Malta and the Spring Massacre

Malta-CIA_WFB_MapChris Packham and team have done a great job in publicising events on Malta over the last 10 days.  This was a self-funded project done for the love of birds.  And what a great example it has been of the use of celebrity to promote a cause.

If you haven’t seen the videos from Malta then catch up with them here – I’ve watched them all more than once.

One of Chris’s messages is that we can all play our part in doing something for Malta’s birds – which, since most of them are migrants, are not ‘Malta’s’ birds any more than they are ‘ours’.  The message that we can alll do our bit for nature conservation, is one that I have been promoting ever since leaving the RSPB (not that it is original or exclusive to me) and it’s one of the reasons behind this blog.  We can all exert influence as consumers and voters to influence the way the world will be in future.  Each of us has just a little influence, but together, if we get off our bums, then we have a lot.  If you haven’t donated and written to your MEP or the Malta High Commission then please do so.

Here are a few thoughts – call them Maltese falcons of thought, if you like:

  • the Maltese human population is c400,000 (somewhere between Teesside and Cardiff in UK terms) living on a small island (316km2 – about the same as Milton Keynes or Peterborough), but because they live on a small island in the Mediterranean, on birds’ migration routes, then they can have a disproportionately large impact on migrant birds.
  • Malta joined the EU almost exactly 10 years ago – 1 May 2004.  By joining the EU, Malta basically joined a club, with rules, some of whose rules ban the unsustainable hunting of wildlife and give full protection to Europe’s more threatened species.  Malta has been breaking the rules of the EU ever since it acceded and that is not acceptable.
  • of the 27 EU countries, 12 are net contributors to the budget and 15 are net beneficiaries.  The UK is only the 7th highest (per capita) contributor whereas Malta is the 5th highest recipient (again per capita)(or the 17th lowest ‘contributor’).  So, you and I are paying money to the Maltese as our contribution to being in the EU.  I’d like Malta’s contribution to be that they don’t slaughter my birds,  please. And why should I continue to pay for them if they do?   The EU could get along without Malta much more easily than Malta could get along without the EU – given, for example, that Malta only produces 20% of its food indigenously and tourism is a major industry.
  • why isn’t the Foreign Office making statements about bird killing in Malta? I’d like to hear William Hague saying something on the subject. Yes, it’s a matter of implementation for the Maltese government but then we are always telling other countries how to run their affairs when our economic interests are concerned.  Why does the UK not speak out about its moral outrage at the rule-breaking by our Maltese EU partners?  You can’t imagine it ever happening can you – why not? Think about it.
  • if you look at the Foreign Office website it sets out the UK priorities over Malta – the environment, wildlife and Spring hunting don’t get a mention – why not?
  • when  Chris Packham got a bit weepy over holding a Montagu’s Harrier as it was euthanased it brought the moral element of hunting home.  This bird was shot for fun – nothing else.  The most use its death, had it been shot cleanly, could have been would have been a moment’s thrill for a hunter and then to end up as a mounted specimen to record that shot. What is the point of that?  Honestly – I ask you? As it was, its life was ended by people who cared about it and wished it well and who shed a tear over its loss.
  • Montagu’s Harriers look very much like Hen Harriers – remember there should be c300 more (yes extra!) pairs of Hen Harrier nesting in the north of England but they aren’t there because they have been killed. Let’s not forget the individual bird deaths behind those statistics in our own country.
  • there may be some birds passing through Malta that are heading straight to the UK – though not very many I believe. It’s not, to my mind, because they are shooting ‘our’ birds that the Maltese situation is unacceptable it’s because they are shooting birds. And unregulated Spring hunting is the type of hunting most likely to cause population declines, for obvious reasons.  These birds are heading back to breed and so every loss reduces the breeding population.  I would guess that the population impact of Maltese hunters is quite small – not zero, probably not negligible, but quite small – but that doesn’t make it right or acceptable.  And certainly if I went out into the UK countryside, and so did the French and Germans, Finns and Romanians, and fired at every moving bird in the way that the Maltese seem to enjoy doing then Europe’s bird populations certainly would be much lower.
  • I haven’t seen much comment by hunters in the UK on the hunting in Malta. But this tweet by @Shootingyoutube was brought to my attention: is something everyone including shooters should help to prevent but please remember nearly all hunters aren’t out to massacre.  That’s not bad but have I missed condemnation from BASC, Countryside Alliance etc?
  • it seems that just about all the hunters are blokes – it’s a macho-thing. Quite why shooting a Swallow, or a Montagu’s Harrier, or a Bee-eater, or a Swift, would make you feel more of a man is a bit of a puzzle.  What are Malta’s women doing to end this slaughter by their menfolk?
  • the Maltese will be voting in the same EU elections as us at the end of May – we vote on 22 May and the Maltese on 24 May. I notice that, for some of the candidates at least, hunting is an election issue.

Well done Chris and team! Well done BirdLife Malta! Shame on you Maltese hunters!

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23 Replies to “Malta and the Spring Massacre”

  1. I had no idea that this abhorrent practice happened. Complete horror when I heard about it, courtesy of Chris Packham's website. I have written to all 3 N East MEPs and donated, as has my son. I have watched the blogs with my 8 year old son, who could not get his head around "grown-ups" shooting birds nor the fact that those in power have let this continue.
    Everyone is affected by this, who doesn't love to hear birdsong ? A massive respect and gratitude to Chris Packham, Ruth Peacey, Luke Massey, JezToogood and those brave Maltese people who defy the hunting fraternity.

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    1. Well said Mark. Having lived in Malta for 17 years in the 80's and visiting relatives most years the hunting has declined as this was allowed throughout the year with no close season. You now have a shorter shooting season with three times as many hunters. I have to disagree with your comment on the impact on the population being so small as I reckon over a million birds are shot each year many more than we all think. I have seen the collections of stuffed birds and the target practice that many hunters use on hirundines over the last 40 years first hand. Heavy punishment for the government on allowing spring shooting and large fines on hunters.

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  2. Langford Press have just sent a 'ton' of books for the Maltesse schools to use on Maltesse birds.
    http://www.langford-press.co.uk/A%20photographic%20Guide%20to%20the%20Birds%20of%20Malta.htm

    As well as some children's books it is hoped that education will slowly win the day. Rather than boycott the island why not visit it and see for your self as I have done. There are even Brits wintering there to carry on their bird watching. You can get every where by bus!

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  3. It does not matter where they are going to, whether they are "ours", or not. From the Montagu's Harrier in the vet's surgery to the Little Bittern in the maws of a dog, their deaths diminish us all.

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  4. “It seems that just about all the hunters are blokes – it’s a macho-thing.”

    From my personal observations here in the Peak District the vast majority of 'birders' are male – 'birding' is a macho thing

    Likewise the majority of passing walkers are male – 'walking' is a macho thing! Likewise 'climbing' is obviously a macho thing. Likewise 'caving'!

    The best cooks are men – cooking is also a macho thing!

    And then there's “hair-dressing” - the best hair-dressers are men. Hair-dressing? I'ts a macho thing!

    Your argument Mark is better served if you just stated that the senseless unsporting random shooting of wildlife is moronic – I haven't watched any videos but I suspect it's 'more of a 'cultural thing'

    Please tick LIKES below !!

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    1. Trimbush - birding is quite a macho-thing and quite a nerdy thing too - depending on how you do it. See my article in The field on the subject of the similarities between birding and hunting as field sports. http://www.thefield.co.uk/features/naturalists-and-sportsmen-21690

      As you sometimes do, you lost the thread of your argument when you moved from 'vast majority' to 'best'. Are most hairdressers male? Might be, but I wonder.

      And you end in a strange place - of course it's a 'cultural thing' - what isn't? But what type of cultural thing is it? maybe, more specifically, a macho-cultural thing?

      thank you for a stimulating comment, though. You have a point.

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      1. Ah Yes – thanks for that – your link to The Field was well worth going to

        I take The Field but don't remember reading your very interesting article

        But once in The Field website I browsed a little and clicked on “Keep straight - kick on” - it reminds me of being out with the East Essex and we jumped some of the 'airy local steeplechase course fences – just to be macho-like y'know.

        Mark – that was a good read and informs the reader of 'where you're coming from' – perhaps there are many other links that you could put up permanently that would stimulate ongoing dialogue and provide an achoring point whilst still standing-up-for-nature.

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        1. Trimbush - that link is on my website, but in a place that few visit. https://markavery.info/about/ my ability to link to such places depends on them being on the web - which many aren't.

          The Field dropped my amusing articles - I think some of their readers didn't like them as much as you did.

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  5. I have emailed all 6 (!) of my MEP representatives and had some replies detailing back and forth questions and answers between MEPs and Maltese representatives. Amongst these the Maltese Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights Roderick Galdes makes the astonishing claim that "As it is the case in any area of law enforcement, isolated incidents of illegal targeting of protected species do unfortunately occur from time to time; however whenever such incidents happen, perpetrators are invariably brought to face justice and bear the full brunt ofthe law." Islolated?! Invariably brought to face justice?! Watch Chris Packham's videos Mr Galdes.

    I know Mark believes EU legislation can be a powerful weapon but this has been going on for the entire 10 years duration of Malta's membership of the EU without any progress in protecting these birds. So much for the EU.

    A more realistic hope seems to be the possibility of a referendum amongst the people of Malta, banning the Spring Hunt altogether. Indeed there seems to be some appetite for this, given the hunters behaviour in annexing the Maltese countryside and intimidating walkers/birders/campers/picnicers... The only way we might influence this would be as visitors to Malta expressing our concerns to hoteliers, restaurant owners, bus drivers etc. Much as I always try to tell Scottish B&B owners that is is WTEs/pine martens that have brought me to their establishment, or more recently Spanish restaurant owners that it is their bears that brought me and my Euros to their door.

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    1. Hugh - well done.

      If Malta were not in the EU then there would be much less that we could do. It is shocking that Malta has signed up to a club from which they benefit but refuse to stick by the rules of the club. Do we have any gunboats any more?

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      1. We used to have a lot of gunboats stationed at Malta GC, and some much bigger stuff too, until Dom Mintoff asked/told us to leave in 1979 when he embraced the enlightened Gadaffi regime instead.

        Maltese migrant hunting (and Cypriot, Greek, French, Italian, Spanish and Egyptian) has been going on for a long, long, time, and is deeply ingrained in their culture and traditions. It will be a generational task to wean them off it.

        It was in Malta GC that I took my second piece of environmentally-related direct action - much to the alarm of my RAF companions - by releasing several cages of finches and then chucking the cages over Dingli cliffs. (I had first encountered finch trapping in a small mixed wood in Aberdeenshire, Scotland! and did similar there).

        Maltese folk in general are polite and helpful, so like all similar issues, education, mutual understanding and a non-confrontational but firm approach is probably most likely to bring about a change in behaviour - but it may not be quick, notwithstanding any positive referendum result or EU fines for non-compliance.

        How about promoting this as an alternative for the southern European migrant hunters, see here - http://theconversation.com/ending-songbird-slaughter-theres-an-app-for-that-19013

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    2. I don't think you can accuse the EU of doing nothing, far from it. I haven't seen all of Chris Packham's films yet, so maybe stating things already said - but the hunters are somewhat more emotional than any other's I've ever come across or heard of, indeed one hunter killed himself over the issue and several more have threatened to do so if forced to give up their guns. In a country with such a small population a suicide is a major issue. Malta, as with virtually all other member states, (but particularly the UK) are subject to considerable spurious communication with regards EU legislation. To have a voice which makes a difference the UK should get it's own 'house in order' and that isn't going to happen soon. My full gratitude to all exposing this problem which I have been unfortunate enough to see myself.

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  6. I'm not defending the mass slaughter of anything bearing feathers, but there is an irony that we in the UK have managed to severely degrade our own biodiversity across the full range of taxa, not just birds. And we've done it (mostly) legally and without a shot being fired through land management and development. Yet it doesn't seem to attract the same outrage.

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    1. Adam - you are quite right. Of course, Maltese hunting relies on there being a continent of breeding habitat to the north of them and a continent of wintering habitat to the south, so there isn't much sustainability involved there.

      We do react more strongly to individual deaths - like of a Montagu's Harrier - than to actions that lead to many deaths out of sight. It's a bit like the fact that the image of a starving child can unlock millions of pounds even though we all know it's going on already and that the solution is more complicated than forking out a fiver.

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      1. "we in the UK have managed to severely degrade our own biodiversity"

        ... and the rest of the former Empah - muchly through greed and ignorance. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised if people in other countries don't take much notice of us.

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  7. Dear Mark, here's a theory, and some solutions to the issue of men and guns.

    Maybe men who go out shooting are rather deprived of sexual gratification. The discharge of firearms may well be a substitute for other momentary ecstasies. A shooter would not be in any way aware of this paradox, and would remain driven by primitive urges, to the traditional (cultural) release.
    Solutions/remedies for this malaise would range from self-stimulation to the arranging for groups of women in need of a husband to go on organised trips to areas of intensive nature killing for pre-arranged pairing up meetings.
    I have seen this on various TV programmes about the wild west, lonely farmers and others. To avoid accusations of sexism, I would add that if there are areas where the women do the shooting, the genders stated in the solution would of course, be reversed.
    Ps. as I wrote this I was not able to convince myself that this was just a bit of humour. I would like to see a post-graduate be sponsored for a thorough study of my theory and it's implications.
    yours - an eco-worrier

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  8. Mark - you make some very interesting and of course correct points there. I am not sure why you thought Trimbush had 'a point', but there you go. I suspect it is the greater competitiveness of men more than anything and/or cultural of course has a part to play - if that is macho fair enough, but at the end of the day birds are dead which shouldn't be and there is no wider benefit to anyone or anything - quite the reverse. As Peter Rafferty put so well - their deaths diminish us all. I, like Hugh Webster am going to write to my MEP about this. I suspect that the impact these hunters have on already very fragile populations of Turtle Doves and other species is devastating, and rather understated by yourself, since they will never breed and with diminishing habitats and greater urbanisation and disturbance everywhere - a ban on spring hunting in Malta would be nothing short of crucial for the long-term survival of these birds in Europe. It was totally clear from the videos that Chris posted that indiscriminate shooting and trapping in Malta is wide-spread and almost totally unpunished - the law enforcement was tokenism at best and only an outright ban will protect these species.

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  9. Mark, I hope posting a link is allowed! This appears in today's Guardian online, written by Patrick Barkham. Chris Packham's honesty and integrity shine through all that he's done in Malta and in his attitude to the BBC. Perhaps he'll join you with his film crew on the glorious twelfth?

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/28/chris-packham-malta-is-a-bird-hell

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  10. I would like to add that I do have some sympathy for bird-policing on the island for two reasons - because it is legal to shoot some bird species and not others, it makes it very hard to know whether the correct ones are being shot, unless you have bird-qualified police on the ground next to the hunters - or patrolling constantly just like Birdlife Malta are doing, making it an intensive 24/7 operation. The other problem on a small island like Malta is that people will often know each other, so the police will know the hunters personally and members of the hunting association will know the police etc so it makes efficient enforcement even more difficult. That is why I think a total ban on shooting birds - especially on public land is the way forward and hopefully a Maltese referendum will achieve this. I'm sure the general public would love to have their open spaces back; to relax and enjoy during one of the most beautiful times of the year. And the birds can recharge their batteries for the last hop across the Mediterranean before breeding in mainland Europe or on Malta itself. A live bird is thrilling - a dead bird is a rotting corpse however beautiful it once was in life.

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