Government reacts to UK Commons debate on hunting in Malta

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Government reacts to UK Commons debate on hunting in MaltaReacting to a 30 minute debate held yesterday in Westminster Hall, a side chamber of the UK’s House of Commons in London, the Government said that the discussion was objective, with several MPs intervening with arguments and counter-arguments.

The debate, which was called by Sir John Randall MP, a Conservative backbench Parliamentarian, followed intense UK mainstream media coverage of Malta’s spring hunting issue over the past few weeks.

George Eustice MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for farming, food and marine environment said that clear distinction must be made between legal hunting and illegal shooting of birds, both issues not being unique to Malta.

Referring to Malta’s spring hunting derogation, Mr Eustice recalled the 2009 European Court of Justice ruling on the matter, which recognised Malta’s unique biogeographic circumstances and reaffirmed Malta’s right to permit limited hunting for turtle dove and quail in spring, subject to fulfilment of strict parameters of Article 9(1) (c) of the Birds Directive.

He said that in response to this judgement, Malta developed a new legislative framework and introduced a number of ways in which the authorities control adherence to these parameters.

Referring to the issue of spring hunting as a “contentious one,” and one that is subject to “intense campaigning,” Mr Eustice said that “it is up to the Maltese Government to investigate whether any illegal hunting takes place.”

He furthermore stressed that one should also recognise the efforts of the Maltese authorities to stamp out the illegalities. Mr Eustice said that Malta took steps to strengthen enforcement, including by deploying the highest ratio of field enforcement personnel in Europe, by introducing some of the harshest penalties against illegal hunting anywhere in the EU and by conducting over 4,000 physical spot checks in the field during the last spring hunting season.

Referring to claims that the decline in populations of migratory birds in the UK is attributable to hunting in Malta, Mr Eustice said that “due to Malta’s biogeographic position, it is unlikely that hunting in Malta is directly impacting bird populations in the UK.”

In his concluding remarks, Mr Eustice said that the issue of conservation of migratory birds and enforcement is a common issue that calls for cooperation, and that “given that the issue of spring hunting is such a contentious issue in Malta itself, I am unsure whether British intervention on this issue would necessarily be helpful for Malta to make up its mind.”

In reaction to the debate, Head of Wild Birds Regulation Unit Sergei Golovkin, who was also present in the hall said, “there appears to be dearth of objective and factual information about this issue outside of Malta. Media coverage of spring hunting often obscures the distinction between legal hunting, which the EC Birds Directive explicitly recognises as a legitimate activity that is practiced across the EU, and the illegal shooting of protected birds, which in Malta is rigorously controlled through field enforcement and legal deterrents.”

He added, “whilst Sir Randall’s arguments mainly mirrored those of anti-hunting campaigners, Mr Eustice’s intervention on behalf of the UK Government was an objective and balanced one, which indicates that the UK government is well aware of the complexity and multiple dimensions of the situation.”

The Government spokesman also said that “the common claim that Malta is the only EU member state that allows hunting in spring is incorrect, as several EU countries, including the UK, allow shooting of certain bird species in spring.”

He added, “contrary to the common misconception that spring hunting of turtle doves and quails in Malta contributes to the decline in the population of these species in the UK, turtle doves and quails migrating over Malta do not migrate to the UK but elsewhere in Europe and are part of populations that are predominantly either stable or increasing. In all, ten EU member states permit hunting of turtle doves and quails.

“The number of turtle doves and quails hunted in Malta are minuscule in comparison with the numbers legally bagged elsewhere in the EU, which amount to 3 million birds of each species being annually hunted.”

“Spring hunting is legal, as long as the specific legal parameters of the Birds Directive, which provides for a system of derogations, are met”, Sergei Golovkin said. “The legality of Malta’s spring hunting derogation has been affirmed following the European Court of Justice ruling on this issue in 2009, and Malta’s application of this derogation is closely monitored by the European Commission. Limited hunting of turtle dove and quail is only permitted under strictly supervised conditions that are possibly unprecedented anywhere in the EU.”

“These conditions include, amongst others, strictly controlled national and individual bag limits, multi-tiered bag verification and reporting system, an independent ornithological study, time and place restrictions, special licensing requirements, extremely high level of field enforcement deployment, a system of physical spot checks as well as one of the harshest penalty regimes against hunting offences in the EU,” he added.

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