MALTA - MASSACRE ON MIGRATION
WITH CHRIS PACKHAM
For many years I have lobbied the UK's bird charities to campaign to raise awareness about the slaughter of migrant birds on Malta. I have equally tried to stimulate television programme makers to cover the issue - both without success - a sad reflection of our complacent and risk adverse times.
Well, I've finally run out of patience and together with three colleagues and the support of Birdlife Malta this spring I will be making a nightly video diary of the days events on the island which will be posted on . . .
YouTube at 9.00 PM (UK time)
21st and 26th of April 2014
Our mission is to generate a wider awareness of this heinous practice with frank and factual reports from the frontline where our much loved migrant birds are being shot in huge numbers. It will not be pretty, the species killed include many UK favourites and rarities and the hunters are infamous for being confrontational and violent. I don’t care, this is not a holiday, it's an attempt to bring this forgotten issue to a wider public attention and then to offer a couple of ways the viewers can actually do something to effect positive change.
Please try to watch our broadcasts and please publicise them as widely as possible. I believe that people will be truly horrified when they see what happens on Malta to 'our birds', I believe they care and they will do something to change it.
Ruth Peacey, Luke Massey and Jez Toogood will act as the production team and this is an entirely self funded independent project.
Some Background . . .
Malta lies 100 kilometres south of Sicily and is a popular destination for sun-seeking British holiday-makers and is steeped in interesting cultural and natural history. It also lies on the Central Mediterranean Flyway one of three migration superhighways between Europe and Africa. Millions of birds migrate along this route every year and the Maltese Islands are an important resting place for birds making the long flight across the Mediterranean - the final barrier before they reach mainland Europe.
On 12th April, in Malta, over 10,500 hunters armed with shotguns and occupying large areas of public countryside will begin one of Europe’s most shameful legalised slaughters of threatened birds at the very time of year when they are making their way north from Africa on their return migration to their breeding grounds throughout Europe. This is the start of a three-week hunting season during which countless thousands of migrating birds, many of them rare and protected species, will be indiscriminately killed for sport thanks to Malta continuing to undermine EU wildlife directives by being the only country in the EU to open a recreational hunting season in spring.
Weeks before the arrival of Barn Swallows signals the start of summer they can be seen in the Maltese Islands along with nearly 100 other species. Unfortunately this spring about 10,500 hunters, that’s about 80 per square kilometre making it the highest density of hunters anywhere in the world, are waiting for them. In 2013 at least 24 species of protected birds were illegally shot including Cuckoos, Marsh and Pallid Harriers, Kestrels, Ospreys, Purple and Grey Herons, Bee-eaters, Golden Orioles and . . . Barn Swallows - those very birds that should herald the arrival of our summer.
Unfortunately, Malta’s notorious reputation as one of Europe’s worst black spots for illegal and unsustainable bird killing is not undeserved. Since the 1960s, Malta has lost at least three previously breeding bird species as a direct result of persecution by hunters - including the Peregrine Falcon (famously known as the Maltese Falcon).
Today, the spring hunting season in Malta is one of the most controversial bird conservation issues in Europe. Ostensibly, only two species - Turtle Dove and Quail - may be shot during this spring hunting season, but in reality many more are targeted under the cover of the legal season. Rare species are killed and stuffed for illegal Victorian-style private collections, undermining European conservation efforts, while many more common migrants are just used for target practice with their killers not even bothering to confirm their kills or collect the bird they have just shot. Turtle Doves and Quail are themselves vulnerable and declining in Europe, with the Turtle Dove - one of Europe’s most iconic birds, its appearance and sound synonymous with the summer- on the verge of extinction as a breeding bird in several European countries, including the UK.
Every spring BirdLife Malta volunteers take injured birds illegally shot during the spring hunting season to a vet in the hope that their injuries are not too severe and they can be treated and released, but only a relatively small number survive.
While the large majority of Maltese people oppose spring hunting and want to see migrating birds properly protected, successive Maltese governments have failed to bring illegal bird killing under control and refused to stop unsustainable hunting in spring. And since a ruling by the European Court of Justice in 2009 found Malta guilty of violating the EU Birds Directive by allowing spring hunting in 2004-2007, the European Commission appears to have lost the will to take further action to stop Malta’s abuse of the Birds Directive.
Stopping spring hunting would be a huge step towards making Malta safe for Europe’s migrating birds and would even help the chances of birds which try to breed on the islands. There is new hope amongst Maltese and European conservationists that this might be the last year Malta opens a spring hunting season. A petition presented to Malta’s Electoral Commission last week and signed by more than 44,000 Maltese voters, calls for a public referendum to stop spring hunting in Malta and could finally put an end to decades of abuse by removing the taking the decision away from politicians putting in directly in the hands of the Maltese people.
You can help make this the last spring hunting season in Malta by supporting BirdLife Malta’s campaign to stop spring hunting, please donate to the Stop Spring Hunting campaign fund via
~ ends ~
Malta has the highest density of hunters anywhere in Europe, with approximately 80 licenced hunters per square kilometre of huntable land estimated this spring. Hunting of this intensity is not seen anywhere else in Europe, probably the world and predictably has a devastating impact on the birds hunted and leads to conflicts with the 95 per cent of the Maltese population who don’t hunt over access and use of the countryside in spring.
In 2009 the European Court of Justice found Malta guilty of allowing spring hunting in breach of the Birds Directive between 2004 and 2007. Since 2010 Malta has continued to allow spring hunting through a derogation of the Birds Directive .Each year the season is extended, restrictions relaxed, bag limits and numbers of licences increased. This year is no exception:
- BirdLife Malta media release ; Government changes law to allow hunting on Sundays and public holidays this spring, Friday, 21 March 2014. www.birdlifemalta.org
- Hunting of birds on during the breeding period is prohibited by the EU Birds Directive
Since 1970 the EU population of European Turtle Dove has declined by more than 70 percent - in the UK it has declined by 95 per cent.
The 2013 spring hunting season spiralled so completely out of control the police had to call on the Armed Forces for support :Army called in to police ‘out-of-control’ spring hunting season. Malta Today, 25 April 2013. www.maltatoday.com.mt/lifestyle/environment/26353
Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting press statement: Submission of a Petition to call for an Abrogative Referendum to Abolish Spring Hunting, Saturday, 29 March 2014 www.birdlifemalta.org
Enter website »