A leading British animal rights activist has floated the idea of a tourism boycott of Malta because of its spring hunting concessions.

With a pro-hunt government, maybe the only impact is to hit the only major industry

“In the face of the continued illegalities and the blatant disregard for conservation, I have to ask whether I would recommend the Maltese Islands as a holiday destination for anyone,” wrote Lawrie Phipps, trustee of the League Against Cruel Sports, in a blog post on the organisation’s website dated April 3.

“I have always shied away from recommending a boycott, but with a pro-hunt government in Malta, maybe the only way to have an impact is to hit the island’s only major industry – tourism.”

Malta is the only country in the EU to officially sanction a spring hunting season for turtle dove and quail this year.

Spring hunting is prohibited in the EU by the Birds Directive.

Malta applies a derogation on the basis that autumn hunting does not provide a satisfactory alternative to spring, using statistics based primarily on bird kills reported by hunters themselves.

The season opened last Wednesday and will close on April 30 or earlier if the national quota of 11,000 turtle doves and 5,000 quails is reached before then.

On the eve of last month’s election, Labour and the hunters’ federation said they reached an agreement on a number of issues.

Although quotas for this spring hunting season remained at 2012’s levels, the new Government removed the requirement for hunters to pay for a licence or wear an armband when out in the field.

Mr Phipps discussed a possible tourism boycott further in a podcast on www.talking-naturally.co.uk.

“We really have to be thinking about how we can step up the campaign from outside Malta. These aren’t Maltese birds, they’re European birds,” he said.

Mr Phipps made it clear on the podcast and in correspondence with The Times that there had not yet been an official call for a boycott.

He said he was speaking in a personal capacity and not on behalf of LACS, which was at the forefront of the campaign to ban fox hunting in the UK.

Interviewed by Charlie Moores in the podcast, Mr Phipps said he had already started discouraging friends from visiting Malta.

They acknowledged there are illegal hunting problems in the UK, with Mr Moores noting: “But we don’t have spring hunting with the collusion of the Government,” brandishing this “disgusting”.

A keen birdwatcher, Mr Phipps has participated in previous Spring Watch and Raptor Camps in Malta and witnessed the situation firsthand.

Contacted by The Sunday Times, he said LACS as an organisation would probably not call for an official tourism boycott as it “may do more harm than good”.

However, “on a personal level I’ve seen so many illegalities and so much death in Malta that I want people to do more, hence my personal views on boycotting, and why I tell my friends that they shouldn’t go and that they should write to the Government and tell them why”.

Birdlife Malta has consisently rejected calls to support a tourism boycott. Instead, it has encouraged birdwatchers to visit.

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