Maltese government ordered to stop killing birds illegally


After a history of illegal bird killing, the Maltese government finally has been ordered by the European Court of Justice not to allow the spring hunting of birds - a practice which is in direct contravention of European bird protection laws. The ruling has delighted the RSPB and its partner organisation, BirdLife Malta. This Order implies that the Court sees urgent need to prevent irreversible damage to these migratory bird species, while a final ruling on this case is pending and not expected before 2009.

Quail, Turkey (Photo: Rudi Debruyne)

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The two organisations, along with BirdLife International, have been campaigning to end the practice of hunting Turtle Dove and Quail, which migrate over the island in spring between Africa and Europe. Alistair Gammell is the RSPB's international director. He said: "Having blatantly contravened European bird protection laws since 2004, the Maltese government must now recognise that Europe expects Malta to abide by the law. This is a momentous victory for bird conservation and we are delighted that after such a long battle. This decision has been taken that should mean that birds will enjoy a safer passage across the island. However, the fight isn't completely won because the government will have to catch and prosecute those who insist on breaking the law."

In January 2008, based on a complaint by BirdLife, the European Commission took the Maltese government to court for having allowed, every spring since the country's accession to the EU in 2004, hunting and trapping of Turtle Dove and Quail, in direct contravention of the EU Birds Directive. Malta is located on an important bird migration route in the Mediterranean. Hunting during the sensitive breeding and spring migration period is prohibited under EU law, in all member states.

Joseph Mangion of BirdLife Malta commented: "We Maltese have a special responsibility for Europe's birds, as so many pass over our islands every spring and autumn. We should all work together now to conserve them."

BirdLife International is a global partnership working together for birds and the environment. It promotes sustainable living as a means of conserving birds and all other forms of biodiversity and is the leading authority on the status of birds and their habitats. Over ten million people support the BirdLife Partnership consisting of over one-hundred non-governmental conservation organisations and local networks. Visit BirdLife’s European Division at: europe.birdlife.org and BirdLife Malta at: www.birdlifemalta.org.

The EU Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) protects all wild bird species of the European Union. Among other things it regulates which birds can be hunted (listed in Annex II of the Directive) and at what times of the year. In particular, Member States must ban hunting in spring during the breeding season or during the return of migratory birds to their breeding sites. Member States can apply derogations under certain strict conditions, of which the most important one is the absence of an alternative solution. In Malta’s spring hunting case the Commission concluded that such an alternative is provided by the possibility to hunt the relevant species (Turtle Dove and Quail) in autumn.

Written by: RSPB