Update 5.32pm - BirdLife reaction
The government has formally announced an indefinite ban on the hunting of turtle dove in spring until the species' population numbers grow.
The decision was taken on the recommendation of the FKNK hunters’ federation, St Hubert Hunters’ Association, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the European Commission.
The government said there was no scientific evidence to show that spring hunting in Malta had an impact on the bird’s population numbers.
"The numbers that were allowed to be hunted (maximum of 5,000 birds) under strict supervision by means of derogation were well below the Birds Directive’s threshold of 1% of annual mortality of the population and negligible on a European scale," the government said.
Nonetheless, Malta would voluntarily apply a moratorium and a precautionary measure until further scientific investigations were made to establish the causes of the bird population’s decline.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the biggest causes are the taking up of agricultural land, the destruction of trees, loss of the birds’ habitat, changes in agricultural practices, use of pesticides, disease, desertification and competition with other species.
The European Turtle Dove was placed in the 'vulnerable' category in a report on threatened birds produced for the European Commission last year.
The government in its statement made no mention that Malta could have been liable to court action had spring hunting been continued.
In a reaction, Sr Hubert's Hunters lauded the government's decision.
It said it and other hunting organisations reacted maturely and responsibly soon after the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) called for this measure.
"The voluntary moratorium, considered as “a sign of goodwill” on the part of Malta’s hunters will remain in place until Malta’s right to derogate on Turtle Dove as declared by the European Court of Justice will again be possible. This will be determined by scientific proof of the maintenance of the said species’ population at a satisfactory EU level," the hunters' association said.
The association also called on the European Commission to tackle the main threats for the Turtle Dove, identified by the IUCN as being bad agricultural practices, destruction of habitat and pesticides.
'Don't rely on IUCN' - FKNK
The Hunters' Federation insisted that the moratorium, which it described as the "lesser of two evils", should not be an open-ended one and should expire once it was proven that spring hunting had no impact on the sustainability of turtle dove populations.
In a statement, the federation warned the government to not rely on the IUCN's data to end the moratorium, since the IUCN "relies on Birdlife International" for its own figures.
Given the links between the two organisations, "it is hard for anyone to believe that the IUCN will ever review turtle doves' 'vulnerable' status," the FKNK said.
The federation implied that the IUCN could have classified turtle doves as being 'vulnerable' on the eve of the spring hunting election, but intentionally held back the information.
"Could it be that they were so sure that the 'no' camp would win the referendum? Or did the IUCN want to keep this as an ace up its sleeve in case the 'no' camp lost, as it did?"
'Ornis is now a farce' - BirdLife
The fact that the government had only imposed a moratorium after hunters had called for it made a mockery of its own monitoring institutions, BirdLife Malta said in the afternoon.
"[The] Government’s decision ridicules the proper existence of Ornis Committee and renders it irrelevant as nowadays all decisions being taken – as today’s decision shows – are being taken on a purely political basis," the group said in a statement.
"It’s not a moratorium Government should have announced today, but a permanent ban on spring hunting of Turtle Dove and Quail once and for all."
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