We refute the accusations Geoffrey Saliba of BirdLife Malta (BLM) made against us in his letter (“Illegal hunting in Malta”, 17-23 June).
We stand by our statement in our letters (published in the 27 May-2 June edition) that bird crime has decreased significantly. The threat is now limited to a few criminals.
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We object to the alarmist allegations made by BLM about the international impact of hunting in Malta. To give the impression that there is a huge negative impact, it cites the killing of one pallid harrier, saying that there are only five to 50 pallid harrier pairs in Europe. As the Avibirds bird guide says, the pallid harrier “breeds primarily in the steppes of Asiatic Russia, Kazakhstan and north-west China”. It puts the number of pallid harriers at “9,000-15,000 pairs at the beginning of the 21st century”. It is not a European species; BLM is excluding the populations in Russia and the ex-Soviet republics to gain propagandistic mileage.
BLM accuses hunters and trappers of preventing certain species, such as finches, from establishing viable populations in Malta. This phenomenon is unconnected with trapping. Comino, the third-largest island of the archipelago and an undisturbed bird sanctuary for 25 years with freshwater all year round, has never recorded a single breeding pair.
The spring carnets de chasse records are not totally accurate, but are of little relevance. At the European Court of Justice (ECJ) the crucial point concerned the autumn taking of birds. The European Commission contested the spring figures and was overruled, but it did not contest the autumn figures.
BLM keeps harping on that the EU’s birds directive “specifically prohibits the hunting of wild birds during the breeding season”. Derogations are available, and were it not for such exceptions, Malta would not have had a case at the ECJ.
The Maltese government applied a derogation; it did not defy the ECJ or appease hunters. It opened a season in spring 2010 because of the ECJ ruling, and not “in spite of” it, as Saliba contends.
The hunting organisations did consider the 2010 spring-hunting derogation ‘obscene’ and directed their members not to apply for a spring-hunting licence, threatening, by right, to ‘name and shame’ those members who did. They considered reducing the season to six mornings, and reducing participation to only 25% of hunters, to be a reductio ad absurdum of the ECJ ruling. The boycott by 99.8% of hunters showed the hunters’ determination to obtain justice.
We categorically deny running hate campaigns. Acts of physical violence and vandalism are easily provoked by the same fanatical hard-headedness that tries to turn even an ECJ judgement on its head. In none of the incidents mentioned was anybody apprehended and one should not point fingers. The two incidents involving BirdLife “rangers” concerned one person, and the destruction of “thousands of trees” concerned a BirdLife afforestation site under that person’s charge. One cannot exclude personal grudges.
We do not “ignore the fact that the ECJ ruled Malta’s spring hunting derogations unlawful on several other counts”. We have proposed, among other things, the creation of a wildlife-crime unit and the appointment of marshals; some proposals were reflected by the Maltese government in a legal notice in April.
We included many of the points raised here in a report submitted to the Commission in May.
Federation for Hunting & Conservation
Mark Mifsud Bonnici
St Hubert Hunters – Malta