Lucas Micallef

Date: April 23, 2015

Malta Rejects Spring Bird Hunting Ban Referendum.

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Recently I’ve experienced one of the worst moments in my life, which hopefully would be the toughest and last experience in relation to my passion. I wanted to share this experience so that any other fellow European hunters would know the truth in regards to our infamous hunting tradition.

Bird shooting is deeply ingrained in our national tradition.

Bird shooting is deeply ingrained in our national tradition.

Personally, I respect any legal hunting practice over the continents and I like to believe that my traditions and practices are respected too. Our islands, situated in the middle of the Mediterranean have recently experienced a national abrogative referendum to abolish spring hunting for Turtle Dove and Quail under article 9 of the European Birds Directive. Malta has got a population of 430,000 people on an island 316km2, being the 2nd most densely populated country in Europe.

Just before joining the European Union, declarations by the responsible government suggested that in time limited spring hunting for Turtle Dove and Quail would be introduced. This recognised the traditional practice of the local Maltese culture securing the future of hunting in Malta.  In 2009, the European Court of Justice ruled out that Malta had the right to practice Spring Hunting under Derogation of the European Birds Directive, not to forget to mention that the day prior this ruling Birdlife International signed a memorandum of understanding with FACE to respect the final verdict.

Presently local constitution states that if 10% of the population eligible to vote gather a petition, a national referendum would be held to either abrogate or consult a legislature. A coalition was formed which consisted of BirdLife Malta, the coalition for Animal Right, the Democratic Alternative along with others. Around 44,000 people signed this said petition in an attempt to trigger a referendum.  Consequently, The Federation of Hunting and Conservation (FKNK) and St Hubert hunters (KSU) filed a petition at the constitutional court in an attempt to stop the referendum being held, claiming that it would violate the country’s European Union treaty obligations.

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Spring shooting is limited to 11,000 turtle doves and 5,000 quail.

The oppositions petition was presented with 30,000 signatures to the local constitutional court of justice in January  2015 and so the procedure to hold an abrogative referendum was initialised. The date was set by the President of the Republic for the 11thof April 2015, falling three days prior to the start of hunting season. The local hunting federation (which I chair a committee position within the council) immediately started to build a strategy, we were very cautious of our actions as financially we could never compete with some of  the international multi-million funding programmes of the opposing party. For us it was a do or die situation, we could not lose a tradition passed down from  generation to generation. Ultimately the countries main game is Turtle dove and Quail and if the right to hunt these birds were to be suppressed, our concern was that it would be a principle used to lead to the abolishment of other hunting practices around the world using Malta as an example. Just days before the poll closed, results were showing that we were between 5 and 7 points behind the NO vote… and so feared the worst.

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Maltese hunters are legally required to declare everytime we go hunting.

After many sleepless nights, April 11th had arrived with the electoral deciding if we are to retain our recreational activity or not. 74% of the electoral voted, which is one of the highest recorded in history!. After a tiring day, I spent the following morning attempting to have some much needed rest. Votes were being counted and I was one of the observers within the counting hall. Five minutes prior to the start, were certainly some of the longest minutes I’ve experienced in my life. I took a deep breath and heard the electoral commission ordering the vote count. It was evident after 10 minutes that we were tight, as the outcome was very balanced between the two sides. However, after the third and fourth count we had a consistent marginal lead. As  we waited  to hear the official result outcome my heart was pounding, nothing like I’d ever experienced before  when stalking and pulling the trigger. All the guys at the hall were congratulating the win but still I could not believe it. I wanted to hear the result officially!. At 11.30 we had a confirmation of the YES vote, we had won… cheering and celebrating erupted immediately! It was like fireworks were let go inside the hall, from complete silence to pandemonium. All of us had tears in our eyes – we have re-written history. We had been to the ECJ and back (literally to hell and back) and still the Maltese citizens believed in tolerance and respect. We won with a majority of 2,200 votes. As I write this article I’m still excited and I thank all the people who contributed in one way or another to help achieve this result.

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I can now look forward to pass on traditions, knowledge and hunting experiences to my grand children.

On the 14th of April, I woke up at 6 in the morning, I geared up and found myself in my hide with tears in my eyes. Observing the sunrise by the horizon, I felt joyful to be practicing something that my grandfather’s had practised generations before me something I hope to pass on further to my grand children.

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