New 7pm curfew orchestrated by hunting sympathisers to allow hunters target migratory species that migrate at night.
BirdLife director Steve Micklewright has written to the Prime Minister over the decision to roll back a hunting curfew.
BirdLife Malta reacted to news that the government will ‘lift’ a curfew for autumn afternoon hunting by pushing it back from 3pm to 7pm, as an act of “deregulation” aimed at dismantling the rules for the protection of birds.
In a jibe at the new Wild Birds Regulation Unit, BirdLife’s executive director said the “deregulation unit” was being staffed by hunting sympathisers, with today’s decision “clearly showing what happens when you put hunters in charge of bird conservation.”
The WBRU is staffed by former Labour MP Bertu Pace, who was the party’s main consultant on hunting and trapping before the election, and Joseph Lia – a member of hunting lobby FKNK’s executive committee. Pace is engaged on a 30-hour week contract with a remuneration of €17,566 a year.
Micklewright described the roll-back of the curfew as a “licence for the illegal killing of protected birds” apart from huntable species like turtle dove and quail, which both tend to migrate at night and are mostly hunted during the early hours of the morning. “Pushing back the curfew will therefore make no difference to most law-abiding hunters.”
“This decision clearly shows that bird conservation on Malta is not best served by the new Wild Birds Regulation Unit under the Parliamentary Secretary for Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights.”
BirdLife also sent an urgent letter to the Prime Minister asking for his direct intervention. “In our letter to the Prime Minister we call for bird conservation issues to be dealt with by the Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change, the decision to remove the curfew only emphasises that these issues are in the wrong hands,” Micklewright said.
BirdLife said the decision flies in the face of evidence presented to the Ornis Committee in July, that when the 3pm curfew was not in place during the first week of October when bird of prey migration is still on, BirdLife witnessed many more incidents of shooting at protected species in the afternoons compared to when the curfew was still in place in September. “This clearly shows that the 3pm curfew was effective,” conservation manager Nicholas Barbara said.
“This decision is completely useless. Having the curfew at 7pm is practically equivalent to removing it. By 7pm most birds of prey would have roosted already, after having flown at low altitude within shooting range in search of a roosting site. It is the hours before dark that are the most critical and not after sunset.”
BirdLife also revealed that the proposal for a 7pm curfew to be extended by one week was made to the Ornis Committee by the Acting Head of the Wild Birds Regulation Unit, Sergei Golovkin – a former MEPA employee – who described it as, “An intermediary measure of a give and take situation.”
Nicholas Barbara added: “When he was challenged by BirdLife about the logical sense of a curfew push back, no concrete answer was given.”
BirdLife was joined by German conservationists CABS (Campaign Against Bird Slaughter) which dubbed the decision a “death sentence for protected bird species”.
In a statement, CABS said that the curfew, proven to protect endangered birds and welcomed by a wide spectrum of the Maltese population, had been “unnecessarily sacrificed to the interests of hunters and poachers.”
“Data collected by our volunteers last year show that after the end of the afternoon curfew on 30 September, afternoon poaching increased sharply,” CABS spokesperson Axel Hirschfeld said.
CABS also announced today that the organisation will be sending 40 volunteer Bird Guards to Malta and Gozo in September, to guard the roosting sites of rare and endangered migrant bird species and to monitor compliance with hunting and nature protection regulations. The camp, dubbed operation ‘Bon Voyage’, will be conducted from 13 until 30 September.
In a reaction, the government insisted that the new curfew was “in line EU regulations”.
“This fact has not been contested by anyone,” the parliamentary secretariat for animal rights said.
It insisted the government was “consistent” in wanting Maltese hunters to be treated as their European counterparts.
“There will be strict enforcement of regulations and anyone caught hunting illegally will not only be fined but will also risk losing his licence for good.”