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Environmentalists angered by prospect of spring hunting in Malta

Turtle doveEnvironmentalists have reacted angrily to the latest proposals on the issue of spring hunting in Malta. The Malta Ornis Committee, made up of members of the hunting community, Birdlife Malta and environmental officers, has recommended that the season should open for three weeks from 10 - 30 April, allowing shooters to kill 22,298 turtle doves and 10,837 quail.

The recommendation is based on a proposal by the MEPA (Malta Environment and Planning Authority).

Last year the European Court of Justice ruled that Malta had breached EU law by allowing hunting to take place. However, legal experts argued that the autumn hunting season was not a satisfactory alternative to hunting in the spring and have been pushing for limited spring hunting under strict controls. Talks on the issue between the Malta government and the EU Commission are expected to start soon.

Birdlife Malta who, together with the hunters are the main stakeholders of the Ornis Committee, described the meeting during which the decision was taken in favour of spring hunting as farcical. The Ornis Chairman pushed Committee members to take a series of votes on a spring hunting and trapping season based on the proposals of the Hunting Federation and MEPA.  According to Birdlife, the MEPA produced a proposal which was not circulated in advance but verbally communicated during the meeting. The decision to open another spring hunting season followed a vote in which the Chairman, the 'independent member' hunters and MEPA representatives voted in favour and Birdlife voted against it.

QuailMax Farrugia of International Animal Rescue said that the general feeling in Malta is that decisions are taken at a higher level and that the Ornis Committee is being used as a smokescreen. If the talks with Brussels do not reach a satisfactory conclusion then the likelihood is that, if the hunting season is opened, Malta will once again be taken to the European Court of Justice. He added that the European Commission should also take into consideration the bad reputation of Maltese hunters: they shoot anything that flies and, although within the police force there is a dedicated unit to crack down on illegal hunting, Malta isn't able to control the situation. The Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), together with IAR, organises bird guard camps in Malta to observe and record illegal shooting activity. They work in cooperation with the local police force on this issue.

Farrugia also said: "There is a lot of politics involved in this issue and the only political group on the island that is against hunting is the Alternattiva Demoktatika  (The Green Party) which does not have a say in Parliament because it doesn’t hold any seats."

Turtle doveA spokesman for the AD said "This time, if the EU directives are not respected, it will mean heavy monetary fines for our country. In the event of such fines, Alternattiva Demokratika will urge Maltese citizens to withhold a small percentage of their taxes and will instead hold personally responsible those politicians, like John Attard Montalto, Simon Busuttil and the leaders of the PN and the PL, who let the hunters believe that spring hunting is compatible with EU directives. They should pay any resulting fines out of their own pockets. In view of the decision by the Ornis Committee to allow hunting in spring, Arnold Cassola, Alternatttiva Demokratika Spokesperson on EU and International Affairs, stated: "AD Chairperson Michael Brigiglio said that both the Nationalist and Labour parties are making a farce out of the hunting issue, and instead of attempting to conform to EU legislation which prohibits hunting in spring, both political parties are trying to please everyone at the same time. In this instance the net loser is the environment and the majority of people who are in favour of improving and protecting our natural environment."

Following a considerable number of reports by the local media condemning the Ornis decision, the Hunting Federation urged the committee not to be influenced by these reports and therefore to ignore the view of the general public. A survey carried out by the Times of Malta shows that the majority of the population is against spring hunting.