned last year by Prime Minister Robert Abela, only weeks before the 2022 general elections.


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1 month ago

National quota of 1,500If there was 1,500 in north Yorkshire it would be amazing .But not if they were dead !Don’t think l will be holidaying in Malta any time soon even though l would love to see Turtle doves alive in the wild

1 month ago

It’s what happens when the institutions have the tentacles embedded in them maybe?

Francis Said
Francis Said
1 month ago

So 1,500 turtle doves only are allowed to be shot and killed.
I am not a hunter, but for this write up let’s assume I am an avid hunter trigger happy.
Assuming that I am out hunting and a flock of turtle doves are in shooting range. How am I going to control my urge to shoot as many as possible.
Oh, I have to inform whoever that I shot a turtle dove. Will I be so honest to inform them that I shot the whole flock and the others must refrain from shooting their share?
I think not.

Ġwanni Fenek
Ġwanni Fenek
1 month ago

Ġustizzja a la Labour.

Joanna Borg
Joanna Borg
1 month ago

Once again the government together with the judge have chosen to satisfy the urge of some blood thirsty, gun brandishing, lawless individuals even in the face of solid scientific evidence (not figures reported by hunters). Can we expect better? The minister is a hunter himself. This is equivalent to putting a pedoephile in charge of a kindergarten!

saviour mamo
saviour mamo
1 month ago

Go to the European Court of Justice.

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