Last modified: 11 September 2009
The European court's decision proves that many turtle doves passing through Malta have been shot illegally.
Image: Steve Round
In a verdict delivered ths week the European Court of Justice (ECJ, case C-76/08) declared that Malta has breached European law by allowing spring hunting of turtle dove and quail in the years 2004-2007.
BirdLife International and BirdLife Malta welcomed the ruling as it shows that this practice jeopardizes the conservation of these species, which have been classified by BirdLife as being in unfavourable conservation status in Europe. As a consequence, BirdLife concludes spring hunting has to end permanently. Hunting in autumn can continue for these and 30 other species in Malta, under certain conditions laid out in the EU Birds Directive.
BirdLife International and BirdLife Malta had submitted a complaint to the European Commission on Malta’s insistence on spring hunting in 2005. “This ruling is good news for those European birds, including turtle dove and quail that cross Malta every spring on their hazardous migration back from Africa. Once again we have an example how the EU Birds Directive can help our common natural heritage”, said Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager at BirdLife International in Brussels.
“Malta needs to come in line with the Birds Directive and ban spring hunting. At the same time, as we have said many times before, Maltese hunters have every right to continue their practice during the autumn hunting season within the parameters of the law, and respecting the list of huntable species” said Joseph Mangion, BirdLife Malta’s President.
In many parts of Europe, including the UK, the turtle dove and quail are declining rapidly. Spring shooting poses an additional threat to these birds that are already struggling for survival in Europe for other reasons, such as intensive agriculture
The Maltese islands are located on an important bird migration route in the Mediterranean. A recent study analysing ring recoveries in Malta, showed that birds originating from a minimum of 36 European countries have been recorded migrating over Malta. 
At the same time, conservationists across Europe remain concerned about illegal hunting of protected species in Malta (like raptors and herons), and a lack of adequate police enforcement.
“The ALE, the Maltese police unit dealing with illegal hunting, is heavily under-resourced and struggles to keep up with the scale of illegalities. We expect the Prime Minister to use this Court Ruling as an opportunity to now focus on clamping down on illegal hunting - which has tarnished Malta’s reputation over the years,” concluded Mr Mangion.
Grahame Madge, of the RSPB, said: “In many parts of Europe, including the UK, the turtle dove and quail are declining rapidly. Spring shooting poses an additional threat to these birds that are already struggling for survival in Europe for other reasons, such as intensive agriculture.”
In 2007, the RSPB urged its members to sign a petition calling for an end to the illegal hunting of birds in Malta. This petition, totaling over 114,000 signatures, was given to the Maltese government by BirdLife Malta and the RSPB.
Grahame Madge added: “For over three decades the RSPB has been campaigning against the illegal killing of birds migrating across Malta. We trust the Maltese government will now heed the frustrations of people across Europe and comply with European bird protection laws.”
This year BirdLife Malta will run its annual international raptor monitoring camp between 12 September and 4 October. Maltese and international ornithologists join this camp with the express aim collect data on bird migration, and to curtail illegal hunting activities by informing the Maltese police force where needed, while respecting any hunting activities that stay within the legal framework.
On Saturday, BirdLife Malta will begin its annual international raptor monitoring camp between 12 September and 4 October. Maltese and international ornithologists, including many from the UK, join this camp to collect information on bird migration, and to curtail illegal hunting by informing the Maltese police force where needed, while respecting any hunting activities that stay within the legal framework.
Last year, 59 participants, logging 362 illegal incidents, participated in Raptor Camp. One of the most high-profile incidents was the filming of two poachers stashing a freshly-killed lesser spotted eagle. The poachers were given one of the largest fines imposed by a Maltese court for wildlife crime.
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