The Malta Independent 15 August 2018, Wednesday

Watch: Man caring for 300 ducks at Salina faces enforcement fines

Kevin Schembri Orland Saturday, 11 August 2018, 10:30 Last update: about 3 days ago

The Environment and Resources Authority has issued an enforcement order which would effectively stop elderly man from caring for over 300 ducks at the Salina Natura 2000 site, around the canal near the salt pans, stating that the activity is having a negative effect on the biodiversity of the area.

Joe Schembri has been feeding the ducks for the past seven years, however claims that they were there long before he started caring for them, saying that they have been there for around 50 or 60 years. He argues that the damage to the ecology of the area  came as a result of the Salina road construction, and was not due to his caring for the over 300 ducks and drakes.  He emphasises that none of the birds are actually his, and that they are all wild.

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The Environment and Resources Authority recently issued an enforcement  - stop and compliance –order. The order explains that the activity is in a special conservation zone without any authorisation from the ERA. This activity, the order states, includes the keeping of ducks and similar domestic birds, as well as the depositing of material and related installation related to their keeping. The order notes that this activity is leaving a negative impact on the biodiversity of this special conservation zone, and as such is in breach of regulations relating to the protection of fauna, flora and the natural environment.

The order instructs that the site be returned to its natural state, and that this breach is subject to daily fines.

The fines consist of a €100 administration fine, and should the illegality persist further fines will be issued. If after 16-days from the issuance of the order Schembri is not in conformity, he will be subject to a €15 fine, which rises if he does not conform with the notice within 51 days.

BirdLife CEO Mark Sultana, speaking with The Malta Independent, said that Salina management is not yet in the hands of BirdLife Malta, but soon will be. He said that Ambjent Malta was recently set up to care for Natura 2000 sites, and that in a few days BirdLife will take the management of the site into its hands. “At the moment however, we have no say over what happens in Salina. It is a Natura 2000 site and therefore has ecological importance, through species etc, mainly through the canal surrounding the salt pans. In view of that, the site needs to be managed, meaning you cannot have any human activity which harms the site’s ecology. The person took an area and started raising ducks did wrong without knowing they are doing wrong. I am sure they do not know about the damage they are causing ecologically there. First you start with raising one duck, then 2, then hundreds are there  years down the line. This is a problem when, when one’s only aim is to have more ducks without a scope.”

“Our position is in line with ERA, who issued the notice and even spoke to the person, giving the man a deadline to relocate. So there is no culling or killing, just the relocation of birds. The person is responsible for them, to find a location where he can place these ducks as the problem is grievous. At the moment there are risks of contaminating the water through dead creatures, and damage to the embankment. The vegetation is all wiped out there. The feces of these birds is damaging and kills whatever grows. We are against culling or killing the birds.” He said however, that the vegetation which was on the embankment of the site where the ducks are present has been damaged by them, and that there were moveable wooden structures on site at some point.

Schembri, the man caring for the ducks, stresses that there is also damage on the other side of the canal, near the visitor’s centre, with some rubble and construction debris being visible. “This shows that arguments that the activities related to the ducks are damaging the ecology are not true, and the ducks are not the cause for the damage.”  He said that the main part where the ducks are situated used to be all green until Salina road was built, and concrete spilled over. “Where concrete spilled there cannot be any greenery.”

Schembri told this newsroom that he was recently made to remove the chicken wire he placed to segregate the drakes from the ducks, thus meaning that there is no longer any population control. He also said he removed any other items he had placed in the area. He said that he sent a letter through his lawyer, to the ERA, stating that he cleaned up everywhere he was told to, but that he will not remove the ducks as they are not his.

 “This is the perfect habitat for them,” Schembri explains, “the ducks are happy, there are little ducklings, people come here and take photos.” He said that he cannot remove the ducks as they are not his, and that even if he wanted to he does not have anywhere to take them. He said however that if the ERA want to remove the ducks themselves, he is willing to give them a hand. “I am trying to cooperate with everybody.”

He said that he buys around €100 of food for the birds each week, in addition to receiving some aid in the form of bread from a sponsor, and spending around four hours a day with the ducks. He is mad at the ERA and BirdLife, as he spends around 1,500 hours a year caring for these ducks, voluntarily, ‘a charity job’ as he called it. He said that BirdLife never gave him 1c to help with these birds.

He said that he used to find some support from people within the Secretariat of the former Animal Rights Parliamentary Secretariat, and support from the Animal Welfare Directorate in the past.

“One of the arguments by the ERA and BirdLife is that this is a Natura 2000 site. Every place is different with its own wildlife, and there is no other place like this in Malta. A few years back the Council placed notices saying that this was an area for wild birds and ducks. I don’t know why there is all this hostility,” he said.

Told that their continued breeding and number increase could further affect the biodiversity in the area, he said it has the opposite effect. “Four years ago there were flamingos here. Two weeks ago there were two falcons, a seagull etc. Birds come to eat the feed as well.”

Schembri said that recently he had gone to park over by the interpretation centre, but claims that BirdLife employees called the police on him. He had around 150 kg of bird feed for the ducks. He said the police ordered him to go out, and that they expected him to park on the other side of Salina road. “How am I meant to carry that amount of feed on my back across that main road?” He believes that the parking by the centre is public land and thus he shouldn’t have been stopped.

Asked if he makes any money whatsoever from the feathered friends, Schembri says he does not even sell the eggs.

Photos/Video Kevin Schembri Orland

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