The Malta Independent 13 July 2020, Monday

The Malta Independent editorial - Spring hunting referendum: The choice is yours – we will vote No

Thursday, 9 April 2015, 09:32 Last update: about 6 years ago

Today is the last day that print media can publish anything related to the Spring hunting referendum due to our archaic Day of Reflection law. And on this day, we will make our final push to back the campaign to remove the derogation which allows hunters to shoot quail and turtle dove during the crucial period when they migrate North to breed and replenish their numbers.

This issue is one that is directly linked to sustainability. The Yes campaign has argued that hunting in Spring is sustainable and that the populations of quail and turtle dove are not in decline. This could not be further from the truth. Various scientific studies have shown that populations have declined drastically since the 1970s, so much so, that the European Federation  of Associations for Hunting and Conservation has joined forces with BirdlifeEurope to take part in a three-year project to save 16 bird species- including the turtle dove. The EU-funded project's proposal states that the main factors associated with the decline of turtle doves include the loss of suitable habitat in both the breeding and non-breeding range, unsustainable levels of hunting on migration, and disease.

Another issue which needs to be pointed out straight away is that the right to hunt will not be removed, and that hunters will still be able to hunt on 153 days of the year. The referendum is to remove a derogation - essentially a concession - which allows hunters to kill birds when they are on the way to breed. The damage is exponential. Not only are hunters killing birds on their way to breed, but they are also reducing potential numbers that would result from that breeding process.  Hunters hit back by saying that others have a right to eat meat and fish, questioning whether this is sustainable. But animals which are bred for slaughter are not killed in a breeding cycle. Likewise, fishermen have said that they always allow stocks to replenish and do not kill or take home fry or fish which are breeding.

Hunters make up about 5% of Malta's population, yet they take over the whole of the countryside in Spring. If people are out walking, they risk being put off by being given dirty looks, or even intimidation, sometimes in front of young children. Add to that the noise pollution factor, as well as lead pellets raining down on people, and it becomes abundantly clear that they are running amok.

Hunters are not the guardians of the environment at all. The Yes camp has tried to portray itself as being truly conservationist. Again, this is utter tosh. Walking around in the countryside, one can see spent shotgun cartridges all over the place, not to mention the pollution to our wild fauna and flora from lead pellets. Incidentally, one wonders whether some of the shot lands in cultivated fields and ends up on our plates and in our stomachs.

This contrasts starkly with the billboard campaign where hunters have tried to portray themselves as people who go out to enjoy the countryside with their families and clean up the environment at every given opportunity.

There is no hiding from this. Hunters kill multitudes of birds every spring. They shoot them out of the sky and they are sometimes left to die when they are not recovered, in agony and pain as they still try to fly away despite having broken and bloodied wings.

Another major issue which needs to be addressed here is that hunters also blast protected birds out of the sky. In Spring, Malta and Gozo also witness an influx of birds of prey and other elegant birds, such as storks, flamingos, harriers and falcons. Under the guise of hunting quail and turtle doves, hunters blast them out of the sky, sometimes even encroaching on people's private property. Hunters have long argued that they eat everything they catch - but we ask the question... do they eat falcons and storks? Or do they take them to taxidermists to be stuffed and mounted to be put on display? We are pretty certain that the it is the latter and not the former.

Hunters also tried to portray themselves as charitable do-gooders who went to Africa to build schools and donating blood. But we ask the questions - what about the hunters that go to Africa on shooting trips? What about all the bloodletting over our countryside? This has nothing to do with Europe or the European Union. This is a national issue. It always has been. The signatures to call for the referendum were collected by Maltese people. Maltese people signed the petition and it was put to the authorities, with people demanding a change. The Prime Minister has said that he will come down hard on those who commit illegalities, whatever the referendum result. But it is clear that one way or another, the Police ALE section needs to be beefed up and given some serious resources to combat illegal hunting. Gozo has barely any presence at all and Malta needs a serious shake up. A handful of officers having to keep tabs on thousands of hunters is simply not enough.

Hunters have held Malta's politicians to ransom for years. They have threatened both parties with withholding their votes umpteen times - and each time, the parties were too weak. No one had the bottle to stand up to them and take decisive action. This referendum can change all that. The political parties repeatedly abdicated responsibility, and now it is time for the general public to speak up and cast their vote. This is a free referendum. If Spring hunting continues, our country's good name will continue to be sullied by the mass killing of birds. The choice is yours, we took a collective stand along with our media colleagues at The Times of Malta and MaltaToday - will vote No. And we are proud to do so because we believe in justice, sustainability, safeguarding the environment and above all else, the right that wildlife has to procreate and replenish their numbers.  Today is the last opportunity to pick up your voting document, if you haven't done so already, we urge you to collect it and use it.





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