BirdLife Malta claimed on Monday that the number of police officers monitoring the autumn hunting season had been reduced while illegalities were "revving up".

"The first two weeks of the autumn hunting season have already seen various episodes of illegal hunting, as the political will to curtail illegal hunting remains stagnated.

"With the migration of various European protected species over Malta expected to peak in the coming days, a low police presence shall only translate in further uncontrolled and illegal hunting," it said in a statement. 

The autumn hunting season opened on September 1 with around 10,000 active hunting licences, BirdLife said.

Some of the restrictions in force during this period include a national bag limit of 500 turtle doves and a cessation of hunting after 7pm on weekdays and 1pm on Sundays and public holidays.

Large soaring birds such as buzzards, harriers, eagles and storks that rely on warm air to be able to gain height and cross over from Sicily to Africa, will seek refuge in Malta in the afternoon. Although, in the past, a 3pm hunting curfew had been enforced to protect these species, the measure was removed on the insistence of the hunting lobby, BirdLife explained.

Enforcement relies on the Malta Police Force’s Environmental Protection Unit (EPU) which BirdLife said currently numbers only 15 officers who operate on a shift basis.

While in past years, officer numbers were increased when the migration of protected species peaked, no additional officers have been allocated this year.

"This means that during peak migration events expected in the coming days, a maximum of two police units that are specialised in hunting matters will be operative in Malta.

"In Gozo, environmental specialised units are non-existent, with most of the police force expected to be taken up with school traffic during morning hours."

BirdLife said in its statement that over the past days, it had been alerted to a number of incidents including the targeting of a flock of Glossy Ibises and Honey-buzzards just outside Buskett.

Hobbies were also shot down near Żebbuġ, it said.

Several injured birds seen in flight with gunshot injuries in the past days include Marsh-harriers, a Greater Flamingo, and a European Roller. Shot birds received by BirdLife Malta and the police include herons such as Little Egret and Night-heron, birds of prey such as Eleonora’s Falcons, Common Kestrel, Honey-buzzard and Hobby, Yellow-legged Gull, Hoopoe and Bee-eaters, it added.

Meanwhile, the police had received reports about the shooting down of an Osprey at Girgenti on Wednesday. A police unit had to travel there all the way from Mellieħa, arriving at the site too late to apprehend the suspect, BirdLife claimed.

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