Despite a total of 7,570 hunters registered for the three-week spring season, the majority failed to register even catching a single quail, the only bird that could be hunted during the period.

However, there had been “a massacre of protected turtle doves and practically an open hunting season on the red-listed turtle dove", BirdLife Malta said on Friday.

It claimed that shifting the dates of the season to April 10-30 was a deliberate choice by the government to coincide with peak turtle dove migration, in spite of the fact that quail was supposedly the only legally huntable species.

The eNGO said that half of the illegally shot protected birds it recovered were turtle doves.

It also noted there had been an increase in hunters interested in registering for the season, with 816 more licences in spring 2019 compared to spring 2018.

In spite of this, BirdLife Malta noticed an average presence of police during just 13.8 per cent of the times its teams were in the field in hunting locations where peak activity would be expected. The requirement is set at seven police officers for every 1,000 hunters.

“The situation was even worse on the island of Gozo, where throughout a week of operations, not a single police unit was seen actively patrolling the countryside despite the island being a popular destination with Maltese hunters for turtle dove hunting,” it said.

A total of 92 illegal hunting incidents were recorded by the eNGO over a
period of just two weeks during which a total of 28 volunteers in four teams
covered 58 different hunting hotspots across Malta and Gozo.

Hunting illegalities so far for 2019 are already at record levels: the total of 41 known shot protected birds recovered to date has already surpassed last year’s figures for the same period (38).

BirdLife Malta conservation manager Nicholas Barbara said it would be reporting its findings to the European Commission’s Environment Directorate-General asking for the derogation to be revisited.

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