Protecting the birds, reclaiming the countryside


turtle doves just shot

The abolition of spring hunting will lead to the protection of birds when they most need it. All birds will be protected, not just the quail and turtle dove.  Birds need our protection during the spring as it is the time of the year when they breed or are preparing to breed. Every bird which is shot during spring signifies that there will be one less nest and consequently there will be fewer birds in the following seasons.

The Birds  Directive of the European Union is an integral part of Maltese law since, and as a result of, Malta’s EU  accession in 2004. The Directive expressly states that EU Member States along migratory bird routes have a far greater responsibility regarding bird protection. This responsibility is spelled out in article 7(4) of the Directive where it is very clearly stated that : “In the case of migratory species, [member states] shall see in particular that the species to which hunting regulations apply are not hunted during their period of reproduction or during their return to their rearing grounds.” This applies to all bird migratory routes throughout EU territory without exception.

The Birds Directive is not a Directive about hunting but about the protection of birds. It does, however, recognise that circumstances may arise as a result of which it may be necessary to permit an exception, which exception is called “a derogation”. Exceptions are very well defined in article 9(1) of the Birds Directive (vide box) and these are the only circumstances in respect of which an EU member state may derogate from its obligations under the Birds Directive. It follows that whilst EU members have the authority to permit an exception, such an exception, or derogation,  must be within the three general parameters determined by the Directive. It is not a right but a tool for addressing the specific situations mentioned in the Directive. Readers will very easily notice that the permissible derogations make no reference to the killing of birds for fun – commonly referred to as “hunting”.

Member states permit thousands of derogations in their territory every year. Derogations in respect of birds that are considered agricultural pests or a potential threat to the safety of aeroplanes are the most frequent cases where derogations are permitted. I am informed that the list of these thousands of derogations all over EU territory does not contain one single case which refers to a derogation for the purpose of sports during spring. Malta is the only exception.

Being on a migratory bird route means that Malta has an international responsibility to protect all birds returning to their rearing grounds to reproduce. This return occurs annually during spring, hence the need to abolish spring hunting. It is a duty we have towards the international community in respect of all the birds migrating through Maltese airspace.

The abrogative referendum, in respect of which Malta’s Constitutional Court decided that no valid objections had been filed, will ask voters whether or not they agree with the regulations that permit a spring hunting derogation for two specific species: turtle dove and quail. These regulations are contained in the Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtle Dove and Quail Regulations, originally published in 2010.

Voting NO on the 11 April  will protect  birds migrating over Malta during spring as well as restore back to the public access to the countryside at that time of the year. It will also eliminate the negative impact (through the sound of gunfire and the trampling all over the countryside) which will further help to attract and allow other breeding birds (not just quail and turtle dove) to nest in our country.

Currently, Malta’s countryside is practically inaccessible during the spring hunting season as one runs the risk of being showered with hunters’ pellets. Maltese families have very little access to the countryside when hunters are enjoying their spring derogation- and a number of them shooting at anything that flies.

This means that Maltese families and their children are being deprived of enjoying nature in all its splendour. We are all entitled to enjoy the countryside, which belongs to us all and not just to a select few. This enjoyment is currently being obstructed by the spring hunting derogation which the Parliamentary parties have been defending continuously.  It is about time that we reclaimed our right to fully enjoy nature in spring, while simultaneously allowing birds to continue breeding.

A total of 41,494 citizens signed a petition which has resulted in the abrogative referendum that will be held on 11 April 2015. This is a unique opportunity to protect the birds and help re-establish our families’ links with nature during the spring.  Let us use this opportunity well by voting NO, thereby rejecting the regulations contained in the spring hunting derogation and consigning spring hunting in Malta to the dustbin of history.

article 9. derogation


published in the Independent – Sunday 18 January 2015

2 comments on “Protecting the birds, reclaiming the countryside

  1. It is crucial that the SHOUT campaign does not focus solely on the protection of birds, but widens the perspective by emphasising also on the effect on the general public, who unfortunately may not be so much concerned about conservation, but who will ultimately decide the issue.

    Thus the effective inaccessibility to the public countryside especially since spring hunting generally overlaps the Easter holidays, the contamination of cultivated fields with lead pellets, the negative effect on tourism and thus the country’s economy, the cost burden financed by taxpayers to having ALE officers at best on a wild goose chase over the island, with the impossible task to control what the army of hunters are shooting at, the proliferation of shotguns in our neighbourhood, streets, and countryside throughout the year, and last but not least the factual exposure to having to bail out our spineless politicians and hunters by financing the European Commission’s hefty fines since there is no reasonable justification for the derogation based on an objective reading of the Bird’s Directive.

    Considering all this, hunters’ s intransigent expropriation of the countryside and shooting spree in Spring notwithstanding the 5 months long hunting season every Autumn & Winter (let alone the rabbit hunting excuse in other months), exposes the illogical costs that satisfying hunters’ s taste buds (at best) and sickening trophies (at times) entails.

    The hunters who claim to abide by the law (but somehow fail to report their criminal peers killing protected birds) whilst dismissing any possibility of restricting hunting to a roster basis within a handful of clearly demarcated hunting ‘reserves’, have no justification to claim that the privileges obtained from opportunistic politicians justify the underlying costs of their destructive activities.

    No matter how much hunters will try to green wash themselves and play the minority martyrdom tunes in the coming weeks, the true colours of some clear psychopathic elements within their ranks who have no qualms to shoot, beat up and stone people, vandalise private and public property – including the infamous ‘Namur jew intajru (Hagar Qim) craze, hack down trees (Natural 2000), and dump burnt oil into nature reserves, expose the hollowness of their self proclaimed socio – cultural – conservationalist twisted virtues. And knowing that such obsessed minds are licensed to keep and use firearms should send shivers down one’s spine!

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