Bird shooting and trapping in Malta
Way back in the early nineties, a decision to establish a small unit within the existing police force whose main objective was to protect the environment.
This unit was officially known as the Administrative Law Enforcement although it was commonly referred to amongst the general public (especially the hunters and trappers) as the Environmental Police Squad. Up to the mid nineties this unit produced satisfactory results with illegal hunting and trapping being controlled to a certain extent. During this time, the number of law breakers in this particular field when compared with previous figures had increased. More offenders were being brought before the court, more guns and protected birds were being confiscated and the number of raids and patrols increased tremendously.
Illegal taxidermists were also prosecuted and on one occasion they managed to confiscate more than 2030 birds from one taxidermist alone! The vast majority of which were protected species. Encouraged by these results, we awarded this Unit with an International Award as a recognition of the work being carried out and in order to help the police continue their fight against illegal shooting at sea (which is still rampant) we also presented them with a powerful speed boat.
Both presentations were highly criticised by the hunters in Malta. A number of them started a systematic campaign against some of the members of this unit trying to intimidate them. 1996 was election year and it was rumoured that the hunters were going to start their own political party contesting the elections - this never materialised. However they preferred to join forces with an established political party in opposition during the election campaign - the Labour Party. It is worth mentioning that before this general election the Labour Party in opposition was taking any opportunity to gain votes - in a small country like Malta every vote counts.
Prior to the elections an agreement was signed between the Hunters Federation and the Labour opposition. It was agreed that the animal welfare legislation’s which had been approved in Parliament some months previously would be amended in favour of the hunters. This agreement did not gain publicity. The Conservative Government was defeated. They had during the election campaign, defended the new regulations which they had enforced. The Conservative Party, now in opposition, realised that a considerable number of votes were lost by those in the hunting classes voting for Labour. They immediately started talks with the hunting groups as an early election could possibly take place.
1998 elections took place - the Government was defeated in Parliament. The Conservative Party fell into the same trap which the Labour Party had fallen into two years previously and an agreement was signed favouring the hunters.
Environmental groups protested strongly against these political manoeuvres and the Labour Party did not sign any agreements on this occasion but warned the hunters that the Conservative Party was taking them for a ride as promises made were not accepted by the EU. In complete contradiction, the Conservative Party during that campaign, had as one of the main issues EU membership for Malta. However the hunters on this occasion voted for the party they boycotted only twenty months before. The promises were kept and the Government at present, is amending the local laws and legislation’s in favour of the hunters. Some of the amendments being made were asked for by the hunters during the talks but were not included in the agreement.
Observers working with the EU Commissions, have stated that the environmental issue in Malta is one of the biggest problems within the EU and one which the Maltese Government must solve. The EU is not ready to give any concession to Malta. As the current directives stand, Malta will have to abide with them and legal changes will once more have to be made. Politicians are keeping a very low profile on this issue. In a year or so, Malta will have to vote in a referendum in connection with membership to the EU. It is expected that both political parties will make an issue out of this. Bird protection societies are aware of the views of other countries wanting similar laws and conditions as Malta - amongst these countries are Greece, Ireland, France and Italy. The EU Commission have always remained strong with its directives - a political party can fool their supporters but not the EU. A U-turn in their policies is expected.