15:45 Update with BirdLife statement
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has urged the European Commission to immediately ask the Maltese authorities to protect the European Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur).
Malta has opened the spring hunting season by applying a derogation to the EU Birds Directive, allowing 5,000 birds to be shot.
"This is concerning given that the species has undergone a rapid decline in numbers in recent years and has now been up-listed to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species," the association said.
In a letter to the EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella, IUCN highlighted the conditions for sustainable hunting within the Birds Directive. In the case of species with an ‘unfavourable conservation status’ or with ‘very low population levels’, the Birds Directive clearly stipulates that a derogation should not be granted, it stressed.
Research is still ongoing as to why the Turtle Dove is declining faster than other migratory bird species, but there is already evidence which links the serious fall in numbers to agricultural intensification, diseases and over-hunting, the association said.
"In order to save the Turtle Dove from a real threat of extinction, IUCN has requested the Commission to apply an urgent moratorium on spring hunting of the species in Malta. This should remain in place until sustainability and recovery of the Turtle Dove can be clearly demonstrated," it added.
BirdLife calls for Ornis meeting
In a statement, BirdLife Malta said that it had written to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat raising concerns about the lack of scientific justification for the shooting of 5,000 Turtle Dove during this spring hunting season.
Despite being challenged to do so, the Wild Birds Regulation Unit had failed to present any data justifying the 5,000 figure, BirdLife Malta said.
It called on the Ornis Committee to convene an urgent meeting to discuss the IUCN calls for a moratorium, saying "the call from the worldwide authority on the conservation of species cannot be ignored."