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March 15, 2015

We are not a nation of bird killers!

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…

Comments

  1. mary calleja (qormi)

    replying to your last sentence, it shows that you are not a hunter.

  2. Joseph Bezzina

    Dear Joseph .The fact that we are living in an over populated and over developed country ,is definatly not the hunters fault ,and it is not even more fair to abolish the passion of hunting for that reason.What you are saying is like if you are a maltese you cannot hunt in your homeland ,so you have to go abroad .Do you think that’s fair?So there you are creating injustice ,who affords to go abroad or not.Hunting is a typical maltese cultural life ,it’s not really about the catch ,but about the adventure and gathering of friends who share the same passion.The tiny size of the island is always an issue in everything,like traffic,parking ,the issue is about tolerating eachother .We are talking about a limited season ,which consists of only maximum of a mere 120 hours ,from the 2170 hours of the whole spring !The hunting permitted hours are the normal working hours ,from 6 in the morning till 2 in the afternoon ,apart from the fact that there are big open spaces were hunting is forbidden for example Ta Qali,Buskett ,the very large area of foresta 2000,beaches ,and also a lot of other places which are not an interest of hunting these species for example coastlines.You should also take into consideration that hunters were at the forefront for ages against development in the countryside ,and they also do a lot of hard conservation work ,so it would be very egoistic to ban their Few hunting hours of a limited season.The protected birds are also allowed to roost very easy,as no shooting takes place in the afternoon.A perfect example was when thousands of buzzards landed in Mizieb around four years ago,they flew all safely in the morning after a night roosting in the trees ,and also Birdlife noted this episode.As regards turtledoves numbers,it is very obvious that they are not popular as before,for various reasons.The ways of farming being the biggest issue,and also that since in North African countries they developed their habitat ,some are not migrating to Europe .The insignificant catch of the maltese hunters,will never impact the species ,very logically due to tiny size of the island and also migration patterns.I hope the points I made ,might change your way of thinking about the spring hunting referendum.Whilst in other countries ,they hunt far greater numbers of birds,and also animals legally ,no referendums were organized anywhere ,and it was organized here,since we are more catholic then the saints!

    • Keith Zahra

      Dear Joseph Bezzina you got it all wrong.
      It has nothing to do about hunters, but it’s about birds and endangered species. It is not about whether it is fair to the hunters but whether it is fair for the sustainability of the ecosystem!
      The killing of birds is not a hunter’s right.

  3. Dear Joseph
    Personally, I admire you a lot. However, in this topic about spring hunting I don’t agree with you, definitely. First, as what regards your argument, what is the difference between spring and autumn hunting? Both are practiced within the same space available. So, why have you mention specifically Spring? Secondly, please note that there are established parameters within which someone is permitted to hunt. So with your argument you are just saying that hunters should either start going abroad to hunt or else find an alternative hobby. Do you think that this is fair. I leave it in your hand to formulate a reply.

  4. Chris Ellul

    We must keep in mind that this referendum is set up because Birdlife lost this case in European Court of Justice and found this loophole in the Maltese referenda act! I am more than convinced that the legislature of the referenda act, never had in mind of such punishment to the hunters! And I also believe that the European Court’s experts conducted scientific studies to conclude such a conclusion in favor of Spring hunting!
    We must also keep in mind that the leading person representing SHOUT against spring hunting is the same person who worked to get this derogation!
    And if your last paragraph is right, why don’t ban the 5 months of hunting and not just 19 half days?
    A YES vote will give a clear message to All those who spewed the wrong message in foreign newspapers that Malta does not need any of them to make it better! Most foreigners and Maltese are proud of our Malta as it is!

  5. admin

    Chris, Tom, Joseph,

    Thank you all for your comments. I am not against hunting in Malta and I will answer your valid points in a follow up blog I intend to write by tomorrow.

  6. Terry Wood

    I am a bird watcher and a lover of Malta.Married to a Brit who spent much of her childhood in Malta, we visit each year. I value your very thoughtful and perceptive comments on the hunting vs habitat destruction debate. Sadly the issue of hunting has become so toxic that I have ceased doing any serious bird watching in Malta, having been threatened with a beating up on the track down to Delimara a couple of years ago. The illegal hunters are a small but often vociferous and aggressive minority who do the image of your lovely country no good at all.

  7. Antonio Anastasi

    I think Joseph has raised some very valid points.
    While the natural environment has shrunk and with it the number of birds, hunters have increased to sich an extend that one of the estimates I read reduced the numbers to something like 90 hunters per square kilometer.
    Maybe the time has come to rethink how gun and hunting permits are given, making it more challenging, maybe on the german model to reduce the number of hunters. Hunting is a privilege and as such should be well earned.
    As for the referendum. This was not called by BirdLife, this was launched by a coalition of environmental NGOs that felt that this issue should not be decided by government and the hunters representatives.
    43,000 citizens agreed with this premise and asked that this issue should be brought to public vote.
    I do not understand why hunters are pusses off about this and find it unfair or undemocratic. After all , against the wishes of the population government at the tax payers expense defended the right of hunters to hunt in spring.
    Whatever was decided by the ECJ is irrelevant as ultimately it’s the Maltese citizens that hold the final decision.
    On a last thought in the last few days the papers reported the findings of a government sponsored scientific study into the migration over Malta of quail and turtle dove which concluded that the migration of these in autumn out weighted by far the spring migration and that it is a fact that both of these species are in decline.
    I would have thought that if hinters really lived nature and their activity they would want to guarantee its sustainability by calling a moratorium on spring hunting allowing these to reach their breeding grounds and multiply.

  8. Rosabelle

    Dear Joseph, I admire you and you have always made us proud. After reading this blog post I was impressed that you didn’t say a yes or a no. Being a very sensitive argument at the moment I think that unless one is clearly involved in the subject and is following case studies and recent events then ones decision to say a yes or a no would not be nice. While I do agree with the points in the beginning of your blog and I respect your opinion on the lack of space although I do not agree, I think that what the Maltese media is making out of your blog post is clearly unfair.
    On 89.7bay page they are saying that you are against spring hunting and that you wrote a passionate blog about being against it. I read your blog post and clearly it’s not the case. Now please I would appreciate if you could clarify the matter as I believe that twisting your blog and taking sentences from it while building a different story is not fair on you nor on the general public that read their news. Thank you and keep up your good work!

  9. Paula Spiteri

    I have read on various media that quoted you to be voting No in this referendum….With it this article in this blog. Am I missing something as I cannot see it anywhere here….

  10. Gill

    Your recent blog, “We are not a nation of bird killers”, was both interesting and enlightening. Not being in possession of the relevant statistics, I cannot dispute your title statement, although I can and do admit to having previously been influenced by the media into believing that the Maltese shoot vast numbers of migrating birds.

    That the Maltese do shoot birds does appear to be the case, whether legally or illegally, just as it is in many other countries. It is only the type of bird, the numbers involved and the season for hunting that are in question here, and it is to be hoped that you are right and there has been some misreporting taking place.

    I understand that hunting is still considered a sport in most countries, but it is what I have read about the killing of songbirds by the Maltese that has discouraged me from returning to Malta, where I spent a short time some years ago. I should add that, while there, I was greatly impressed by its history and the hospitality of its people and was surprised by the reported attitude towards shooting migrating songbirds that are too small to constitute a decent meal, except perhaps in large numbers.

    My feelings are that migrating birds belong to no particular country and should be protected by all. They are as much mine as yours or anyone else’s, and I want to be able to continue enjoying watching them and hearing them sing. If the Maltese or any other nation’s hunters do not eat songbirds but do hunt them (and I repeat, “if”)then that is a crying shame in my view, and if any birds are hunted in spring, their breeding time (if indeed they are}, then that makes it even worse.

    I admire you for taking a stand and putting what you believe to be the facts before all of us, Maltese and others. Hopefully you will be allowed to express your opinions irrespective of whether or not your compatriots are in accord with your views.

    Might I add that you are still one of my favourite songbirds!

    • admin

      Thanks for your lovely comments. We do not shoot migrating song birds. Hunters have a derogation for turtle dove and quail and both cannot be called exotic eating.

  11. Sini Seppälä-Vanhala

    It may be part of the problem that people in many countries feel this is about their own birds: the birds that we say goodbye to every autumn. We wait for their return through the winter, hoping to experience the traditional sign of the spring: that our birds faithfully come back home to our forests and gardens to build a nest and raise their offspring. They form life-long couples and their offspring keeps coming back to the very house or tree where they were born. We used to have tens of swallows nesting around our house. Then one spring none of them came back. No-one knows what had happened.

    You Maltese are ahead in so many areas, you are considered examples and you are admired in so many walks of life related to the environment, ethics and caring for what God has created. You know how to use your many talents and ideas and you are ready to make fearless, open-minded decisions when it produces something positive. Why not expand your birdwatching tourism and make it productive, profitable, sustainable and well-known? I know at least twenty people who would travel to Malta right away to watch our birds on their way to us to Northern Europe.

  12. Sini Vanhala

    Dear administrator of the site, I sent you a posting last night but cannot see it anymore. In case you decide to show it at the site, please use my official name Sini Vanhala instead of the longer version that I mentioned when posting. Just to avoid possible mixups with persons who have the same name.

    I might have added that I know swallows are not hunted at least on purpose on Malta. However, also doves are among those birds that people up here in the North keep waiting for every spring. In any case the main idea I would have liked to convey is that birdwatching might be something to think of and enhance.

    Thank you, kind regards, Sini.

  13. Gill

    What a lovely idea! A birdwatching holiday in Malta is something I know I would enjoy immensely!

    Something I would enjoy even more would be to hear the wonderful voice of The Maltese Tenor singing the beautiful and poignant Mexican song, ‘La Golondrina’, preferably live, especially as its lyrics seem very relevant to the topic of this blog.

    A donde irá. Where can it go
    veloz y fatigada. rushed and fatigued
    la golondrina. the swallow
    que de aquí se va. passing by
    por si en el viento. tossed by the wind
    se hallara extraviada. looking so lost
    buscando abrigo. with nowhere to hide.
    y no lo encontrara.

    Taken from http://lyricstranslate.com/en/la-golondrina-swallow.html#ixzz3UxZ0eoZi

    I wonder if this song already forms part of your repertoire, if not, it might be worth considering…

  14. Reggie Muscat

    You are wrong about the extent of illegal hunting in Malta. Those of us who spend a lot of time in the countryside – I am a part-time farmer, I have fields/allotments in various places – are a witness to what goes on. What goes on is that illegal hunting is substantial; it’s not the few we are talking about, it’s many. Yes there are law-abiding hunters, but my experience is that they are not the majority. By the way, I am not using my real name, a pseudonym and the reason is because I fear that hot-headed hunters will damage my orchards (as they did to my neighbour’s fruit trees when he told them to stop intruding into his fields).

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Joseph's Blog

May 16th, 2016

Quo Vadis Eurovision and other stories

Malta did not win the Eurovision but lo and behold the sun still rose and the island (the center of the known universe) still spun…

My two cents is that Ira Losco gave a really good performance and that the whole presentation was excellent. She shouldn’t have performed cause she is pregnant? Come off it – I have performed repeatedly with pregnant opera singers well into their 7th and 8th month of pregnancy and trust me when I say that rehearsing and performing for a full opera production is much more physically demanding than a couple of days at the Eurovision. Of course there are those who know much better than the undersigned and who went on to say that the presentation was a tad “camp”…oh the irony when one considers that the Eurovision is the campest of them all.

Meanwhile, this wouldn’t be Malta and the Eurovision wouldn’t be the Eurovision unless its politicized to the exhaustible hilt. The inevitable “mud slinging competition,” which we will see a lot of in the coming 22 months, ensued and even yours truly (inexplicably) ended up in the midst of the fray, in yet another “supernova” in a tea cup. The Eurovision suddenly became an interchangeable bullet to be used ad nauseam by both sides much like bitter parents who use their innocent children during disputes.  I have always found sycophants interesting, even amusing but they will not be getting the much desired Streisand effect from me, thank you very much. It is part of human nature after all to conjure conspiracies and we are not going to let the simple truth get in the way of some exciting and convenient fiction.

Speaking of “conjuring” is it me or is a company advertising real estate using a chap “connected” with the tragic and unnecessary death of an underage girl? It must be a clone or a”doppleganger”, otherwise this would be the epitome of bad taste and a 100 shades of wrong. Don’t get me wrong I am all for “second chances” and all of that but shouldn’t there be due process first? After all Lisa Marie didn’t get a second chance did she?