March 15, 2015
Ask anyone to identify the one single thing that gives Malta a bad name abroad and the answer will be hunting. So much misinformation has been spewed in local and foreign press about what goes on, supposedly, in the Maltese islands that there are actually people that believe that in Malta hunters really do kill millions of birds annually. I even received various ridiculous messages on my social media requesting that I lobby with the Maltese government to stop the “traditional eating” of song birds. For the record we don’t eat songbirds and the only game we really eat is quail and turtle dove. Both are eaten on the continent so nothing exotic going on here.
There is of course a degree of illegal hunting in Malta, just like in any other country in the world where hunting takes place. This is deplorable and the perpetrators should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law but to say that we somehow effect worldwide bird population or that millions of bird killings takes place in Malta is not only hyperbole and preposterous but it is a downright lie. Unfortunately it makes for good press and exciting television and Malta’s miniscule geographical proportions makes it an ideal location to monitor and document every single illegality, if one would really want to and some do. Of course the majority of hunters are law abiding citizens and a lot of unfair reputational damage has been done to the Maltese islands internationally by overzealous individuals and organizations who, quite frankly, should know better. Think about it. Where is one most likely to spot and film illegalities? Certainly not in countries with thousands of hectares of available hunting grounds away from it all. No question that Malta is a much easier target for those who want to document hunting whether in its legal or illegal.
But what does the above mean? Am I defending illegal hunting or indeed spring hunting? Neither. I think that spring hunting in Malta is no longer tenable but not because of pseudo massacres but because of something simpler; space or lack thereof. Malta’s over development has done, exponentially more harm to birds and nature in general than any hunting whether illegal or not. There is nothing more final than removing the natural habitat of a species, whether this is used year round or on a migratory basis by a particular species. Rural areas in Malta are becoming rare nowadays and few hunting grounds, if any, are more than a couple of hundred meters away from built up areas and that sort of defeats the purpose of hunting safely surely? The idea of hunting is to enjoy nature, get away from it all and having the privilege to hunt your own dinner with all the responsibilities that that carries with it. Its absolutely fine by me if someone one wants to shoot his own dinner whilst fully observing the country’s laws and regulations and without being nuisance to others. In Malta, unfortunately, one cannot do this because there isn’t simply enough countryside to go around and the want (and need) of the majority to enjoy open spaces without shotguns lying around will always win. The “privately owned/this is my land” dictum doesn’t really work either. There might indeed be pockets of private land in Malta but this is almost invariably surrounded by public land and one is faced with exactly the same dilemma of not enough space to go around. It’s a circular argument and circular arguments bring us nowhere.
To make matters worse for those in favor of spring hunting is the fact that quail and turtle doves do not fly over Malta in the numbers that they used to. Conversely there seems to have been an exponential increase in other species that are migrating; marsh harriers, honey buzzards, different species of hawks and falcon and other raptors are just a joy to watch in spring and all through into early summary. Quite frankly we could make it just a tad easier for these birds without them having to deal with lead flying around and loud bangs around their roosting areas. Let’s remember that spring hunting in Malta became a tradition when the amounts of quail and turtle doves was simply gargantuan and when Malta enjoyed much larger rural areas with a smaller population. This is no longer the case and perhaps those defending the tradition of spring hunting need to come to terms with the changes that took place over the years.
The referendum this coming April will decide matters one way or the other and whilst I do feel for the bonafide and responsible hunters perhaps it is indeed the time for change. It might be a classic case that the game ain’t worth the candle anymore…