The End of Spring Hunting in Malta?
On April 11th Malta goes to the polls to protect Turtle Doves and Quails
Malta lies along the central Mediterranean flyway and is a critical resting place for many migrating birds on their voyage north for breeding in spring. Sadly, all too often, Malta has also become their final resting place. The illegal shooting of migratory birds is widespread and enforcement is made even more difficult by the authorisation of a legal spring hunting season. But this may all change on the April 11th when Maltese voters head to the polls in a national referendum about whether or not to allow the practice to continue.
Spring hunting is banned under the EU Birds Directive; it is particularly harmful for bird populations as it hits adult individuals that are ready to reproduce, thereby threatening the future of a species. Malta has had a contentious history as the only country in the EU that allows the killing of turtle dove and quail during spring migration, when they are on their way to breed. Indeed this breach of EU law has been an international black mark against the country for quite some time. Despite being challenged by the European Court of Justice, and being found guilty in 2009 for “failing to provide adequate protection for birds”, spring hunting has continued.
The citizens of Malta have now taken matters into their own hands, with over 41,000 people (10% of the voting population) who signed a petition calling for a national referendum on April 11th to put to the question the practice of spring hunting. This people's referendum, spearheaded by the 'Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting', which includes BirdLife Malta and 14 other NGOs, is the very first time an abrogative referendum has been called in the country.
The campaign 'Spring Hunting Out' (SHout) is not only backed by this coalition of NGOs, but also by famous Maltese personalities across the worlds of music, art, fashion, sport, television and theatre. Each day that passes, the movement has gained momentum with birds, conservation and sustainability making headlines in the daily newspapers, on TV and the radio. Step into any household, cafe, university campus and workplace across the island and you will likely hear people chatting about this hot topic of discussion and debate. It’s an exciting time in Malta, people are concerned about their environment, and feeling empowered to make a decision about the future of their natural heritage. This alone is an important step forward for bird conservation.
Beyond hearing people say that it is unsustainable to shoot migratatory birds on their way to breed, you can also hear Maltese people speaking about having greater access to public lands and the importance of protecting their green spaces. With almost 80% of the countryside available for spring hunting, this has left precious little else for the remaining 98% of the population to enjoy, during what is probably the nicest time of the year.
On the 11th April, with the ultimate democratic tool of a people's referendum, the Maltese people will be given the power to choose whether or not to protect migrating birds, safeguard their natural heritage and inspire new generations to protect their environment.
A no vote could finally put a stop to spring hunting on these islands forever. The BirdLife family across Europe will be holding its breath and waiting for good news.