A committee that consults government on spring hunting is likely to vote for the lifting of a moratorium on turtle dove hunting when it meets later on Wednesday, BirdLife Malta has warned.

The NGO said the move by the Ornis Committee was aimed at winning the votes of some 10,000 hunters and trappers. 

BirdLife chief executive Mark Sultana cautioned that, on Wednesday at 4pm, the committee would meet to decide on various matters on the agenda.

One of the items was the removal of the moratorium on hunting turtle dove, a protected bird environmentalists and EU lawmakers are adamant should be off-limits.

BirdLife's Mark Sultana warns against allowing hunting of protected turtledove. VIDEO: Matthew Mirabelli

The moratorium was enforced by the government in 2017 after the European Commission threatened legal action if the practice was allowed to continue. Since then hunters have only been allowed to hunt quail in spring.

But with a general election round the corner, Sultana said, the committee - made up of conservationists, hunters and regulators - was likely to vote to lift the moratorium to appease hunters and trappers and win their votes. Sultana said it was no secret that representatives on the committee were handpicked by the political parties, some of whom were even canvassers.

He pledged that if the committee voted to remove the moratorium, BirdLife would immediately inform the EU.

'Spineless' against hunting

Turtledoves are considered a “near threatened” species across the EU as population numbers have been steadily decreasing since the 1980s.

Environmentalists have been arguing that, although technically illegal since 2017, turtle dove hunting has continued unabated since then, with the legal quail hunting season used as a smokescreen.

"Hunters and trappers have got the parties in their pockets."

During the news conference held outside the prime minister's office, Auberge de Castille in Valletta, Sultana argued that despite the blatant illegalities, the two major political parties were “spineless” in addressing illegal hunting and trapping.

Neither Labour nor the Nationalist Party addressed the blatant illegalities through their electoral manifestos that were more focused at appeasing hunters and trappers, he said.

“Hunters and trappers have got the parties in their pockets,” he said.

He questioned why none of the two parties had proposed measures such as having a police unit dedicated to wildlife protection, why none addressed the problem of illegal electronic birdcallers or the thousands of undocumented stuffed protected birds.

Instead, they tried to "blind" the public with promises of urban open spaces and the production of more Outside Development Zone land. 

He urged the public to raise environmental issues when they spoke to politicians to ensure that they pushed the agenda forward. 

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