Hunting in Malta ‘taking advantage of the EU’s slow wheels of justice’ – CABS

The derogations from the European Union’s Birds Directive allowing for spring hunting and the trapping of finches and Golden Plover are nothing but “the Maltese government taking advantage of the EU’s slow wheels of justice” said Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) press officer Axel Hirschfeld in an interview with The Shift on Wednesday.

“The Maltese government thinks year to year. If they can create another derogation and ‘save themselves’ until re-election before they have to face any consequences from the EU, they will,” he said.

Each hunting season, a bag limit is set by the government to restrict the number of birds killed to maintain a sustainable bird population. The limit for the spring’s hunting season is based on hunters’ reports of caught birds from the previous autumn season, a system which both CABS and BirdLife Malta say is routinely abused, with hunters’ failure to report leading to flaky and unreliable data.

Hirschfeld commented that “’sustainability’ is the most raped word in conservation history”.

“The system in place is unenforceable and totally depends on the honesty of the hunters. We have a lot of dishonest hunters in Malta,” he said.

While the EU has consistently called for an end to Malta’s spring hunting derogations, infringement proceedings against Malta move at a glacial pace. The Maltese government is refusing to budge from its position even in the face of letters from the EU Environment Commissioner directly addressed at Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri, who administers the hunting portfolio.

Commenting on this spring’s hunting season, Hirschfeld said that CABS had come across “various incidents where Turtle Doves were killed before the season even opened,” echoing comments made by BirdLife Malta’s head of conservation Nicholas Barbara when interviewed last week by The Shift.

Hirschfeld said, “part of the Turtle Dove quota  was surely already exhausted by the illegal hunters who couldn’t wait,” further pointing to the inadequacy of a system that ends up abetting illegal hunting by failing to account for it properly.

“Other European Union countries have banned not only spring hunting in general, but some have also banned Turtle Dove hunting in autumn,” Hirschfeld explained, noting that despite not being obliged to do the latter under the Birds Directive, hunting on the species was instead restricted through national legislation, given that Turtle Dove has been listed as vulnerable to extinction since 2015.

Malta remains the only country in the European Union to open a spring hunting season for the Turtle Dove, defying scientific recommendations for the species’ protection.

An officer from the Environmental Protection Unit recovering a shot Turtle Dove – Photo: CABS

Malta: The deadly stepping stone to Europe

Asked about poaching on species which aren’t legally huntable during the open seasons, Hirschfeld said the issue is prevalent with “birds of prey, especially Honey Buzzards (Kuċċard) and Harriers (Bugħadam)”.

For these migratory bird species, Malta is a stepping stone used as a resting point along their long and arduous journey from central and north Africa, across the Mediterranean and into central Europe to breed in spring.

Regarding CABS’ home country, Hirschfeld said that “a lot is being done in Germany to protect these species, especially Montagu’s Harriers and Marsh Harriers which are essentially totally dependent on conservation efforts to survive”.

“These same birds are being targeted in Malta. We have had several incidents of large roosts being shot in the night,” he continued, highlighting the effect that illegal and unsustainable hunting in Malta has on the rest of Europe.

“Malta might be a small country, but it lies centrally on one of the most important migratory routes. It is the central bottleneck within an hourglass pattern, meaning there is a huge density of birds which pass through,” Hirschfeld said.

“The effect illegal hunting in Malta has can be seen in species such as Marsh or Montagu’s harriers, where the birds simply are not allowed to get old enough to breed and replace themselves for the next generation,” he continued, noting that “All large birds need some time to reach the breeding stage and breed only once a year.”

Hirschfeld also noted the importance of accounting for the unreported instances of such wildlife crime, referred to as the ‘dark figure’. He concluded with the sobering observation that “with this kind of wildlife crime, you have to assume a dark figure of at least 95%, which essentially means multiplying every reported crime 20 times for a more accurate idea of the reality”.

An Environmental Protection Unit Officer recovering a shot bird during the 2023 spring hunting season – Photo: CABS

This article was brought to you with the support of IJ4EU and is part of a series involving cross-border investigative journalism.

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Jasmine Cauchi
Jasmine Cauchi
1 month ago

As a Maltese citizen, I find this generally disappointing. Unfortunately, there was a hunting referendum in 2016. I believe around 51% voted for retaining the spring hunt. I wish that at some point hunting can become fully illegal, however some of the citizens, and I believe the majority of the government is quite traditional, and does not care in the slightest about the extinction of certain bird species, or anything related to the environment. Most of the government only cares about their pockets.

Tiziana Verbitz
Tiziana Verbitz
1 month ago

I am Italian and have been coming to Gozo for 12 years. Several times a year. I walk a lot and, in my walks, I have realized that after Covid and the lock-down (no tourists nosing around!) many trapping huts have been restored, barbed wire, “keep out” signs, so many that several tracks along the coast cannot be used anymore, because the path would enter in a “private property” (=places where nets and birds calls are placed). Today I wanted to follow the track of a yesterday trail run and, starting from Dwejra, I followed the red dots marking the way, up to one of those “private properties” with fake ducks and all the trapping equipment. I entered, sure that, at the moment a regular race had taken place, I was not violating any law. Well, I have been literally attacked by a very angry man, the owner of the place, who started shouting that the “red dots” were illegal and so on. I tried to explain and apologize, but he was totally out of his mind, so much that I felt in danger. I am sorry but I will report the fact to some tourist Magazines: Gozo can be dangerous!

1 month ago

Sadly the Maltese have a habit of if they say it’s theirs then it is without any legal recourse. My husband and I walked a path recently in Siggiewi and came across several hides, shotgun pellets and a rather large chap who was eyeing us up as we walked passed. When we got to the end of the track, there was a chain link fence stopping cars but nothing to state it was private, we turned around and walked back the way we came. It’s a barbaric act of cruelty and those who find it fun need to be tasered so they know how it feels to be shot!

1 month ago

Dear Mr. Hirschfeild,

Please do not try to fool or take advantage of the public by spreading this misinformation that Malta is some kind of springtime oasis that “huge density” of birds pass through. You are only fooling yourself.

Anyone who has experienced migrations both here and in foreign countries knows well that the routes through Spain and Greece are far more preferred for the migratory spieces. Whatever passes through Malta is just a drop in the ocean. So if your main concern is the conservation of wildlife you should look into the root cause of the decline in all bird species and not the ones which are hunted. This includes the extreme devastation of wild areas through mass agricultural practices and illicit use of pesticides and chemicals which have seen a sharp decline in most bird species.

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