Update: Hunting season opens Friday, but without Ornis Committee meeting

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Hunting season opens Friday, but without Ornis Committee meetingUpdate with Government’s reaction below: BirdLife Malta has said in a statement today that although the autumn hunting season opens on Friday, the Ornis Committee has not yet been reappointed following June’s general election.

It explained that the Committee usually meets to discuss concerns and plans for enforcement ahead of the season, leaving the last committee meeting dating back to last May.

Ornis is composed of representatives from BirdLife Malta, the Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK), the Environment & Resources Authority (ERA) and the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) whilst occasionally also summoning the Malta Police Force when it comes to enforcement issues.

Speaking in front of the Prime Minister’s Office at Castille soon after he presented an open letter to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana explained that the laws allow for the killing of 40 species of birds (12 of which also from the sea) during the autumn hunting season which spans 5 months, between September 1st and January 31st.

In the letter to the Prime Minister, BirdLife said that the are concerned over “the lack of presence of police in the countryside over the past years, together with the lack of law enforcement. This resulted in an increase in irregularities, particularly in the last spring season,” it said.

BirdLife Malta also called on the authorities, namely the Government and the Malta Police’s Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) unit, “to place environmental law enforcement as a priority during this period in which around 10,000 hunters (the highest density of hunters in the EU) could be out in Malta’s countryside to hunt.”

During the past four autumns BirdLife Malta said that it had received a total of around 100 illegally shot protected birds. “This is only the tip of the iceberg representing only a small percentage of the total amount of birds which are illegally shot during the hunting season.”

BLM stated that “it confirms that the autumn hunting season is used by many as a smokescreen to illegally shoot other protected birds such as birds of prey which would be migrating over the Maltese Islands on their way from northern Europe to central Africa. By mid-September these birds will be flying over in their hundreds, looking for a place to spend the night as the raptor migration reaches its peak.”

“The autumn hunting season comes after several reports from the general public about a number of protected birds illegally shot at during the closed season, mostly raptors,” the NGO said.

BirdLife Malta went on to say that, “with reference to previous statements about reducing fines and penalties, we reiterate that this would only benefit those who break the law as these fines are the only deterrent against the shooting of protected species and are meant to discourage the practice.”

BirdLife Malta reiterated its annual appeal for “everyone to observe these laws that are enacted to safeguard especially protected bird species in Malta and to report any illegality which may occur during the next five months.”

BLM added that it will be, in the coming weeks, organising its annual Raptor Camp to monitor any illegal hunting during September and October “and ensure that the birds that are traditionally targeted during this time of year are protected. Camp volunteers will observe bird migration, report illegal hunting, and assist enforcement authorities.”

The NGO said that anyone witnessing illegal hunting should immediately report the case to the police and to BirdLife Malta. Illegalities and cases of injured birds can be reported to BLM on 2134 7645/6 during office hours or on hotline 7925 5697 (strictly for wildlife crime emergencies) during evenings and weekends.

This morning’s press conference was also addressed by BirdLife Malta’s Conservation Manager Nicholas Barbara.

Government reaction

The Ministry for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change, in a statement this afternoon, said the “Ornis Board has in fact already been officially approved and members are being notified, before the season opens.”

The Ornis Board will be chaired by retired Magistrate Dennis Montebello as Chairman, Mr. Sergei Golovkin will now act as secretary to the Board, which will also include members of the hunting community and NGOs working for the protection of birds, the Ministry said.

Minister Jose Herrera said that he is going to meet with Ornis Committee in the coming days, while “ensuring that this season will be governed by the Ornis Committee like any other season.”

He added that over the last years progress has been made on enforcement. “Compared with the levels seen before 2013, enforcement officials have more than doubled, the number of on-site inspections increased more than fourfold, while the number of protected birds that have been injured or killed have significantly reduced.”

Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights Clint Camilleri said that he will continue to call for further cooperation between the bodies concerned, while respecting the hunters hobby, as long as this is done responsibly in full compliance with the law.

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