NEWS BirdLife Malta today launched a legal challenge to spring hunting in Malta by filing a Judicial Protest in the Maltese courts, while at the same time in Brussels, a delegation representing 39 MEPs met with EU Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potočnik, to call on the European Commission to suspend any further derogations to allow spring hunting.
In the Judicial Protest filed with the courts this morning, BirdLife Malta argued that successive Maltese governments have repeatedly failed to satisfy the conditions of Malta’s own National Framework Legislation, which sets out the criteria that must legally be met in order for a spring hunting season to be opened.
“The primary condition that must be met before spring hunting can even be considered to be legal is that there must be no detrimental impact on the European populations of the species hunted,” said Nicholas Barbara, BirdLife Malta’s Conservation Manager. “But the Legislation completely neglects to take account of the unfavourable conservation status of Turtle Doves and Quail in Europe.”
Instead, the Framework Legislation refers incorrectly to the global conservation status of the species. “This is used to justify spring hunting in Malta and it is completely wrong,” said Mr Barbara, “The Framework Legislation itself is based on flawed and unscientific data.”
BirdLife went on to argue that successive spring hunting derogations have systematically failed to meet several other conditions specified by the Framework Legislation.
“The opening of a hunting season in spring for Turtle Dove and Quail is dependent on the number of these birds reported shot and bagged by hunters in autumn,” said Mr Barbara, “but these figures have been shown to be unreliable.”
“The government acknowledges this fact but then continues to base its decision to allow spring hunting on these very same figures.”
During the spring hunting season itself, the failure of the authorities to prevent the widespread illegal killing of protected species year after year under cover of the legal season, and the lack of adequate and verifiable controls and monitoring to limit the numbers of Turtle Dove and Quail killed, both indicate the failure to meet two further conditions of the Legislation.
“We have already raised all of these issues with the Malta Ornis Committee and the Wild Birds Regulations Unit, but they have just been brushed aside”, said Mr Barbara. “It is clear that these serious concerns were not receiving proper consideration by the responsible authorities, so we have been forced to take them to the Judiciary instead.”
39 MEPs from 11 countries call on EU to suspend further derogations
Meanwhile, in Brussels, similar arguments were put to the EU Environment Commissioner, Janez Potocnik, on behalf of the 39 MEPs from 11 countries who signed a letter last month calling for the European Commission to immediately suspend any further derogations to allow spring hunting in Malta.
“It is clear that many MEPs from across Europe are extremely concerned about the impact of spring hunting in Malta on Europe’s birds,” said Steve Micklewright, BirdLife Malta’s Executive Director.
“While we continue to hope that the Maltese government might respond to the concerns being raised and take appropriate action to suspend spring hunting in Malta, we have to be realistic about this prospect given the established position of Castille,” said Mr Micklewright.
“A public referendum is consistently emerging as the only way spring hunting can be challenged and perhaps it is the best way for the issue to be decided after all – in a fair and democratic poll of Maltese voters.”
In reply the government categorically rejects these allegations, which fall apart in the face of the following facts:
- Malta has the highest ratio of enforcement deployment per square km of countryside during hunting seasons of any country in Europe
- Malta has one of the harshest in Europe penalty regimes against illegal shooting and taking of wild birds, with penalties including up to €15,000 fine, imprisonment of up to 2 years, permanent revocation of license and confiscation. Malta’s record of prosecution for bird-related crime shows that these penalties are being applied in practice. A case in point is that on 2nd April 2014, two poachers have been fined a total of €10,000 for shooting a protected Black Winged stilt and had their license revoked for life and for 3 years respectively;
- Over 97% of all cases of bird-related crime prosecuted with the assistance of the Specialist Enforcement Branch of Wild Birds Regulation Unit resulted in convictions;
- A new efficient administrative fines system for minor offences that was introduced in October 2013 shows impressive results in curbing minor infringements which previously used to clog our justice system but are now dealt with swiftly through harsh administrative fines;
- Malta deploys one of the most elaborate and rigorous hunting bag verification and control regimes anywhere in Europe, comprising harsh legal deterrent against potential non-reporting, a system of spot-checks in the field, rigorous data quality controls, exceptionally high rate of hunters’ compliance with their legal obligations to return completed carnet de chasse to the authorities following closure of autumn season (99.6%), an independent scientific monitoring study of bird migration, a real-time reporting system and multiple layers of enforcement of national and individual daily and season’s bag limits;
- Malta has one of the best in the EU track records on the implementation of EU Management Plans for huntable species, including for Turtle dove and Quail;
- Contrary to Birdlife Malta’s claims, at no point does the spring hunting framework regulation refers to “global conservation status”. The Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtle Dove and Quail Regulations (SL 504.94) requires the government to take into account “conservation status of the species” in deciding whether to permit spring hunting season for Turtle Dove and Quail.
- Contrary to Birdlife Malta’s claims, the scientific assessment of the latest conservation status of both species prepared by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit and discussed at the Malta Ornis Committee in March considered conservation status of Turtle Dove and Quail at EU level, at pan-European level, and at the global level. This assessment noted a decline in the population status of the two species in some European regions, as well as improvement in conservation status in other regions. The analysis also noted that the magnitude of the latest reported negative trends in the population status of both species is scientifically insignificant (a fraction of a percent change between 2012 and 2013). Moreover, the analysis noted that most Turtle Doves and Quails that migrate over Malta originate in EU Member States that have either stable or increasing populations of these species. This analysis will be published in the coming weeks together with the detailed report on the outcome of spring hunting season.