The quota was certainly not set out of preference. The figure, though well below that calculated according to the parameters of the Birds Directive, was arrived at by the previous administration after the European Commission refused to accept the government’s conservative amount of 25,000 birds.

Before delving into why we are allowed a maximum of 16,000 birds in spring, we would like to enlighten the uninformed about turtle dove and quail and their abundance, though considered as a declining species.

The population figures estimated by Birdlife International do look startling.

Turtle dove has an estimated population of up to 100,000,000, of which 25-49 per cent form part of the European population ( ).

The quail is even more numerous, with up to 300,000,000 individuals of which five to 24 per cent in Europe ( ).

On the basis of figures derived from bird population studies carried out by Birdlife International, the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an inter­national body which, for the past 50 years, has been assessing the conservation status of species, subspecies, varieties and even selected subpopulations on a global scale of all plants and animals, has this to say: “Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for ‘vulnerable’. The population size is extremely large and, hence, does not approach the thresholds for ‘vulnerable’ under the population size criterion. For these reasons, the species is evaluated as ‘least concern’.”

The European Commission and all other related bodies use the assessments provided by the IUCN when regulating anything to do with nature.

Hunting, being a common European practice with over seven million participants, is governed by the Birds Directive with all the hunted species being classified by the IUCN.

The criterion that satisfies this condition is that game bird species have to be classed as ‘least concern’ in order for hunting to be considered sustainable. Both the birds hunted in spring under derogation fall within this category.

The Maltese quota was intended to satisfy the European hunting and bird protection representative bodies

The seven European states where these two birds are hunted collectively catch 2-3 million turtle dove and four million-plus quail each autumn. In sharp contrast, the European Court of Justice, when deliberating the case of spring hunting in Malta, confirmed that “autumn provides insufficient hunting opportunities”. This is no fabrication built on hunter’s manipulated figures, as is often alleged, but it is fact even honest ornithologists confirm.

In 1953, E Langley Roberts said “it would be idle to pretend that the Maltese Islands are of any great importance ornithologically” and that was at a time where no bird declines were even dreamt of.

This factor is certainly reflected in the ECJ judgment, which, given Malta’s “specific circumstances”, conceded it the right to derogate knowing that this would be done during the breeding season.

The European Commission that oversees the observance of directives and derogations thereof is the entity that accepted the quota of 16,000 birds for Malta. It did not do this capriciously but knowing full well this figure, apart from undoubtedly being sustainable, based on substantial population figures, was well within acceptable directive norms.

The Maltese quota was intended to satisfy the European hunting and bird protection representative bodies, which pledged not only to respect the ECJ verdict but also declared that the Birds Directive and its guidelines were to be their bible.

It is here most pertinent to mention that, in all studies commissioned by the government in relation to migration of the two species, Birdlife Malta refused to participate or contribute and, together with Birdlife Inter­national, pledged to deny Maltese hunters the European Court-endorsed concession to derogate.

Not only do we now have a situation where spring hunting has been rendered a mere token of its past where hunters had to compromise. We now have a sector of the population fed utter nonsense about European directives and their purpose, incessantly indoctrinated by exaggerated claims about illegalities and, above all, willing to deny a small sector of the population for exercising their legal right to derogate.

The highest European institution is there to mete out justice to European citizens, especially the underprivileged, and has undoubtedly done so where Maltese spring hunting is concerned.

We are convinced that no fallacious argument can deny such fact or influence any rational person that believes in a sense of balance.

Danny Rosso is vice president of St Hubert Hunters.

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