Alistair Gammell: There will be an orgy of killing

The hunting of turtle doves and quail in spring is killing birds that have survived their annual migration across the Sahara and are returning to complete their breeding cycle.

Shooting these birds is uniquely damaging to populations, which is why it is rightly banned in most countries and by the European Union birds directive. Quail and turtle doves are declining throughout Europe because of habitat changes and other threats; spring hunting in Malta is an additional and unacceptable further threat.

For years, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has campaigned alongside Maltese conservationists against the mass destruction of birds. These birds are not Malta's – as migrants, which breed in northern Europe and spend winter in Africa, they are a shared heritage belonging to us all and must be protected.

The fact that Malta is willing to ignore EU law and ignore the particular damage being done by spring hunting is shameful.Worse still, the fact that Maltese hunters can take to the countryside in spring means that no bird will be safe, since sadly they are none too respectful of the law and any bird that crosses their path is likely to be blasted.

There will be an orgy of killing with swallows, birds of prey, warblers, indeed anything with wings being shot. And enforcement? Sadly not.

Surveys have shown that 90 per cent of Malta's population wants to see an end to these practices, which they recognise as shameful and which make their countryside inhospitable during the hunt.

Malta is in the middle of an election campaign. The next government, whichever party wins, will have to deal with the EU court case concerning Malta's breaking of EU law by allowing spring hunting. There is no credible defence. Spring hunting is a destructive and outdated practice.

The RSPB, together with its members and millions of Europeans whose birds are being destroyed, are saying to Malta: end this blot on your reputation; respect the EU's bird protection laws, make sure those laws are enforced, and stop spring hunting in Malta.

Alistair Gammell is the international director for the RSPB

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