By Timothy Debono (BSc. Computational Physics, 1st year)
Should spring hunting continue to be practiced? Ever since the beginning of the campaign, the question on whether to abolish or retain spring hunting has been clearly put forward and thus began the expected march towards the established referendum date.
I have been hearing a lot of different arguments, ever since the petition to hold the referendum was released last year. I regret to say that from that day onwards I have not heard one solid argument on why hunting in spring should be kept. I understand why hunters would get frustrated at hearing people speak out against their long lived traditional passion. However it is no longer a valid argument to keep spring hunting just because it is a long tradition. I will not even discuss the illegal shootings that happen on protected birds simply because it is not the aim of the referendum, although statistics have shown that the number of illegalities reported where significantly lower during a closed season. The aim of the referendum is to stop the legal shooting of quail and turtle doves that is contributing to the decline of these migratory birds in Europe.
It has been one of the main arguments of the pro-hunting campaign that, should the referendum abolish spring hunting, then other hobbies would be targeted. It is this type of scaremongering that has been going on from the beginning of the campaign and unfortunately has convinced other groups of Maltese society to stand on the YES side. This could not be more incorrect as was verified by a team of lawyers who assured that an abrogative referendum can only affect spring hunting due to the unique law that exists to allow for derogation, since hunting for migratory species in spring is prohibited in Europe. Other hobbies (including hunting in autumn) do not need laws to be practiced, only laws to be regulated, so a referendum cannot stop them from being practiced. This referendum will not even stop hunting in Malta, it will only help migrating turtle doves and quail get to their destination to breed.
It might be the case that some feel that they have no right to ‘dictate’ whether or not a hobby should be practiced by a minority, and as a result would opt to stand in favor of spring hunting. On the contrary we, as a people, have every right to decide what happens to our natural environment. Only we can decide to stop the killing of birds during their migration. Birds which are found during the spring season form part of our environment, as do other species like the olive tree, pine tree, the blue rock thrush (Il –Merill) the Maltese wall lizard, and many other species that are key elements in defining our country and make Malta what it is. Our environment is ours to protect and so it is everyone’s duty to support its conservation. A NO vote is one such step towards environmental conservation.
This point brings me to another argument that the pro-hunting campaign has been using lately. Many hunters claim that they are responsible for most of Malta’s environmental conservation, for example the planting of trees. While this may sound to be an act of conservation, it is detrimental on more than one level. First of all, the planting of trees that are alien species (i.e. not indigenous to the Maltese islands) does more harm than good, since they reduce the chance for other Maltese plants to thrive in their own environment. Secondly, planting trees so as to attract turtle doves to be hunted defeats the purpose of conservation. Also, the tree planting itself is questionable since it causes a lot habitat modification. Most of the different habitat types in Malta are in a state of decline, and threatened by various other human activities. Planting trees that are not typical of that type of habitat is very damaging to the ecology. It is simply not justifiable to allow spring hunting because trees are planted by the hunting communities.
Despite the lack of validity in all the pro-hunting arguments that I mentioned above, none of these are the reasons why I would be voting NO to spring hunting in the upcoming referendum. The true reason boils down to one simple word. Sustainability! In its simplest of definitions, sustainability is not taking from the environment more than is being replenished. This is the exact opposite to what happens when a bird is killed in spring. Since it is during spring where many migrating birds travel back to Europe to mate and breed, killing such a bird during this time effects the whole population not just by the one that was shot, but also by the four or five offspring that would have been bred had the bird reached its nesting ground.
It is this reason that should help people realize that spring hunting, no matter how short the season is, can never be sustainable. As opposed to hunting in autumn, were numbers to the overall population would have been replenished by the new breed, spring hunting takes much more from the environment than it gives back, leading to the conclusion that it can never be sustainable. Some might argue that yes, other countries do hunt in spring, so why not us? The truth is that many countries take measures to breed game birds in some quantities so that they can be hunted without drastically effecting the overall population. A measure that was never considered by any of our governments! Isn’t it time to start including such methods so as to make the autumn hunting season more sufficient, and thus avoid the need for any derogation?
The campaign is still in its early phase. A solid two months remain before the big day arrives. It is my hope that during this period the people realize what is truly best for our country’s environment and understand that in the long run, it would be in our best interest to vote NO on the 11th April, for ourselves and for our future generations so that they too can enjoy the beauty of such magnificent creatures before migrating populations are reduced to the point where we don’t see them anymore!