The number of police officers deployed to enforce hunting regulations during this year’s autumn hunting season has been reduced as the Malta Police Force will not include additional officers to boost its Environment Protection Unit, according to BirdLife Malta.
A report by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit shows that during the Autumn 2022 hunting season, 18 EPU officers were complemented by 41 officers coming from district police, Gozo police, Environmental Rangers, the Armed Forces of Malta and the WBRU itself for a total of 59 officers.
But in a statement on Monday, BirdLife Malta said that for this year’s season, stretching between 1 September and 31 January, no additional support will be available.
They added that the EPU “currently numbers only 15 officers that operate on a shift basis,” adding that while in past years, the number of officers was “boosted” at the peak of several protected species’ migration periods, this year, the EPU would receive no additional support.
“This means that during peak migration events expected in the coming days, a maximum of 1-2 police units that are specialised on hunting matters shall be operative on Malta,” they said, with environmental specialised units “non-existent” in Gozo.
In the statement, BirdLife Malta Head of Conservation Nicholas Barbara said Malta is “currently in a state of institutionalised degradation on the protection of birds.”
He noted how “a lack of enough boots on the ground to enforce the hunting season” could be the last spell for the thousands of birds that are leaving their European grounds and passing via Malta to Africa to spend the winter there”.
The press release noted how the lack of police presence led to a police unit from Mellieħa having to attend to a report in Girgenti, Rabat, illustrating just how thinly enforcement officers are stretched.
BirdLife CEO Mark Sultana said, “We call on Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà to honour Malta’s obligations for the protection of wild birds and shy away from pressures at keeping enforcement at an all-time low”.
He noted how a derogation allowing the trapping of wild birds expected in October would legally bind the government to have seven officers for every 1,000 licenses issued.
“It is ironic that the only real attempt at increasing police numbers to police a season comes only at a perceived time when authorities wish to impress EU institutions with a policed derogation,” he said.
The statement noted several other incidents since the opening of the hunting season at the beginning of September.
These included Honey Buzzards, and Glossy Ibises shot at in Buskett, Hobbies shot down near Żebbuġ, and injured birds, including Marsh Harriers, a Greater Flamingo and a European Roller.
BirdLife Malta and the police also received several shot birds, including a Little Egret, Night Heron, Eleonora’s Falcons, Common Kestrel, Honey Buzzard, Hobby, Yellow-legged Gull, Hoopoe, and Bee-eaters.
This Autumn’s hunting season is open from two hours before sunrise to 7 PM between 15 September and 7 October, and to two hours after sunset for the rest of the five-month season.
Forty species can be hunted from land and 15 from the sea, with turtle dove hunting only permissible in September with a bag limit of 500.