The 30th anniversary of the Bern Convention was celebrated with the Convention's 29th meeting that was held in Bern in November. The aim of the convention is to ensure the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats by means of cooperation between states.

I had the privilege of attending this important meeting along with the contracting parties, international organisations and secretariats of other conventions as well as several non-government organisations including BirdLife International and FACE (the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the EU). Unfortunately the Maltese government, in spite of being a contracting party, was absent.

One of the items on the agenda was Illegal Killing Of Birds. Due to my connections with the Council of Europe, particularly in the role of consultant to the convention and the Council's Diploma of Protected Areas, I was invited by the secretariat to introduce this item with a presentation on the illegal killing of birds in Europe. The main aim of the presentation was to highlight the fact that illegal killing of birds is still prevalent in Europe, particularly in southern countries.

There was an overall condemnation by all the delegates that took the floor. FACE joined the chorus and, in a strongly-worded statement, denounced in no uncertain manner "any non-sustainable taking of wild species and, of course, even stronger so when such taking is illegal under applicable legislation, even if it is for so-called socio-cultural motives". FACE urged the competent authorities to put into place proper enforcement with appropriate penalties at all levels.

Illegal killing of birds is not endemic to Malta, but Malta, without any doubt, is considered to be one of the worst offenders in the region. Although there has been some improvement, the illegal killing of birds is still rampant by a significant number of licensed bird shooters who are discrediting law-abiding hunters. Therefore, any call for "zero tolerance" to illegal killing of birds is most welcome.

One correspondent (November 11) went so far as to propose a voluntary warden system to tackle the problem of illegal hunting at source. I do not want to delve into how pragmatic or otherwise such a scheme is but the same correspondent stated that he would like to have this scheme "in place for the possibility of spring hunting".

Excuse me, sir. Does this mean that the rationale behind the call to eradicate the illegal killing of birds is to persuade the authorities to allow spring hunting? What kind of reasoning is this? The illegal killing of birds is evil and one does not condemn it to veil other intentions. During spring, wild birds are either breeding or heading to their breeding quarters. No hunter worth his salt should give a thought to kill any game that is going to breed.

Spring hunting is unethical and one need not bring any Birds Directive into play to make a sound argument. I will not bring politics into this matter, either. Those who use the pressure of vote-waving should know that, in this day and age, this is a double-edged sword and it stands to reason that those who use this as leverage do so because they fall short of sound arguments.

It was encouraging to see that the contracting parties of the Bern Convention strongly condemn the illegal killing of wild birds.

But Malta's absence at the convention and some politicians' ongoing tactics to appease the hunting lobby at home speak a million words. It is evident that it is certain politicians and some of the hunters who shoot themselves in the foot that give our country a bad name.

The author is an ornithologist and consultant to the Bern Convention and to the Council of Europe's Diploma on Protected Areas.

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