Birdlife Malta has accused the government of “playing games” with a proposed moratorium on the hunting of turtle doves, and it raised the prospect of a fresh referendum on spring hunting.

Speaking at a press conference outside Castille this afternoon, Birdlife CEO Mark Sultana questioned why the government was considering the moratorium now, having rejected similar advice in the past from Birdlife, international conservation organisations, and Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

“This appears to be nothing more than a messa in scena [set up],” Mr Sultana said. “Now that the government is facing legal action from the EU court, it is suddenly ready to consider a moratorium.

“We have consistently said that spring hunting is not sustainable. Spring hunting has an expiry date, and the government must now be courageous enough to make this decision, which will be supported by Birdlife and nearly half the population who voted against the practice in a referendum last year.”

Birdlife president Darryl Grima said that the organisation would not exclude campaigning for a new referendum should the government fail to ban spring hunting after the latest developments.

“Not doing so would be an insult to all those who voted against spring hunting and those who were misled by false information at the time,” he said. “The time may have come to put this question back to the people to decide.”

Hunting organisations called on the government last Saturday to declare a voluntary moratorium on the species in view of the “perceived decline” of turtle dove and the subsequent classification of the species as “vulnerable”.

The turtle dove was placed in the “vulnerable” category in a report on threatened birds produced for the Commission last July, a few months after the referendum, which rejected a ban on spring hunting.

The hunters’ call for a moratorium followed a call for restrictions on the spring hunting of turtle dove by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as well as by European Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

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