The issue to be decided upon on 11 April is whether Malta should accept or repeal the regulations that permit spring hunting.
In fact the question asked in the referendum is as follows : Do you agree that the provisions of the “Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtle Dove and Quail Regulations” (Subsidiary Legislation 504.94) should continue in force?
On the 11 April we are expected to answer this question. A YES signifies agreement with spring hunting while a NO will abolish spring hunting from Malta’s statute book. It will also bring Malta in line with the Wild Birds Directive of the European Union.
The Wild Birds Directive is about the protection of biodiversity and not about facilitating hunting. As has been emphasised by university students on the campus this week, the focus of the referendum is sustainability. It is not about pleasing hunters but about our duties as a nation to protect wild birds. We have a duty, as a nation, to protect wild birds. We have a duty -all of us- to protect nature. In particular, we have a duty to prevent the loss of biodiversity.
Spring is the time when birds fly over Malta on their way to their breeding grounds. Malta, as one of the member states of the European Union along the route used by wild birds on their way to their rearing grounds, has a special responsibility to ensure that these birds are not hunted and can safely reach their destination.
The permissible exceptions are limited and very specific. These exceptions are known as “derogations”. The Wild Birds Directive permits the killing of wild birds during spring if these are a threat to aviation security. Likewise, the killing of wild birds in the spring is permissible if they are agricultural pests or else pose a sanitary threat. The Wild Birds Directive does not, in any way, permit the killing of birds for fun.
There are a number of inaccuracies being bandied around by the hunting lobby during this referendum campaign. They state, for example, that Malta has negotiated a derogation relative to spring hunting. This is incorrect. No EU member has negotiated, or can negotiate, any spring hunting derogation. Derogations are not designed to suite the interests of individual states and the rules regulating such derogations are spelt out clearly and are applicable to all member states in equal measure.
The decision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2009 is also being grossly misinterpreted and quoted out of context. The ECJ decision does not in any way condone spring hunting. It does, in fact, chastise Malta for infringing the Wild Birds Directive during the period 2004-2007 and concludes that, by authorising spring hunting of quails and turtle doves from 2004 to 2007, Malta has failed to comply with the Wild Birds Directive. (ECJ decision C-76/08 dated 9 September 2009) The reports on the derogations unilaterally taken by the Maltese government to permit spring hunting from 2008 to date are still being evaluated by the European Commission.
These are briefly the issues which the 11 April will decide. As a direct consequence of abolishing spring hunting, in addition to shouldering our responsibilities as a nation to protect wild birds during their breeding time we will have the added benefit of reclaiming the countryside during spring.
This abrogative referendum is a democratic tool which is being utilised for the first time by civil society in Malta. It is being used because, over the years, the parliamentary political parties preferred to listen to the hunting lobby which repeatedly warned them: “No hunting no vote” and had them on a leash.
Maybe this time they will take heed, that even environmentalists have a vote. It is not a vote against hunters, but a vote in favour of wild birds and their protection. It is a vote in favour of our environment and in favour of Malta .
published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 22nd March 2015