POLL: Should spring hunting on Malta be stopped?

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As dawn breaks over the sea and ancient stone churches turn pink, the morning’s stillness is broken by volleys of gunfire.

Tucked behind walls, sitting on armchairs in specially built turrets or else popping up from old stone sheds, Malta’s marksmen open fire as migrating birds flap desperately for cover.

When it comes to bird hunts, this is one of Europe’s more uneven contests. Birds flying over the islands of Malta on their annual migration to northern Europe must evade 31 licensed marksmen per square kilometre – 15 times more than in shooting-friendly France.

On one day in 2013, more than 9,000 shots were logged by a conservation charity’s observers.

Spring hunting is banned by the EU but the Maltese authorities obtain an exemption each year, enabling its 9,798 hunters to shoot 5,000 quail and 11,000 turtle doves, the latter a migratory bird whose British population has slumped by 95% since 1970.

But now a backlash is being felt. More than 44,000 Maltese citizens have signed a petition calling for a referendum on the traditional spring shoot.

A flock of celebrity naturalists including Brian May, Chris Packham and Bill Oddie have swooped in, joining mostly British and Dutch volunteers patrolling the countryside at 5am each morning to monitor illegal shooting for the charity BirdLife Malta.

Packham will broadcast his confrontations with hunters on YouTube every day this week. Steve Micklewright, executive director of BirdLife Malta, said: “The birds flying from Africa to northern Europe in the spring are the strong birds. They’ve survived the winter.

If we don’t allow these birds to breed, their populations stand no chance of recovery.”

An injured shot Marsh Harrier found by a member of public and passed to BirdLife Malta last week. Photo: Rupert Mowat

As a roosting marsh harrier rises from a field of barley displaying wings tattered from shotgun pellets, Nimrod Mifsud, a Maltese volunteer for the charity, says local birdwatchers take little pleasure in seeing a rare bird.

“The first birds I’ve seen – my first stork, my first peregrine, my first glossy ibis – they all fell out of the sky, shot,” said Mifsud. “That affects you. There’s only so much you can take.

“Last year, the Maltese army was deployed during the spring shoot after recent years in which naturalists had their cars set alight and a BirdLife Malta warden was shot in the face.

But Joseph Perici Calascione, head of the Maltese Federation for Hunting & Conservation (FKNK), said hunters felt bullied by foreign activists monitoring illegal shooting in Malta’s countryside.

“I would like to see some Maltese lads going to the UK to try to stop one of their traditions. It’s not nice to be treated as a third-world country.

You [the British] shoot lots of migratory birds such as ducks and geese but it’s only bad when the Maltese do it,” he said.

Sergei Golovkin, head of the Maltese government’s wild-bird regulation unit, said there was “an element of hypocrisy” in international criticism.

“Unfortunately, some NGOs [non-governmental organisations] have chosen very aggressive confrontational tactics that are not based on science or law or enforcement.

“Golovkin admitted that shooting protected species was commonplace 20 years ago, but said the government had recently introduced an automatic €5,000 (£4,100) fine and up to a year in prison for the crime.

It is deploying two drones and 70 enforcement officers to check hunters’ licences and bags, he said.

“It shows that we are prepared to really demonstrate that our system of checks and balances is sustainable and credible,” he said.

But the Maltese people are set to decide the species’ fate on the islands after 13 Maltese charities obtained the signatures of the 10% of registered voters required to trigger a referendum.

After every signature is checked by the electoral commission, the vote will be challenged in the country’s constitutional court by the hunters, who claim it oppresses a cherished minority right – to shoot migrating birds.

“If the referendum does take place, we would create a dangerous precedent on a small island where tolerance is of the essence,” said Perici Calascione.

The illegal shooting of a Black-winged stilt in Malta earlier this month. This individual was a potential breeder, and the loss of this bird could affect the number that breed here this year. The body of the stilt will be passed on the Natural History Museum in Mdina.

An opinion poll found that 60% of Maltese people favoured a ban on spring shooting. But if a referendum does not end this tradition, then dwindling turtle dove numbers might. So far this year hardly any have arrived. Perici Calascione admitted the season had been a disappointment: he had fired just one shot in a week – and missed.

“If there were turtle doves, each one would have at least 15 shots to bring it down because people are excited.” After a morning when more than 200 gunshots rang out on one tiny headland, a hunter opened his shooting bag to reveal only sandwiches and a drink.

“The referendum is for nothing. There’s no need to press down on the hunting in Malta because little by little it’s finishing,” said the 67-year-old, who asked to remain anonymous.

“I used to go shooting with my father and say: ‘Look Dad, a flock of turtle doves! Look, another one.’ My father shot with a musket.

The more time passes, the less we’re seeing of even small birds. The trouble is outside Malta – all the pesticides in the rest of Europe.

“If the referendum is passed, it will make no difference.”

We invite you to vote FOR or AGAINST a complete ban on the spring hunting of migrating birds on Malta.  Please vote and also leave your comments at the bottom of this page.

POLL: Should spring hunting on Malta be stopped?

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The editorial content of this article was written by Patrick Barkham for The Guardian.

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David Briffa

Joe Beale you dont know whats happening in your own backyard mr

David Briffa

Joe Beale and why i wont contineu shooting your birds lol?Ido it legaly with all valid permits from your autorities .i bet your gonna block us samson ?

Minna Lindroth
Minna Lindroth

Andrew Gatt Thanks Andrew. I get your point; now I hope you get mine. Again, no hostility from my part. I totally share your love of the outdoors; the sunsets and sunrises, the phenomena, the scenery, the weather. Just the fresh air is reason enough. And I like good food too. But here I see problems, and to my understanding they are real, not a conspiracy: we are too many for us to afford sports hunting of animals, be they fish, fowl or mammals. Apart from some exceptions, all hunting is sports hunting; it is done for pleasure and enjoyment.… Read more »

Kevin Gauci
Kevin Gauci

Dermot McCabe yep in old times honey buzzard was eaten too….

Kevin Gauci
Kevin Gauci

Joe Beale hunting is very minimal damage caused which is insufficient when compared to mass destruction of farming practises

Kevin Gauci
Kevin Gauci

Gary Prescott I didn't say so, I only addres the above pictures. Yes I saw the footage of crazy Chris and as a Hunter I am Proud to say that the ilegalities recorded on illegal poaching was very minimal this seasons, with thousands of birds of prey moving off to their nesting area.

Jerry Furminger-Black

Eman Portelli NO KILLING OF THESE BIRDS IS ACCEPTABLE!!
It does not matter where they are!

Gary Prescott

Eman Portelli Eman, you obviously haven't seen the facts. How many bird species were shot last year and how many will be shot this year. There's no naivity here just outrage at the practise of killing protected species. Look at the facts!

Gary Prescott

Andrew Gatt Andrew, lame comment in the extreme. If spring hunting was for food then one could see why but it is a macho practise of small minded men who's egos are boosted by the destruction of defenseless birds. Pathetic individuals.

Gary Prescott

David Briffa Antoine and David, We do! The obscene actions of any who destroy nature will be critisized by all who love nature wherever action needs to be taken. The Spring Migration massacre is an obscenity and maybe it is only one of too many obscenities against nature throughout the world but it is still one too many. I would love to come to Malta and be an eco tourist but no way whilst this outdated practise continues. Why does anyone need to kill birds?

Gary Prescott

Eman Portelli Turtle doves apart, are you in support of Spring Hunting? You have hunters killing bird species illegally do you not?

Gary Prescott

Clayton Stellini Clayton, what don't we understand?

Gary Prescott

So are you saying that the death of illegal bird species doesn't happen? Watch the Chris packham youtube videos and explain the recently shot little bittern, the shearwater, the motgu's harrier, the kestrel. Ban Spring Hunting Now.!

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

David Briffa Blah blah yeah yeah… You are sad little man and a coward who belongs in the 19th century, shooting small defenceless birds for fun. Right, insults over. The wildlfowl are shot, this is true in some certain areas – I disagree and campaign against this too in the UK. However, Woodpigeon and Teal etc have not declined by 95% and protected species are almost always left alone and tehre are many reserves. Very few people in the UK own guns. Anyway, who says I can't be against shooitng wild birds in both countries? As a conservation problem, it… Read more »

Andrew Gatt

Hi Minna, apologies for the delay – been busy! I hunt for the same reasons that I fish and often forage for edible plants. I enjoy the preparation, the learning and the improving of the skill sets required. Whether the quarry is fish or fowl, it is challenging and unpredictable and on most days I go home happy but empty handed. On some other days, I take home my bag or my catch and I assure you that it is delicious and a far cry from the force-fed, industrially-reared, medicated stuff on supermarket shelves. My time out there is satisfying… Read more »

David Briffa

Joe Beale you are sad sad men and i said wild birds you moron ducks like teals golden eye mulards wegeons and woodpegeons i tink that you dont know wath kind of wild game birds you have ignorance at its best

Minna Lindroth
Minna Lindroth

Andrew Gatt you haven't answered my original question. If you hunt, would you care to explain why you hunt? Forget all this for a moment, and the obvious differences in how we see the natural world, and please don't write in anger or frustration or attempting to convince me 🙂 Just an honest answer to the question: why do you hunt?

David Briffa

Joe Beale i will come to your country and shoot as muc h as i disire to your wild birds all year round wit h all the permets fron your lokal autorities

David Briffa

Joe Beale that may be happining when i come to your country nexy august shooting your birds

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8308711.stm

The birds follow three main paths to migrate between the continents:

East over the Bosporus and Turkey
West over Gibraltar
South over Italy and the central Mediterranean islands, including the Maltese archipelago

Sadly during my volunteering, I have witnessed many protected birds being shot down by Maltese hunters.
BirdLife Malta volunteers, pic courtesy of BirdLife Malta
Volunteers at the camp monitor the migration of birds and illegal hunting

The previous morning we had uncovered the bodies of 201 protected birds in the Mizieb woodland. "

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

David Briffa Indeed-gamebirds bred for the purpose, not a consevration issue, but I am against that too. Hope your arms fall off very soon, sad man.

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

David Briffa You sad, pathetic coward. All you can do is kill small creatures that can't fight back. Hope for your sake I don't meet you. And you already shoot our birds, hopefully not for much longer though.

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

Kevin Galea Rampant? Try making a video diary for a week in the UK and finding dead and injured birds. It would be impossible. Every link you post shows one or two illegal incidents that happen anywhere. In Malta, as you well know, it is ROUTINE, LARGE-SCALE SLAUGHTER EVERY DAY including many protected species. Many thousands of wild birds are killed in Malta – you cannot compare anything in the UK to that. Your swan link shows one act of cruelty by an individual – we are talking about conservation issues and one swan is not a conservation issue but… Read more »

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

David Briffa There are many other problems in UK, I would be the frts to admit, however hunting birds is not one of them. Protected, wild species are not killed EVERY DAY as a matter of routine, like in Malta. When they are killed, the police get involved and it makes the newspapers. Turtle Doves, decreased by 95%, are never shot in UK. You don't see hunters everywhere you go and hear gun shots when you walk in the countryside. You don't see shot birds if you spend just one week in the countryside in the UK – yet the… Read more »

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

So you tell me thousands of migrating birds don't pass through Malta every year?? Islands attract many birds flying over the sea, they concentrate over islands. It may not be ass important as the Bosphorous route but it is still important. Hope your arms fall off soon and you stop killng Europe's defenceless birds for fun.

Kevin Galea

Joe Beale IT SEEMS THAT EVEN IN UK THERE IS A RAMPANT KILLING OF PROTECTED BIRDS AND EVEN IN IT'S NEST.

http://www.wakefieldexpress.co.uk/news/crime/nesting-swan-shot-in-wicked-act-of-cruelty-1-6573747

David Briffa

Joe Beale what your stating here you all antis is a big fat lie where on any official patern malta is in a main route of mig birds?

David Briffa

Joe Beale why dont you british antis see whats happening in your cauntry mr before you interfier in others

Kevin Galea

Joe Beale so you are saying that in EU only Maltese are killing thousands. LOL BE REALISTIC IF YOU WANT PEOPLE HERE TO TAKE YOU AND YOUR COMMENTS SERIOUSLY. file:///C:/Users/galeak/Desktop/home-gallery-1.jpg file:///C:/Users/galeak/Desktop/527830_323829494366194_1919714794_n1.jpg THESE PICTURES ARE FROM THIS SPRING SHOOTING IN UK AND THEY ARE PROMOTED. I seriously challenge you to come to Malta when you like and take a walk in the countryside where you wish for a whole week and will see if you will find a dead bird. As you stated it wound not be that difficult to find one. Joe in my idea first you never visited Malta,… Read more »

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

Eman Portelli Eman Portelli So a severely declining species, down 95%, is ok to shoot becuase in your opinion it doesn't make much difference? Any additional pressure on Turtle Dove populaitons must be avoided by all responsible people who care about the environment. Your argument is just – it's not our fault, it's everywhere else so we can till shoot them. There are not many left to shoot, that is whyo you don't shoot so many these days- but what justification (and no, not just fun or tradition) do you have for killing these birds and putting extra, avoidable pressure… Read more »

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

Andrew Gatt Andrew Gatt 2 illegally shot birds that they happened to find in a day or two in one area, makes you wonder about the 99% of the island no one searched, the birds kept by the hunters, the birds lost in the vegetation or those that crawled away to die of gunshot injuries. If it's a tiny sample, I'd say it's pretty shocking to find any protected species killed in just a short visit without searching very hard. Time to join the 21st century and be responsible. Enough excuses.

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

Kevin Gauci Great! So let's just kill them again, makes total sense. Ever heard of the Passenger Pigeon?

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

The we're back to the sustainability argument. Even hunters admit there are not enough Turtle Doves left, so why still shoot them when they need our help and protection? There are times when people need to adapt their behaviour to the changing reality – if it becomes scarcer, time to let them recover before hunting them again.

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

Ramon Curmi The problem is you are seeing it as a nationalism issue. If you see it as an intenrational conservation issue it becomes harder to justify – don't think people want to attack Malta for some reason, they just want the massacres to stop to help Europe's birds.

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

Also, the bull population is not down by 95% and facing all sorts of other environmental pressures. Bullfighting is grotesque and cruel, but not a conservation issue like the slaughter of Turtle Doves on their way to nest.

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

As one of those British moaners 🙂 : One single bird is shot and makes the newspapers and you try to compare it to the annual slaughter of many thousands of protected migrant birds in Malta? They don't even reach the appers becuase it happens every day. Even the video diary shows you can visit and see illegal hunting without any difficulty. Only in Malta is this so easy to witness. There is no comparison, as you well know (although the very few people in the UK who kill birds illegally are certainly scum too). For the record, the UK… Read more »

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

Indeed, but hunting also causes serious damage to the remaining birds. Why not address both issues?

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

It is precisely the tiny balck dot in the sea that encourages many migrant birds to pass over or land on Malta. A substantial number of birds do use Malta as a staging post, just becuase more birds pass through other flyways doesn't mean it isn't important. Stop this denial and accept your responsibilities for the environment. Nowhere else in the EU has such a big problem with killing migrant birds.

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

What would you say is important then? The populations of migratory birds belonging to all of Europe are important to many, many people. If the birds don't matter to you, then you won't mind stopping the shooting and the problem is solved, and you won't need to read these articles any more.

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

Andrew Gatt 2 illegally shot birds that they happened to find in a day or two in one area, makes you wonder about the 99% of the island no one searched, the birds kept by the hunetrs, the birds lost in the vegetation or those that crawled away to die of gunshot injuroes. If it's atiny sample, I'd say it's pretty shocking to find any protected species killed in just a short visit without searching very hard. Time to join the 21st century and be responsible. Enough excuses.

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

Eman Portelli So a severely declining species, down 95%, is ok to shoot becuase in your opinion it doesn't make much difference? Any additional pressure on Turtle Dove populaitons must be avoided by all responsible people who care about the environment. Your argument is just – it's not our fault, it's everywhere else so we can till shoot them. There are not many left to shoot, that is whyo you don't shoot so many these days- but what justification (and no, not just fun or tradition) do you have for killing these birds and putting extra, avoidable pressure on their… Read more »

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

Kevin Galea Yes, this one incident is more serious than the one harrier on Malta. However, it is a rare incident – that is why it is so shocking and in the newspapers. EVERY DAY on Malta there are many protected and rare species shot. You have to compare the overall situation, don't just take one rare example that made the news because it is so unusual! Look at all the reports and evidence – -it is you who is delusional and in denial. Do you really believe there is no serious problem on Malta? Really? As I said before,… Read more »

Kevin Galea

Joe Beale you are the most UK resident misinformed in all the country.

SEE THIS, IS THIS A SINGLE BIRD INCIDENT ?

http://www.shootinguk.co.uk/news/police-raid-farms-raptor-death-toll
rises-36414#zBrCrKV5LG7JbDjD.01

The total number of birds of prey in this incident is more worrying than the single incident of the Harrier in Malta.

AND THIS OCCURRED IN A FRACTION PART OF THE UK

Ramon Curmi

only 1 Mr McCabe…. and we too are ashamed of our remaining barbarians so inform yourself before trying to slender someone else

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

Also re birds of prey: UK Peregrine falcon aka Maltese Falcon (hunted to extinction in Malta long ago)– increasing and nesting in several cities (jncluding several pairs in London); Red Kite – – partly reintroduced and increasingly common; Common Buzzard– increasing and spearding back to the east of the UK; Hobby– population its highest for decades, now failry common; Osprey– back nesting in England and Wales, population increasing. Yes there are some raptors being illegally killed but the numbers are small. But – there are Peregrines nesting in the capital city! How's Malta's Peregrines doing? There are problems everywhere, as… Read more »

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

Also re birds of prey: UK Peregrine falcon aka Maltese Falcon (hunted to extinction in Malta long ago)– increasing and nesting in several cities (jncluding several pairs in London); Red Kite – – partly reintroduced and increasingly common; Common Buzzard– increasing and spearding back to the east of the UK; Hobby– population its highest for decades, now failry common; Osprey– back nesting in England and Wales, population increasing. Yes there are some raptors being illegally killed but the numbers are small. But – there are Peregrines nesting in the capital city! How's Malta's Peregrines doing? There are problems everywhere, as… Read more »

Kevin Galea

Joe Beale Joe Beale….. if you say that in summer in UK there is no shooting for sure you are living on MARS. For your lack of knowledge let me tell you that in UK shooting takes place 24/7 all year round. In UK they go lamping for foxes and rabits ALL NIGHT ALL YERA ROUND. http://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/news/local/rare-bird-of-prey-dies after-being-shot-in-northamptonshire-1-6019438 Take a look at what is happening in your country. So according to you Maltese are Greedy and Selfish because the shoot for 16 half days during spring and summer Your fellow British hunters hunt over 200 days during Spring and Summer… Read more »

Joe Beale
Joe Beale

Kevin Galea Ok… We are talking about shooting birds, not foxes and rabbits. There is a closed season in summer – in UK it is illegal to shoot birds while they are ensting, even Woodpigeons. I disagree with lamping for foxes and rabbits but these are not protected birds and their populations are high, but we are talking about BIRDS not mammals, so let's leave that one for another time. Your link is about ONE bird that was illegally, and very shamefully, shot. This news was serious enough for it to reach the newspapers. The penalty for this is "Under… Read more »

Kevin Galea

This is for those British moaners who make fuss on others and don's see thei own country.
http://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/news/local/rare-bird-of-prey-dies-after-being-shot-in-northamptonshire-1-6019438