A Media briefing by the Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting was held at Buskett on 10th August 2013
Who is in the Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting?
The coalition is made up of twelve organisations who have agreed to work together to bring an end to spring hunting on the Maltese islands. The organisations are: Ramblers Association of Malta, Nature Trust, Moviment Graffiti, International Animal Rescue Malta, Greenhouse Malta, Gaia Foundation, Friends of the Earth Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Coalition for Animal Rights, BirdLife Malta and Alternattiva Demokratika.
The Coalition is an equal partnership of twelve organisations bringing their skills and expertise to achieve an end to spring hunting on Malta
Why has it been formed now?
The Coalition has been formed to work both within Malta and across the European Union to bring pressure on both the Maltese Government and the European Commission to end spring hunting on Malta. Both major political parties have committed themselves to protect spring hunting. During spring 2013, the government removed €50 special licence fee and identification armbands for registered hunters. As a result there were 50% more registered hunters during the spring hunting season of 2013 compared with 2012.
Spring hunting is made possible in Malta through a derogation of the EU Birds Directive. Although the Directive is aimed at protecting birds, exceptions for the taking or killing of birds can be made where air safety, public health, research and nature protection are concerned, as well as the capture, keeping or other judicius use of birds is done in small numbers, on a selective basis and under strictly supervised conditions. Killing for sport is not judicious use. While the European Commission carefully monitors the situation on Malta, they are slow to act.
With various Maltese administrations over the years making spring hunting possible and a European Commission slow to act, the Coalition was formed to put further pressure on both the government and the EU.
What is the problem with spring hunting on Malta?
Malta is on one of the flyways that birds use to migrate from Africa to northern Europe in the spring to reach their breeding grounds. Malta is a stopover point for very many types of protected birds, but these are often illegally targeted by hunters. Rare and threatened birds such as the Pallid Harrier, the Osprey, the Red-footed Falcon and even majestic species such as the Greater Flamingo and the White Stork have been targeted by hunters in the spring.
Two types of bird are especially prized by hunters. Both Turtle Dove (Gamiema) and Quail (Summiena) have been hunted on Malta for many years, but both of these species have become species of conservation concern because their numbers are declining so rapidly in Europe.
From both a conservation and hunting perspective it makes no sense to hunt birds that are returning to their breeding grounds. These are the birds that have survived the winter and would replenish bird populations if they reached their breeding grounds. Killing them in spring is therefore unsustainable.
How is spring hunting allowed?
The killing of birds in spring, when on migration to breed, is forbidden under the EU Birds’ Directive. However member states can apply an exception (also known as a derogation) where it is deemed that there is no other satisfactory solution to allow the killing of birds for very specific purposes permitted by the Directive.
The Maltese government has been applying the logic that an autumn hunting season is not a satisfactory alternative to a spring hunting season, traditionally opened in April and May before Malta’s EU accession. This assumption is based on figures of killed Turtle Doves and Quail declared (and misreported) by hunters themselves. These figures where then presented by the Maltese government to the European Commission showing that the number of Turtle Dove and Quail killed in autumn were not enough to maintain the traditional kill. Based on this argument, Malta applies a derogation to allow a spring hunting season for Turtle Dove and Quail because an autumn hunting season (open for 5 months for a total of 41 species) is not deemed to be a satisfactory alternative to hunting in spring.
Malta accordingly uses the derogation, ‘to permit, under strictly supervised conditions and on a selective basis, the capture, keeping or other judicious use of certain birds in small numbers.’ (Article 9 (1) c of Directive 2009/147/EC)
It does so by incorrectly declaring/describing the killing in spring of Turtle Dove and Quail as ‘judicious use’ of the birds, and so attempts to derogate from the obligations imposed by the Birds’ Directive. It also has proposed incentives such as the use of arm bands, SMS reports and increased police presence as ‘strictly supervised conditions’ as determined by the Directive . The Malta government also sets limits on the numbers of Turtle Dove and Quail that can be killed in spring as a ‘selective basis’ in line with the Directive’s requirements.
Is it not the role of the European Union to deal with this?
The European Commission is responsible for ensuring that Malta abides by the conditions of the Birds’ Directive and that any derogation to allow spring hunting represents ‘judicious use’ and fulfils all criteria. For spring hunting this means that Malta must demonstrate that spring hunting is undertaken judiciously and under very strictly controlled conditions and there is sufficient enforcement to ensure these conditions are complied with.
Each year Malta is obliged to send a report to the EC within a month of the end of the spring hunting season, explaining how it considers that it has fulfilled correctly a derogation. Other stakeholders such as BirdLife Malta and hunters’ associations also send in reports with their analysis of the situation.
While the European Commission is concerned that Malta is not properly fulfilling its obligations, the Commission does not have the resources to check what is actually happening on the ground each and every spring hunting season. It accordingly relies on reports filed by governmental and non-governmental organisations, and files queries where it deems appropriate, to get an understanding of whether a derogation was correctly applied or otherwise. The filing of reports and queries is however a slow and long bureaucratic process that may result in infringement procedures against Malta in the future. This invariably allows for the possibility of other spring hunting seasons to continue to be incorrectly permitted in the mean time.
What about the European Court of Justice?
The European Commission took Malta to court in 2009 accusing it of contravening the Birds’ Directive because of the spring hunting seasons that took place in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Contrary to some claims and misconceptions, the Court unequivocally declared these hunting seasons as illegal, by declaring that: “by authorising the opening of a hunting season for quails (Coturnix coturnix) and turtle doves (Streptopelia turtur) during the spring migration period in the years 2004 to 2007, without complying with the conditions laid down in Article 9(1) of Council Directive 79/409/EEC of 2 April 1979 on the conservation of wild birds, as amended, in respect of 2004 to 2006, by Council Regulation (EC) No 807/2003 of 14 April 2003, and, in respect of 2007, by Council Directive 2006/105/EC of 20 November 2006, the Republic of Malta has failed to fulfil its obligations under that directive;”
It never authorised the issue of fresh regulations on Spring Hunting. It merely declared the existing ones as illegal.
Following the 2009 judgement, the Government published a new legal notice with a shorter hunting period than in previous years, and introduced the concept of limited numbers of Turtle Dove and Quail as one of a number of measures in the hope that this will not be challenged again by the Commission as once again not being complaint with the Birds Directive.
Malta was however challenged in 2010, when it was obliged to again review a legal notice allowing spring hunting after the European Commission re-opened a new infringement procedure via a formal warning (a Letter of Formal Notice). The result of this is a 2011 framework legislation which has set the maximum limits by which a spring hunting season can be permitted in Malta. In the meantime the European Commission has not closed the case on Malta, continuing to assess the situation with each spring hunting season year after year, and in particular remains concerned over the level of strict supervision.
Thus Malta runs the huge risk that if it is found once again as not being compliant, it would face another court case which could land Malta in huge administrative costs as well as fines which will cost the tax payer very dearly.
Why a referendum?
There are about 15,000 registered hunters and trappers on Malta. Some general elections have been won on just 5,000 votes. Hunters have used this to demand concessions from the major political parties in return for votes. Both of Malta’s main political parties have made deals with hunters to gain votes. However, recent surveys have shown that 60% of Maltese voters would like to see spring hunting abolished. With both main political parties’ pre election actions always resulting in concessions being given to hunters, a referendum is the only way that the majority of people can make their demands for the abolition of spring hunting a reality.
A referendum held at the right time is an inexpensive option compared with the fines the European Union may eventually apply to Malta for not applying the Birds Directive properly. Additionally, spring hunting has an adverse effect on the Maltese economy because it discourages high value tourists from visiting the country at a very desirable time of year for them.
What is the referendum seeking to achieve?
The referendum will seek the abolition of the legislation that allows spring hunting to take place on Malta. The petition that we are asking people to sign to enable this to happen states, “We the undersigned persons being registered as voters for the election of members of the House of Representatives demand that the question whether the following provision of law, that is to say Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtledove and Quail Regulations (Subsidiary Legislation 504.94 – Legal Notice 221 of 2010), should not continue in force, shall be put to those entitled to vote in a referendum under Part V of the Referendum Act.”
The abrogative referendum that the petition should trigger will ask for people to vote in favour of the abolition of Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtledove and Quail Regulations (Subsidiary Legislation 504.94 – Legal Notice 221 of 2010) as amended to date.
But what about minority rights?
Hunters often claim that their rights to kill birds should be protected because it is a long-standing tradition among a minority of people and banning spring hunting would adversely affect their rights. The rights associated with minorities are usually linked to human rights and it has never been used to justify anti-social behaviour, by a minority of people. The argument that killing birds can constitute some sort of inalienable right of a minority of the population is simply absurd and an insult to those minorities in society who are struggling for their rights and equality.
Hunters in Malta already enjoy a 5-month hunting season in autumn for which the Birds Directive permits the killing of 41 game species. More than half of these species regularly migrate over Malta including Turtle Dove and Quail which can therefore be hunted in autumn. Therefore the abolition of any spring hunting season will still leave the hunters with a hunting season in autumn during whuch they can hunt for both Turtle Dove and Quail during a season when birds are less vulnerable.
Is this a politically motivated Coalition?
The Coalition is comprised of 11 non-governmental organisations and Alternattiva Demokratika. Together they represent all of the environmental movement on Malta. The Coalition is motivated by a desire to bring an end to one of the most serious and long-standing problems that affects nature on Malta. Many of the organisations, including BirdLife Malta and Alternattiva Demokratika , have campaigned on this issue for decades, no matter what political party is in government.
Why should voters get involved?
Successive governments have failed to act on spring hunting because of the power that the hunters’ lobby holds over them. It is not acceptable in a modern democracy for a small minority to seek to influence the outcome of general elections by offering votes for concessions. It is time this pattern is ended once and for all. The referendum represents an opportunity for the majority of voters to make their wishes known to government. Many people feel powerless over some of the issues they care about. Getting involved in this referendum will give the power to take decisions back to the people.
How many signatures have been collected?
Today’s press conference marks the beginning of the process to collect signatures for the petition for the referendum. However, the Coalition has been very pleasantly surprised by the level of interest in the referendum initiative and the number of people who have asked to help collect signatures.
What should people do now?
At least 34,000 Maltese who can vote in a general election must sign the petition to call for a referendum. The petition cannot be signed online. Copies of the petition are available from firstname.lastname@example.org or from any one of the Coalition members.
The Coalition is asking people to sign the petition and to gather more signatures from their friends and family.