Chris Packham on Malta’s spring hunt

The BBC Springwatch presenter describes the 'senseless slaughter' that awaits many birds travelling over this little Mediterranean island

Chris Packham holds a turtle dove shot in Malta. © Luke Massey/www.lmasseyimages.com
Chris Packham holds a turtle dove shot in Malta. © Luke Massey/www.lmasseyimages.com

For once I did as I was told this spring. We all did. We bit our tongues and waited. Hoped that democracy on Malta would lead to sanity prevailing…

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Last April I went to Malta myself, with Ruth Peacey, Luke Massey and Jez Toogood. Our mission was to raise awareness about the island’s spring hunting season and the associated illegal shooting of migratory birds. We felt that this appalling slaughter was being ignored and that it warranted some serious campaigning. So we filmed and uploaded reports to YouTube and stirred some life back into the story, garnering plenty of media coverage.

Our job wasn’t done: the massacre was set to continue and we’re not quitters. But we’re also keen to work in parallel with other conservationists, so when BirdLife Malta asked us not to go back this year, we listened. The Maltese people had called a referendum on spring hunting and we didn’t want unintentionally to alienate any of the voters who might be with us, or allow the hunting lobby to misrepresent our aims.

I kept my counsel, said little and posted nothing on my website. I just fretted, gnawed my nails and swore as the path to the vote was manipulated and twisted to make a ban as difficult as possible. And when crosses were put in boxes in April and the result was announced, it was revealed – to no great surprise on my part – that ‘we’ had lost by less than one per cent.

Hours later the shooting started again. On day two, a hunter was filmed gunning down a cuckoo. The atrocities went on, until finally the prime minister curtailed the killing spree with three days left, after a kestrel was shot twice and fell into a crowded school playground, splattering blood on the sand and breaking the hearts of distraught children.

I’m desperately disappointed that the Maltese didn’t exercise their right to stop this senseless slaughter for good. All they needed to do was get up and vote, but not enough did. Some were undoubtedly intimidated; most probably thought it didn’t matter to them. Well, in the aftermath of the renewed bloodshed there have been many loud calls for a tourist boycott of Malta. If that were to happen, then it certainly would matter to them.

But I’m not keen on a boycott, simply because it wouldn’t hurt the hunters, the real criminals – it would hurt the innocent (albeit far too apathetic) Maltese. This doesn’t mean I’m not angry… 

The Maltese obviously didn’t feel enough shame. They weren’t sufficiently embarrassed by the fact that they continue to ‘legalise’ the killing of two species, turtle dove and quail, that are in critical decline all over Europe. And they didn’t see the madness of allowing hunters to satisfy their bloodlust in spring, when adult birds are on their way north to breed, something a child could tell was unsustainable.

The Maltese seem content to imagine that they are an intelligent, modern, responsible country, and they enjoy the financial benefits of belonging to Europe (Malta is a net recipient of EU funds). Meanwhile the EU turns a blind eye to indiscriminate killing of wildlife. The current European commissioner for the environment is Karmenu Vella. He is Maltese. He refused to say how he voted on spring hunting.

Seventeen species of migrant bird that visit the UK to breed pass through Malta in spring, so birds that might have sung in our gardens and nature reserves are dying in acts of sickening vandalism. We feed them, we buy and manage habitat for them, we cherish them… and our European neighbours slaughter them for nothing.

How does that make you feel? It makes me feel like fighting harder than ever – and that is exactly what we now ought to do. Even if we make the Maltese cross.

Do you agree with Chris Packham? Share your view and leave a comment below. 

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See more wildlife photography by Luke Massey.