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European Court Puts End to Spring Hunting in Malta

Will it hold?

Malta has finally been forced to comply with European bird protection laws today [Thursday 10 September, 2009], following a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice which has declared that Malta has been breaching European law by allowing the spring hunting of quail and turtle dove passing through the islands on migration. Joining the European Union in 2004, Malta agreed to abide by European law, including those protecting birds. But, defying Brussels, Malta allowed the islands’ hunters to continue shooting quail and turtle dove during their spring migration. Indeed, it was only a previous order by the European Court of Justice that encouraged Malta to introduce a temporary ban on spring hunting in 2008. This has been in force during the last two spring hunting seasons.

BirdLife International, BirdLife Malta and the RSPB – the UK partner of BirdLife International – state that following today’s decision, the Maltese government must now make the spring hunting of quail and turtle dove permanently illegal. However, hunting in autumn can continue for these and a number of other species, under conditions laid out in the EU Birds Directive.

BirdLife International and BirdLife Malta submitted a complaint to the European Commission on this issue in 2005. “This ruling is very good news for the flocks of European birds crossing Malta every spring on their hazardous migration from Africa. Once again we have an example how the EU Birds Directive can help birds across Europe,” said Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager at BirdLife International in Brussels.

BirdLife also welcomed the Court's ruling which brings clarity to the heated disputes on hunting in Malta: “Malta needs to come in line with the Birds Directive and ban spring hunting. At the same time, as we said many times before, Maltese hunters have every right to continue their practice during the autumn hunting season – within the parameters of the law, and respecting the list of huntable species” said Joseph Mangion, BirdLife Malta’s President.

The Maltese islands are located on a key migration route across the Mediterranean. A recent study analysing bird ringing recoveries in Malta, showed that birds originating from over 36 European countries, including the UK, have a connection with Malta.

Grahame Madge, of the RSPB, said: "In many parts of Europe, including the UK, the turtle dove and quail are declining rapidly. Allowing these species to pass over Malta in spring in safety will remove a significant threat from these birds that are already struggling for survival for other reasons, such as intensive agriculture in Europe."Conservationists across Europe remain concerned about the illegal hunting of protected species, including birds of prey and herons, and a lack of police enforcement in Malta.

“The ALE, the police unit dealing with illegal hunting, is heavily under-resourced and struggles to keep up with the scale of illegalities. We expect the Prime Minister to use this Court ruling as an opportunity to focus on clamping down on illegal hunting – a practise which has tarnished Malta’s reputation over the years,” concluded Mr Mangion.

In 2007, the RSPB urged its members to sign a petition calling for an end to the illegal hunting of birds in Malta. This petition, totaling over 114,000 signatures, was given to the Maltese government by BirdLife Malta and the RSPB.

Grahame Madge added: “For over three decades the RSPB has been campaigning against the illegal killing of birds migrating across Malta. We trust the Maltese government will now heed the frustrations of people across Europe and comply with European bird protection laws.”

On Saturday, BirdLife Malta will begin its annual international raptor monitoring camp between 12 September and 4 October. Maltese and international ornithologists, including many from the UK, join this camp to collect information on bird migration, and to curtail illegal hunting by informing the Maltese police force where needed, while respecting any hunting activities that stay within the legal framework.

Last year, 59 participants, logging 362 illegal incidents, participated in Raptor Camp. One of the most high-profile incidents was the filming of two poachers stashing a freshly-killed lesser spotted eagle. The poachers were given one of the largest fines imposed by a Maltese court for wildlife crime.

4th July 2014