Birdlife Malta makes no apologies for campaigning for an end to unsustainable and unjustified hunting in spring of two species identified by EU species management plans as being of “unfavourable conservation status” in Europe – the Eurasian Turtle Dove and Common Quail.

Spring hunting of species of conservation concern is clearly prohibited by the EU Birds Directive. That Malta has persisted in applying derogations to allow spring hunting does not in any way alter this fact.

Birdlife Malta has repeatedly highlighted the failure of Malta’s spring hunting derogations to meet the conditions of the Birds Directive. Besides which, the EU’s Guidance on Sustainable Hunting under the Birds Directive stresses that no derogations should be allowed for species of “unfavourable conservation status”.

Derogations from the Birds Directive are not a right granted by arrangement in advance to legalise prohibited activities, but rather are temporary exceptions to law that can only be correctly applied in certain circumstances according to strict criteria.

The European Commission does not, and cannot endorse or give permission for a derogation to be applied. The correct application of a derogation is the responsibility of the local government and the Commission only assesses it after it has been implemented.

In 2009 the European Court of Justice, contrary to claims from both the Government and the hunting lobby, did not endorse future derogations by Malta to allow spring hunting – it does not have this power. The ruling found Malta guilty of not complying with the Birds Directive when it opened spring hunting seasons between 2004 and 2007 (they were illegal). Since then, the re-opening of spring hunting seasons after the ECJ ruling of 2009 has resulted in the Commission opening fresh infringement proceedings against Malta in 2010, which remain open to date.

That hunting in spring is an unsustainable practice is not rocket science. The EU’s own management plans for Turtle Dove and Quail identify the species as being of “unfavourable conservation status” and the EU’s guidance document on sustainable hunting under the Birds Directive explicitly states that there should be no derogations applied to allow hunting or trapping of species of “conservation concern”.

Killing birds in spring when they’re returning to Europe to breed has a disproportionately high impact on the maintenance of the population, by preventing those individuals nature has selected, from reproducing and replenishing the population’s numbers.

The European population of the Turtle Dove has declined drastically in the past 50 years and the Quail population has shown a similar downward trend. The contributing factors are many, but hunting is recognised as being one of them. How long will the hunting lobby and politicians in Malta continue to deny this reality? Be it a conservationist who wants to see another live Turtle Dove next spring, or be it a hunter who wants the autumn hunt of these game species secured in the future, the unsustainable spring hunting of these species must stop in the interest of all.

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