Conservationists mobilise to halt mass slaughter of birds in Malta

A A A

It is Europe's worst and most senseless wildlife massacre, resulting in the annual death of thousands of birds about to breed all over the continent. But this spring, conservationists are heading for the Mediterranean to help end it.

The Maltese bird hunt, a mass slaughter of spring migrant birds, has been illegal since the island joined the European Union in 2004, but the government has allowed it to continue in spite of the new rules.

Huge numbers of birds migrating from Africa to Europe, such as turtle doves, are killed by hunters as they pass over or stop in Malta during their crossing of the Mediterranean, even though spring hunting has been outlawed throughout Europe since 1979 by the EU's birds directive. Thousands of other birds, such as finches, are taken by bird trappers.

The Maltese government, in deference to the country's powerful hunting lobby, has failed to enforce the directive, and is now in trouble with Brussels. Last month the European Commission announced that it was taking Malta to the European Court over the issue. And the island's bird protection body, BirdLife Malta, is taking its own action by setting up a Spring Watch Malta conservation camp of volunteers from across Europe who will document the activities of the hunters and bring them to the attention of the world.

Bird lovers from Britain and countries as far away as the United States are expected at the camp, which will run from 12 to 29 April, the height of the migration season. "We want to put the Maltese government and Maltese hunters under scrutiny by having people in the field observing," said Alistair Gammell, international director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which is co-ordinating the efforts of British volunteers.

"Malta, which is regarded as having the worst bird protection reputation in Europe, has repeatedly refused to comply with European bird hunting and trapping laws. The world needs to witness what's going on.

"To shoot birds when they are returning on migration and on the point of reproducing the species is just senseless. It's hugely destructive."

Volunteers will go into the field each day with BirdLife Malta staff to document both the migration and hunting activities. The situation with regard to the hunters is tense: threatening messages from hunting supporters have been posted on websites, and this month three cars belonging to BirdLife Malta volunteers were set on fire. Activists at the Spring Watch Malta camp will be told to avoid confrontation.

The indiscriminate hunting of birds in Malta has been an issue with European conservationists for at least 30 years, as the island's 15,000 obsessive shooters and bird trappers (out of a population of 400,000) have taken a gigantic toll of bird life.

As a result, many of the species that once were resident on the island, from barn owls to peregrine falcons, have been wiped out.

But even more important, from an international point of view, is the huge toll of migratory birds passing through or over the island from their wintering grounds in Africa to their breeding grounds across Europe.

In his book, Fatal Flight: The Maltese Obsession with Killing Birds which chronicles the history of Maltese hunting, Natalino Fenech described the annual death toll of three million finches, more than half a million thrushes, 500,000 swallows, 80,000 golden orioles, 18,000 shearwaters and 50,000 birds of prey.

Time was called on the slaughter when Malta became a member of the EU in 2004 and it became subject to EU laws under which the hunting of spring migrants is banned. But such was the strength of the hunting lobby that for the past three springs the Maltese government has declared a legal season of its own in defiance of Brussels.

This has now landed it in the dock. All parties are waiting to see if the government takes its defiance even further and allows illegal hunting for the fourth year. A decision is expected shortly after the Maltese general election on 8 March.

Tolga Temuge, BirdLife Malta's executive director, thinks his government may at last give way on the issue, as public opinion has turned against hunting. "The majority of the Maltese people are behind us," he said. "In the past, the 3 per cent of the population who are hunters have successfully hijacked the main political parties with their votes. But now the opinion polls show the overwhelming majority are against spring hunting. People have had enough."

Anyone who wants to take part in the Spring Watch Malta camp can go to the BirdLife Malta website, www.birdlifemalta.org, or phone Jane Devitt at the RSPB on 01767 680551. Volunteers need to be interested in birds and reasonably fit.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power