My RSPB colleague Lenke Balint has been working with our esteemed partner BirdLife Malta during the run-up to the referendum where the nation voted on the future of spring hunting of quail and turtle. Below, she offers her reaction to the disappointing news that the referendum was lost and spring hunting will continue.  She ends with a challenge to the hunting community on Malta.

At the weekend a referendum in Malta to ban the spring hunting of quail and turtle dove has been won by the hunting lobby by the narrowest of margins.

To say that the conservation movement is disappointed is an understatement, especially as the vote had been shadowed with polls suggesting a win for bird protection.

It became increasingly clear on Sunday when the results were being counted that a late surge in support from the hunting lobby, overturned our hopes. However, after the initial and inevitable slump in our emotions, we have realised several things which are renewing our optimism.

Firstly, in any crisis, environmental or otherwise there is rarely a single step which leads to instant success. Secondly, with such a close result, the hunting lobby cannot possibly claim they have a mandate for any illegal action: the difference between a win or loss was as small as 2,200 votes across an entire nation of 400,000 inhabitants. Lastly, we’re conservationists. From climate change to saving threatened species, we’re used to disappointments. Conservation battles make us tough and each knock back makes us stronger. Lastly, the world is watching. A fact recognised by the islands’ pro-hunting Prime Minister who has publicly referred to the fact that hunters are heading towards a last chance.

The immediate result of this referendum is that more birds will die this spring. Not only turtle doves and quail – the quarry that were the subject of the referendum – but also birds of prey, herons, storks, bee-eaters and cuckoos. These birds will inevitably be gunned down by hunters using the smokescreen of legalised spring hunting.

However, with fewer than 50.1 per cent of the islands’ population voting in favour, there were almost as many people who wanted to see this practice ended. They’ll be the ones watching the activities of the hunters, looking for illegal activities and reporting the hunters to the police.

Yes, the loss of the referendum is a bitter blow that we shall draw strength from. For the hunters , they will take initial pride in their win, but in their hearts they will realise the depths of the public feelings against hunting  and they should realise that they need to cease illegal hunting. The public have voted and many have shown their frustration with the hunting lobby. How many more illegal acts would it take for the public mood to shift enough for the hunters to be in the minority?

  • I am so sorry to hear about this disappointing result.  I just can't bear to think about those birds being gunned down....  But I take heart at the positive note towards the end.  Here's hoping....

  • There have already been so many illegal acts in this country over so many years.  I'm sure that people have shown their frustration for a similar length of time but the hunters, I think, will now joyfully continue the slaughter as they always have done - until enough people from the EU decide, once and for all, to stop their hideous activities.  I can't even say I have any trust that this referendum was carried out in a fair manner - I wonder how many potential voters were intimidated into staying away?  An absolutely shocking outcome.

  • There is no disguising it, this is a huge disappointment. This is a battle very narrowly lost but not a war, which, with continued determination, will be won in the end. As Winston Churchill said "in a war there are very many disappointments before final victory". It is the responsiblity of the the Maltese Government to ensure that these horrible shooting practices are maintained within EU law and probably that is where the pressure and the battle should be directed in the short to medium term. Any failure not to follow EU regulations and of the Maltese Government not to take policing action,should be "shouted from the roof tops". The shooters are not going to have it easy at all.  .

  • Good evening Martin,

    See the thoughts of the Dove Step camp on the eve of our leaving for the second journey here;