There are several reasons why the Ornis committee’s recommendation to give the green light to hunting in spring is nothing short of disgraceful.

Let’s start with the obvious.

COVID-19 has sensibilised most of Malta and disciplined a notoriously undisciplined country.

The vast majority of people have religiously abided by the health authorities’ warnings to stay indoors as much as possible, to adopt social distancing, to respect the fact that their favourite past-time/feast/event has been cancelled for the foreseeable future.

You might find it extremist that you have been instructed not to visit your loved ones, but you know that the virus outbreak has demanded extreme measures.

You might disagree with the fact that the Church has cancelled all outdoor feasts until further notice, but you know the decision was taken in the public interest.

In just a month, we have seen the creation of a largely unspoken social pact, which forced the vast majority of the country’s half a million inhabitants to pull the same rope.

The Ornis committee’s decision means that social pact has now fallen apart. The committee has basically run roughshod over an entire society for selfish sectoral interests.

The committee has basically run roughshod over an entire society for selfish sectoral interests

What will now stop outdoor feast organisers from lobbying and demanding the same concessions? What will stop shop owners that are on the verge of bankruptcy from lobbying to reopen their doors? What will stop any of us going out with a potentially vulnerable member of our family for a walk in the countryside? The message coming out of the government is clear – if you carry a gun and you intend to shoot birds, then you can break the rules of the game.

Which brings us to the next reason why the decision is wrong.

Hunting in spring in Malta is only allowed because we apply a derogation from the Birds Directive, a contentious concession long disputed by NGOs and ornithologists who see it as nothing more than a political compromise to a lobby that has too often resorted to bullying tactics.

To permit shooting in spring, hunters are meant to abide by a number of strict criteria, including reporting the number of birds shot, while derogation reports have to be compiled, and so on.

The other is enforcement. A minimum number of police have to be assigned in the countryside to ensure hunters are obeying the laws and operating within the parameters of the derogation.

The police’s Administrative Law Enforcement department, which normally oversees the hunting season, are now being called to carry out unprecedented duties, including separating groups of more than three in public areas. Just think about it – they need to keep an eye on tens of thousands of people to try to keep the virus at bay.

Are we seriously expecting a stretched police force to monitor the countryside as hunters blast birds out of the sky, causing more noise pollution to those forced to stay in homes by the countryside.

This means hunting comes with a whole set of strict rules and resources, unlike jogging or cycling.

This issue transcends any preconceived notions of hunting. This is about common decency and avoiding the risk of having one lobby step out of tune with the rest of society.

The ball now rests squarely with the Environment Minister, who has the final decision. Should he just abide by Ornis’s recommendation, then once again Malta has been subjected to politicians being held to ransom by hunters.

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