Steve Micklewright, Director of BirdLife Malta, one of the organisations leading the campaign to abolish spring hunting said, “This was an incredible opportunity for the people of Malta to stop the senseless killing of migrating birds on their way to breed in other parts of Europe by 10,000 hunters who occupy this tiny nation’s countryside in springtime.”
Malta is the only country in Europe to allow the killing of turtle dove and quail in spring. Both species have suffered serious decline across Europe, with turtle dove numbers plummeting by 77% since 1980. Many other types of rare and protected birds are also targeted by hunters during the spring hunting season.
Spring hunting is prohibited under EU law, as it kills the adult birds who are returning north to breed, thereby having a negative impact on population numbers. The birds migrating through Malta in spring are destined for several other EU countries, meaning that Malta’s decision has serious impacts for bird conservation across Europe.
The referendum was called for by Maltese citizens, 43,000 of whom signed a petition to ask for the abrogative referendum to be held. While the outcome was not what environmental campaigners had hoped for, the process has nonetheless been hailed as putting nature and environmental issues firmly on the agenda.
Micklewright said “Although we are disappointed with the result, to have elevated this issue to national and European level is an incredible achievement. Thousands of Maltese people have been engaged in the debate and empowered to take a decision on their environment. Thousands voted to end spring hunting and we are sure that those people will continue to act as champions of Maltese and European nature protection. This in itself cannot be underestimated.“