This column often deals with local wildlife issues, but some of our local wildlife, especially some birds, are only with us for part of the year. The rest of the time they are someone else’s local wildlife. These migratory species generally move south in the autumn and north in the spring. Their journeys take them across many countries, one of the smallest of which presents a great danger. This small country is Malta.
There is a tradition in Malta of shooting migratory birds as they pass over or pause to rest and feed. The shooting seems to be indiscriminate; song birds, birds of prey and game birds all fall to the hunters’ guns. In a grisly take-off of genuine birdwatchers, or twitchers, as the birds arrive the hunters use their mobile phones to alert each other.
The turtle dove in particular is causing bird-lovers here a lot of concern. It is one of the fastest declining species in Europe and on the Red List of endangered birds. This should be enough to give it protection under the European Union’s (EU) Bird Directive, something which to which all member states sign up, but Malta has successfully applied for what is called a ‘derogation’.
This allows hunters to take 5,000 turtle doves each spring. There are about 10,000 hunters in Malta (the greatest density of hunters in Europe) but no one has yet worked out how they can kill half a bird each. Shot birds are supposed to be recovered, tagged and counted so that the authorities know when the quota has been reached. Needless to say there is no practical way of doing this and far more doves are killed than allowed.
This means that both the Bird Directive and the derogation are being flouted. I recently wrote about how beneficial the EU’s nature protection legislation is, but it has to be enforced to be effective. As Malta wants to be in the EU, it should abide by its rules. You can help to address this issue by contacting your MEP and asking them to take up with the European Commission the plight of the turtle doves in particular, and migratory birds in general, in Malta.
Malta may seem to be a long way away, but the wildlife in your neighbourhood is being affected by what happens there.