Enforcement during 2014 Spring Hunting Season
The Government has deployed robust levels of enforcement during the present limited spring hunting season for turtle dove and quail which commenced on Saturday 12th April. The aim of the enforcement operation is to ensure that no illegal targeting of protected species occurs, and that any detected incidents of abuse are dealt with swiftly and effectively. In parallel, the enforcement operation is also aimed at ensuring that the general prohibitions and parameters related to open season are enforced.
The Malta Police Force, together with the Armed Forces of Malta and in coordination with the Wild Birds Regulation Unit have collectively deployed over 70 enforcement officers, comprising officers from the Administrative Law Enforcement Unit, district police officers, officers from Rapid Response Unit and officers from canine and mounted police detachments. The Police operation is being assisted by a detachment of AFM personnel in 5 patrol vehicles, in addition to patrol vehicles deployed by the police. It is notable that this level of enforcement deployment per square km of countryside during hunting season is by far higher than levels of field enforcement deployed in any other country in Europe.
The operation comprises mixed patrol and surveillance techniques including vehicular patrols, foot patrols, mounted patrols, covert surveillance operations including using unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles (drones) and stationary observation posts located in strategic vantage locations. Officials of the Specialist Enforcement Branch of the Wild Birds Regulation Unit are providing assistance to enforcement operations. Officers participating in the enforcement operation received specialized training delivered by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit.
In addition to routine field patrols and inspections, during the first 2 days of the season (12th and 13th April), enforcement officers carried out around 190 spot checks on hunters in the field. During the course of these inspections, four suspected offenders were apprehended, three on Saturday and one on Sunday. The offences disclosed comprised a case of possession of an uncovered shotgun within a public road; a case of possession of heavy gauge shot; a case of failure to declare hunting on the Carnet de Chasse booklet; a case involving the shooting a protected bird (Swallow); and a case of possession of pre-recorded bird calls during hunting activity. Field surveillance on the 12th of April was supported by the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that flew three sorties of about 30 minutes each in protected areas and during times when hunting was not permitted.
During the season, a total of 9,798 hunters in possession of Special Spring Hunting License are allowed to bag turtle dove or quail only. Each time a catch is made, the hunter is required by law to report the bird caught via SMS to the numbers stipulated in special License, and to record the bag in carnet de chasse before leaving the hunting area.
These reporting obligations, as well as the daily bag limit of 2 birds per hunter per day up to 4 birds per hunter during the entire season are being strictly enforced in the field through a system of spot-checks, which are conducted by field enforcement personnel. Any breaches detected in the course of these spot checks are being dealt with according to law. Non-compliance with Special License conditions can lead to hefty fines, suspension of the license and criminal prosecution in accordance with the law.
Uptake of the national quota allowed under the terms of spring hunting derogation, namely 11,000 turtle doves and 5,000 quail is being monitored in real time through the SMS system. In addition, Government has deployed independent observers manning 10 ornithological observation stations on any given day throughout the season, to assess the extent of migratory influx of turtle dove and quail over the Maltese Islands. This observation data is being used to estimate the total extent of migration, which estimate provides an additional, independent mechanism for verification of reported hunting bags.