Earlier this week the Ornis Committee recommended that the next spring hunting season should be opened. The government obliged on Thursday by declaring that, subject to the result of the abrogative referendum, the spring hunting season for turtle dove and quail will open on Tuesday 14 April and will close on Thursday 30 April.
The Ornis Committee is appointed by the government in terms of regulation 10(2) of the Conservation of Wild Birds Regulations. Its role is one of advising the Minister for the Environment on various aspects relative to the implementation of the regulations.
The Ornis Committee decided to recommend in favour of the opening of the spring hunting season by three votes in favour with a solitary vote against. The hunters’ representatives on the Ornis Committee voted in favour, whilst those from Birdlife voted against the opening of the spring hunting season. The additional support for spring hunting came from two “independent” members appointed by the government on the Ornis Committee. The chairman and the MEPA representative both abstained from voting.
Why all this fuss?
It is because on the eve of an abrogative referendum the recommendation is unethical. In addition, it flies straight in the face of scientific evidence which, without a shadow of doubt, proves (if any such proof was ever required) that the hunting of turtle dove and quail in spring is unsustainable.
The evidence comes from official reports released by the Ministry for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change, confirming that both quail and turtle dove numbers are at an all time low across Europe. The reports further show that the numbers of quail migrating over Malta are actually higher in autumn than in spring, negating two common arguments made use of by those lobbing in favour of spring hunting.
The official report compiled by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit on the conservation status of quail and turtle dove gives the most recent data on the two species, showing that the turtle dove have even declined again in recent years. A decrease of a further three per cent since 2012 brings the total reduction in their European population to 77% since 1980.
This report confirms that both quail and turtle dove are in decline across Europe, with their numbers at an all time low. It therefore doesn’t make sense to shoot them in spring when they are on their way to breed, as their numbers don’t get a chance to recover.
Malta is the only country in Europe to shoot migrating turtle dove and quail on their way to breed … and this just for pleasure. Official scientific reports now make it clear that these species are in trouble across Europe and we need to give them a chance. There is no justification for spring hunting
A second report, with the results of a government commissioned study on the migration of turtle dove and quail during the autumn 2014 hunting season, was published on 2 March. One of the arguments for spring shooting is that hunters claim not enough of the birds pass over Malta in autumn for them to shoot. Yet the independent study shows that more quail actually migrate through Malta during the autumn season than in spring.
This scientific study concludes that the numbers of quail flying over Malta during the autumn hunting season are actually higher than in spring, completely undermining one of the hunters’ arguments for a spring hunting season.
The report concluded that 45,683 quail and 7,956 turtle dove migrated over Malta during September and October 2014, during an autumn hunting season. In spring, hunters are allowed to shoot a total of 16,000 of both species combined because they have argued that they do not have enough birds to shoot in autumn.
Faced with this scientific evidence, which confirms what we have known all along, the recommendation of the Ornis Committee does not make sense. It can only be interpreted as a last stand of defiance. Hunting sympathisers still believe that they can bully their way through.
Voters have only one way of stopping this bullying: voting NO on 11 April.
published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 15 March 2015