“Spring hunting season could be a free for all” – BLM

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"Spring hunting season could be a free for all" - BLMBirdLife Malta has today reacted to the announced opening of a spring hunting season, saying that the “spring hunting derogation announced by the Government is nothing more than an executed political promise which goes against the spirit of strict supervision and selectivity, required for the correct application of a derogation to the Birds Directive.”

It added that the “wavering of license fees, guaranteed a free for all spring hunting season reminiscent of seasons which landed Malta guilty in front of the European Court of Justice in 2009, whereas the removal of the mandatory armband will weaken strict supervision and enforcement measures, currently a bone of contention with the European Commission.”

BLM said that “while spring hunting seasons are banned by the Birds Directive, exceptions can be made through the application of derogation, ‘to permit, under strictly supervised conditions and on a selective basis, the capture, keeping or other judicious use of certain birds in small numbers.’ In 2009, a European Court of Justice ruling had found Malta guilty of not abiding to these conditions when it opened spring hunting seasons in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 open to all licensed hunters and without limits.”

Following the ECJ ruling, BLM said that “Malta persisted in the opening of spring hunting seasons issuing framework legislation in 2010, as a result of which the Commission re-opened infringement procedures serving Malta with a first warning in 2011. The latest warning concerned three shortcomings in the 2010 legislation, namely that there was no consideration of the conservation status of Turtle Dove and Quail, there was no link to the number of birds hunted in autumn, and that the quotas considered were too high to ensure sustainability.”

“Such a warning had led to a whole revision of spring hunting framework legislation in 2011, which introduced measures such as lower revised bag limits depending on the autumn catches of Turtle Dove and Quail, a maximum 50 Euro license fee, strict supervision conditions such as a ratio of 7 police officers per 1000 licensed hunters whereas it kept measures such as the mandatory armband and a special spring hunting license fee.”

BLM stated that “this same framework legislation formed the basis of the 2011 and 2012 spring hunting seasons in subsequent years, to which, to date, the European Commission did not step up neither did it reiterate ongoing infringement proceedings.”

“Following an agreement reached between the PL and the FKNK earlier this March, the PL in Government is now proposing further revisions to this framework legislation, wavering the special spring hunting license, introduced as a measure of selectivity to the circa 10,600 licensed hunters in Malta, BLM said. “In the same statement issued by government, the Parliamentary Secretariat for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights also announced that no changes would be made to the bag limits of last year.”

“This amendment means that we are probably looking at a spring hunting season where up to 10,600 hunters shall be licensed to hunt 11,000 Turtle Dove and 5,000 Quail each. With the blatant abuse of the SMS reporting system we have seen over the past 2 years and an average of one Turtle Dove and half a Quail for each hunter, we can pretty much assume how much of this season shall be a free for all to everyone,” commented Nicholas Barbara, BirdLife Malta’s conservation manager.

“The removal of armbands is another measure which has been proposed, following various plights made by the FKNK to remove this measure of supervision. The armband system had been introduced in 2010 meant to distinguishing hunters licensed to hunt in spring from unlicensed hunters,” BLM continued. “The measure had also proven useful to police who could identify licensed hunters from a distance.”

“Without the use of armbands, distinction between licensed and unlicensed hunters will be practically impossible, and enforcement has been weakened in this regard,” Barbara commented further.

The opening of the spring hunting season follows an Ornis recommendation made last Saturday which recommended a season based on the autumn figures of Turtle Dove and Quail declared by hunters for the previous autumn.

Commenting on the Ornis Committee meeting, Nicholas Barbara said, “Whereas BirdLife Malta voted against the opening of a spring hunting season, the Ornis Committee certainly did not in any way vote for the relaxation of controls such as the removal of armbands and license fees, which the current framework legislation does not allow anyway.”

In 2012 Conservationists embarked on an urgent mission to save the Turtle Dove, one of the UK’s most threatened birds from extinction.

Operation Turtle Dove (www.operationturtledove.org) was launched in the UK by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), leading sustainable farming specialists Conservation Grade and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust in Norfolk, is a three-year project to reverse the decline of one of England’s best-loved farmland birds.

RSPB said that “other factors may be contributing to the decline of the turtle dove, including illegal hunting in the Mediterranean as the species makes its annual migration, agricultural changes in the African wintering grounds and the avian disease trichomoniasis which is common in pigeons and doves.”

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