Photo by Robert Camilleri
Birds are an intricate component of ecosystems, which we need for our own survival. Birds play an important role in the effective functioning of these systems. As birds are high up in the food chain, they are also good indicators of the general state of our biodiversity. When they start disappearing, it means that something is wrong with our environment and that we need to take action.
The Maltese islands lie on one of the main flyways of wild bird migration. This makes Malta one of the few places where people can experience a variety of species. A total of 384 bird species have been recorded in Malta. Of these, 170 occur regularly during spring and autumn migration periods. This is a natural resource to be treasured.
The country has the potential of attracting a number of cultured tourists through ecotourism and birdwatching initiatives, but this continues to be ignored due to an insistence to appease the hunters and trappers for reasons that are solely political.
| Live decoy bird at trapping site|
Many hunters and trappers have so far gotten away with killing birds indiscriminately. On the other hand, the Maltese public is forced to live with restrictions imposed on access to the already limited countryside available due to the occupation of most of it by aggressive hunters who claim public land as their own.
Spring hunting and trapping is expressly forbidden by the Birds Directive. However derogations (i.e. exceptions) from several provisions of the Birds Directive can be applied by any Member State if certain conditions are met. These conditions are set out in Art.9 of the Birds Directive. Derogations can be applied for example in the interest of public health and safety (Art.9(1)(a), for scientific, educational and conservation purposes (Art.9(1)(b) or in a very strictly regulated way for other “judicious use” (Art.9(1)(c). In any of these circumstances the derogation also requires that there be no other satisfactory solution.
The Maltese government has allowed spring hunting and trapping of Turtle Dove and Quail since it joined the EU in 2004 for three consecutive years. This had to stop following the interim measure issued by the European Court of Justice which ordered Malta not to open the spring hunting season in 2008.
On 10 September 2009, the ECJ ruled that by allowing spring hunting in 2004-2007 Malta had failed to comply with the conditions for a derogation and, accordingly, has failed to fulfill its obligations under the Directive.
However despite the ECJ ruling, the Maltese Prime Minister, under pressure from the hunting lobby, opened a six day spring hunting season in 2010, and adopted legislation future seasons to open for as long as 3 weeks, with larger bag quotas.
BirdLife presented a Legal Opinion on the ECJ ruling to the officials at the Office of the Prime Minister and strongly urged all political parties to respect the ECJ ruling and avoid taking actions that would raise false hopes in the hunting community. Malta's opening of further spring hunting seasons may result in Malta being taken to the European Court of Justice once again over the issue of spring hunting and this time the country may face hefty fines. These fines would be an unnecessary burden to Maltese tax payers.
The Commisson renewed legal action over Malta's spring hunt in October 2010. Reacting to this action, Malta's Prime Minister stated that Malta is 'prepared to go all the way' for spring hunting.
Instead of appeasing a hunting lobby already blessed with some of Europe's most favourable hunting legislation, the government and all political parties should direct their energies and undertake appropriate actions to address the serious problem of illegal hunting that continues to tarnish Malta’s reputation in Europe.
|Mortally wounded Osprey - another victim of Maltese hunters / IBalzan|