|A blood-stained egret trying to pass over Malta|
Important Bird Areas (IBAs) face a number of threats in Malta. Several of the major human-induced threats include:
Illegal hunting can have a direct impact on an IBA by the illegal killing of the protected species that the site was initially designated for. Illegal hunting can also have an indirect impact on the IBA designation process. Areas which have the potential to become IBAs, often do not have enough data collected to demonstrate their importance because of the large numbers of hunters present in these areas. If it weren’t for the hunters there would be several more sites designated as IBAs in Malta.
Trapping, has an enormous impact on migratory and breeding populations of wild finches and has a serious impact on the habitat of IBAs. Trapping sites need large areas of cleared land devoid of vegetation on which to set nets for wild birds. This often causes irreversible damage to fragile habitats such as garigue and can result in the wanton destruction of endemic or endangered plant species. These sites therefore represent scars to the landscape of many IBAs, damaging the integrity of the sites.
Development on IBAs is obviously a major concern. The building or expansion of houses or tourist developments can completely destroy an IBA. For example, the proposed tourist developments on the cliff top IBA of Ta’ Cenc would have disastrous impacts on the habitat of the site.
Habitat degradation is an insidious threat to IBAs. This can be due to a whole range of factors including (i) chopping down trees/shrubs for firewood, (ii) the planting of invasive exotic plants on an IBA (often for the sole purpose of ‘enhancing’ an area for trapping or hunting purposes), (iii) driving of off-road vehicles over an IBA, (iv) illegal dumping of rubbish and land-fill, (v) pollution outflow from a range of sources, and (vi) light pollution near breeding seabird colonies. Eventually, habitat degradation can become so serious that the area becomes unsuitable to the birds for which the site was originally designated.
IBAs are the jewel in the crown of bird conservation sites in Malta. Their conservation, protection and correct management are therefore principal objectives for BirdLife Malta.