British TV personality Chris Packham has spoken of the “widespread disbelief and horror” in the UK over Malta’s spring hunting season.

Shooting adult birds in spring, which won’t have the opportunity to breed, is really not compatible with our knowledge of conservation in 21st century Europe

Nature-lovers were becoming increasingly angry at the situation and perceptions of the island were suffering, he told The Times by telephone from France.

“This is a constant cause of conflict and I’m surprised the Maltese Government does not want to alleviate this conflict as it could have serious repercussions for the Maltese economy.”

Malta is the only country in the EU to derogate from the Birds Directive to allow the hunting of migratory turtle dove and quail this spring.

The European Court of Justice ruled in 2009 that the island had failed to meet the requirements of the Birds Directive when it opened spring hunting seasons from 2004 to 2007.

However, since 2010, Malta continued to apply spring hunting derogations with “strict conditions”, arguing that the ECJ had acknowledged the autumn season did not provide a satisfactory alternative.

But for Mr Packham, the issue is clear-cut: “Malta is getting the benefits of the EU without sticking to the rules.

“Shooting adult birds in spring, which won’t have the opportunity to breed, is really not compatible with our know-ledge of conservation in 21st century Europe.”

Mr Packham has been a household name in the UK since fronting BBC children’s TV programme The Really Wild Show in the 1980s and 1990s.

He has presented the BBC’s Springwatch since 2009.

Asked about rumours of a coordinated international campaign against spring hunting in Malta in the offing, Mr Packham replied: “That will happen, and I would like to put my name to that.”

He spoke about his personal objective to target the Maltese Government and not the Maltese people if possible.

“I would like to see the Maltese Government put under significant pressure to put an end to this. Some sort of sanctions have to be brought into play. We can’t allow people to shoot these valuable species that are on their way to breed in northern Europe.”

Mr Packham has made a personal decision to stay away from Malta as “I don’t think I can go there and support a government that is allowing this to continue and that is sad”.

However, he was wary of calling for a wider tourism boycott as that would hit “perfectly respectable Maltese people”.

“I’m absolutely certain that the vast majority of Maltese would understand our point of view. But for the few that don’t, something needs to be done.”

When told that the hunting lobby in Malta often redirects criticism from abroad by highlighting illegalities in other EU countries, Mr Packham said this was an “entirely fallacious argument”.

He said at “poachers” in the UK were “a very tiny minority”.

“I speak to the British hunting fraternity and they fear for their reputation.

“They know a lot of people don’t like hunting and would like to ban it completely and they know that if they are shrewd enough they will keep these people off their backs.

“As a result, they behave responsibly.”

He pointed out that a lot of shooting in the UK was aimed at the tens of millions of game birds specifically bred for this purpose and released every year.

Wild migratory birds, on the other hand, did not belong to any person or country. He used the example of “Chris the cuckoo” that was tagged by the British Trust for Ornithology and named after him.

Internet users can follow Chris’s progress between Europe and Africa.

“If he rocks up in Malta and gets shot a lot of people will be angry,” he noted.

Mr Packham is particularly frustrated at the prevalence of young hunters in Malta.

“In other parts of Europe where hunting was once widespread, it has gradually lost its popularity over the years, so it’s really disappointing that young people are taking up this behaviour in Malta,” he said.

“Some things that were culturally important in the past cannot continue anymore.”