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Ta’ Xbiex, Malta

BirdLife Malta

Ta’ Xbiex, Malta
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News Article | April 19, 2017

Chris Packham, the naturalist and broadcaster, has been charged with assault and trespass in Malta after confronting hunters he believed had illegally trapped wild birds. The BBC Springwatch presenter and naturalist will appear before magistrates on Thursday morning on the island of Gozo after being charged with “attempting to use force” and “pushing against” a Maltese man. Packham, who is making an independent film about Malta’s spring hunt in which thousands of migrating birds are shot over the Mediterranean islands, had called the police after discovering a large cage of protected wild species, including goldfinch, moorhen, starlings and turtle doves. It is illegal to keep some of these birds in captivity. According to Packham, he and his producer Ruth Peacey and sound recordist Garry Moore were filming an interview on a public road when two men jumped out of a vehicle and “started screaming and shouting and pushing”. The police were present and “immediately took the side of the aggressors and manhandled Chris and other members of the team off the site”, according to a statement released via Packham’s agent. After being detained for more than three hours at a police station, Packham was charged. His production team are believed to have camera footage that may exonerate him. “It’s intimidation and time-wasting. If they fine me it’s just trying to thwart us,” Packham told the Guardian. During a Facebook Live Q&A session on Wednesday evening, broadcasting from the Maltese city of Mdina, he went into more detail about the incident that lead to the charges. “[The man] had some birds in a cage … but by the time the police turned up, they’d all mysteriously vanished. Weird that. And weird that he’d given a list of these birds to police earlier in the day but he wasn’t arrested, and he’s not going to court, I am,” he said, adding that he was due in court at 9am. In the Facebook Live session, Packham also emphasised that his condemnation of spring hunting didn’t amount to persecution of the Maltese. “We’ve come out here not as people from the UK wagging their finger at the Maltese, not even as Europeans – seeing as we’re still part of the EU – but just as people who are concerned about the birds,” he said. Killing birds during the spring breeding season is forbidden under the European Union birds directive but Malta has an opt-out to enable its 10,000 hunters to continue their traditional shoot of migrating birds. Birds such as the turtle dove – last year added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “red list” of species most at risk of extinction – are illegally hunted. However, this year 15 corpses of protected wild species, including marsh harrier and hoopoe, have also been handed to BirdLife Malta. The environmental organisation has filmed a hunter illegally shooting a rare stone curlew. Another charity, the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (Cabs), caught two people illegally shooting turtle doves after the end of the spring hunt. Packham said he had also found golden plover held in tiny cages in the hot sun, and these crimes were “obviously the tip of the iceberg”. “It’s just bizarre what’s going on,” he said. “What we experienced yesterday BirdLife Malta and Cabs experience all the time. It makes it so difficult to get the law upheld when the local police are very uncooperative because they will be friends of or family of or drinking in the same bar as the people we are trying to incriminate.” Malta narrowly voted to continue the tradition of spring hunting in a 2015 referendum, and Packham said the government was not doing enough to stop illegal hunting around the still-legal spring shoot. “The amount of interest and commitment that the government has put into policing these crimes has diminished because there’s an election on the horizon [in Malta] and the government doesn’t want to upset 10,000 hunters and their families,” said Packham. He called on the EU to take action against Malta. “What’s going on contravenes the European birds directive,” he said. “We want Malta to comply with the birds directive like every other country does.” The Maltese police said they could not comment on an individual case.

News Article | April 20, 2017

The naturalist and broadcaster Chris Packham has been cleared of two counts of assault in Malta after confronting hunters who had trapped wild birds. A Maltese magistrate dismissed the case against the BBC Springwatch presenter after Packham produced video evidence in court that showed he was jostled by a hunter while filming an interview about the illegal slaughter of birds on the island. According to BirdLife Malta, the charity supporting Packham, the judge criticised police and suggested they send the footage to “an Italian comedy channel” because their behaviour was so farcical. The film and sound recordings show that after Packham was manhandled by a hunter, officers arrived and pushed away the presenter, his producer and his sound recordist . “The prosecution were blown away by the fact that we have this damning evidence,” Packham told the Guardian after the verdict. “The police said I was assaulting the hunter and pushing him around. As soon as the judge saw our video evidence, which showed it was the other way around, he was incredulous. “We’re not going to press any charges against the police or the hunter because we’ve got better things to be doing. At the moment there are a lot of embarrassed police officers and hunters. “This highlights the problem that BirdLife Malta face on a constant basis when they are trying to get the law implemented. We’ve all got tremendous respect for the work they do out here because it’s demoralising and frustrating.” In a statement, Maltese police said that while officers were conducting an inspection on private property “a male person reported to the police onsite that he was pushed by Mr Christopher Gary Packham. Upon receiving this information, the police asked Mr Packham to report at the Victoria police station in order to be spoken to regarding this alleged incident.” The case was heard in Gozo court “and Mr Packham was acquitted of all charges”. Packham and his team have spent a week in Malta broadcasting independently on YouTube and Facebook Live, highlighting the illegal killing and trapping of rare migratory birds that occurs alongside a legal but controversial spring hunt on the island. Malta is the only EU member state to allow the shooting of birds in spring, having an opt-out from the EU’s birds directive, which bans the practice elsewhere. This year, there was a moratorium on the shooting of the rare and endangered turtle dove, but hunters legally shot 130 quail. Packham said the legal hunt was a cover for a much wider slaughter. One Maltese hunter was this week banned from shooting after being filmed illegally firing at a stone-curlew. The Committee Against Bird Slaughter (Cabs) found 25 turtle doves illegally trapped in a cage. BirdLife Malta has recorded the remains of 15 illegally shot birds this spring, including hoopoe, marsh harrier and turtle dove, but Packham said this was the “tip of the iceberg” because scores of other killings on private property had gone undetected. The spring shoot gave hunters “the ability to be out legally in the springtime shooting”, he said. “That means all those other birds are being shot illegally. The key thing is to stop this spring hunting. It’s wholly unsustainable and destructive.” Wildlife charities and campaigners are calling on the EU to take action against the Maltese government for breaches of the birds directive and finally ban spring hunting. “We need the European commission to be a bit more demonstrative and energetic in forcing Malta to adhere to the European birds directive,” Packham said. Maltese voters narrowly rejected the abolition of spring hunting in a referendum in 2015 and Packham said his annual visits to the island to highlight the shooting had made him unpopular. “I get filthy looks from Maltese men of a certain age wherever I go, but I’ve had quite a few comments on my Twitter feed from Maltese people saying this shames and embarrasses us, it must be brought to an end,” he said. “A significant number of Maltese people want to be part of modern Europe.” Packham said the charges brought against him were an attempt to intimidate him and stop him campaigning in the country. “It’s not going to work,” he said. “We’re going to be coming back until these issues are resolved.” Next year, he is planning to bring a group of birdwatching tourists to the island to show tourism officials that Malta could make more money from ecotourism in spring and autumn if it stopped the shooting. “We’ve seen some really good birds here this week, thankfully alive: wryneck, golden oriole, bee-eaters, Alpine warblers, Montagu’s harriers. If it weren’t for the shooting, it could be one of the leading birdwatching destinations in Europe.”

Marx M.,Justus Liebig University | Reiner G.,Justus Liebig University | Willems H.,Justus Liebig University | Rocha G.,University of Extremadura | And 15 more authors.
Parasites and Vectors | Year: 2017

Background: Avian trichomonosis is known as a widespread disease in columbids and passerines, and recent findings have highlighted the pathogenic character of some lineages found in wild birds. Trichomonosis can affect wild bird populations including endangered species, as has been shown for Mauritian pink pigeons Nesoenas mayeri in Mauritius and suggested for European turtle doves Streptopelia turtur in the UK. However, the disease trichomonosis is caused only by pathogenic lineages of the parasite Trichomonas gallinae. Therefore, understanding the prevalence and distribution of both potentially pathogenic and non-pathogenic T. gallinae lineages in turtle doves and other columbids across Europe is relevant to estimate the potential impact of the disease on a continental scale. Results: We examined 281 samples from four wild columbid species for Trichomonas infection and determined the genetic lineages. The overall prevalence was 74%. There were significant differences between the species (P = 0.007). The highest prevalence was found in stock doves Columba oenas (86%, n = 79) followed by wood pigeons Columba palumbus (70%, n = 61) and turtle doves (67%, n = 65), while three of five collared doves Streptopelia decaocto (60%) were infected. We found seven different lineages, including four lineages present in columbids in the UK, one lineage already described from Spain and three new lineages, one of those found in a single turtle dove migrating through Italy and another one found in a breeding stock dove. Stock doves from Germany and collared doves from Malta were infected with a potentially pathogenic lineage (lineage A/B), which is known to cause lesions and mortality in columbids, raptors and finches. Conclusions: Generally, turtle doves showed high prevalence of Trichomonas infection. Furthermore, the potentially pathogenic lineage A/B (or genotype B according to previous literature) was found in a recovering stock dove population. Both findings are worrying for these columbid species due to the occasional epidemic character of trichomonosis, which can have severe negative effects on populations. © 2017 The Author(s).

Oppel S.,Royal Society for the Protection of Birds | Raine A.F.,BirdLife Malta | Borg J.J.,National Museum of Natural History | Raine H.,BirdLife Malta | And 4 more authors.
Biological Conservation | Year: 2011

Many seabird species are experiencing population declines, with key factors being high adult mortality caused by fishery by-catch and predation by introduced predators on nesting islands. In the Mediterranean, both of these pressures are intensive and widespread. We studied the adult survival of an endemic Mediterranean seabird, the Yelkouan shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan), between 1969-1994 and 2007-2010 in Malta and between 2004-2010 in France using mark-recapture methods. Mean annual survival probabilities for breeding adults were below 0.9 for all colonies and periods. Between 1969-1994, annual survival for adults of unknown breeding status was on average 0.74 (95% confidence interval: 0.69-0.80) in Malta, possibly as a result of various human disturbances (including illegal shooting), light pollution and fisheries by-catch. Over the period 2004-2010, we found strong support for variation in adult survival probabilities between breeders and non-breeders, and islands with and without introduced predators in France. Survival probabilities for non-breeders (0.95, 0.81-1.0) appeared to be higher than for breeders (0.82, 0.70-0.94), but were imprecise partly due to low recapture probabilities. In Malta, we found evidence for heterogeneity in survival probabilities between two unknown groups (probably breeders and non-breeders), and seasonal variation in survival probability. Birds were more likely to survive the period including the peak breeding season than an equally long period during which they roam widely at sea. Although annual adult survival probability was still low (0.85, 0.58-1.0), colony protection measures appear to have reduced mortality at nesting cliffs. A population model indicated that colonies in France and Malta would currently require continuous immigration of 5-12 pairs per year to maintain stable populations. Our estimates of adult survival probabilities over the past four decades are consistent with overall population declines. Threats to Yelkouan shearwaters require immediate management actions to avoid ongoing population declines in the western Mediterranean. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

Raine A.,BirdLife Malta | Borg J.J.,National Museum of Natural History | Raine H.,BirdLife Malta
Ringing and Migration | Year: 2011

Three juvenile Cory's Shearwaters Calonectris diomedea diomedea were fitted with back-mounted satellite tags and tracked during post-fledging migration. The birds spent several weeks in the central Mediterranean before migrating westwards. Two tags stopped transmitting after 21 and 35 days; the third bird passed through the Strait of Gibraltar and along the West African coast until transmitting ceased after day 43, by which time it was 114.6 km off the coast and 4,390 km from Malta. Cory's Shearwaters from other Mediterranean islands winter further south in equatorial waters, in the eastern South Atlantic or in the northeast tropical Atlantic associated with the Canary current, and further research is needed to define the wintering areas of Maltese Cory's Shearwaters. © 2011 Copyright British Trust for Ornithology.

Raine A.F.,BirdLife Malta | Raine H.,BirdLife Malta | Borg J.J.,National Museum of Natural History | Meirinho A.,Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves
Ringing and Migration | Year: 2011

Satellite tags were attached to ten juvenile Yelkouan Shearwaters from a breeding colony in Malta to study post-fledging dispersal patterns. Of the eight birds with usable data, all moved eastwards almost immediately after leaving their nest sites. The majority of birds migrated to the islands off the western coast of Greece with one then moving on into the Aegean Sea and another to the South Adriatic Basin. While most birds migrated to Greek waters, two followed a different route, undertaking a wide circuit of the eastern Mediterranean and eventually ending up along the northern coast of Africa. The bird that transmitted for the longest period (68 days) was last recorded in the northern Aegean where it had spent the majority of the time. This study has shown that Maltese Yelkouan Shearwaters range over a large area during the first few weeks of fledging and follow widely varying routes. It has also demonstrated the importance of Greek waters for juvenile Yelkouans from Maltese colonies. The difficulty in tracking juvenile Yelkouan Shearwaters using this method has been highlighted by this study, and it is suggested that further methods are explored to track juvenile birds during the months after fledging. © 2011 Copyright British Trust for Ornithology.

Raine A.F.,Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project | Borg J.J.,National Museum of Natural History | Raine H.,BirdLife Malta | Phillips R.A.,Natural Environment Research Council
Journal of Ornithology | Year: 2013

Although the Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan is listed as near threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, with many populations in serious decline, there is little detailed information on the location of its key foraging areas during the non-breeding season. To address this knowledge gap, adult Yelkouan Shearwaters at a breeding colony in Malta were fitted with geolocators in 2 consecutive years. Of the 13 birds tracked (two of which were tracked in both years), the majority (n = 10; 76. 9 %) migrated in June-July to spend most of the non-breeding period in the Black Sea (n = 5), Aegean Sea (n = 2), Black and Aegean seas (n = 2), or Black and Adriatic seas (n = 1). The final three birds remained within the central Mediterranean area and did not move beyond 500 km of the breeding colony. There was considerable variation among individuals in terms of timing of the outward and return migrations, duration and location of periods of residency in different areas, and migration routes. However, migration patterns (including routes and areas visited) were very consistent in the two individuals tracked in consecutive years. All birds returned in November or December to waters closer to the breeding colony, concentrating between the North African coast and the southern Adriatic. This study has identified key areas during the non-breeding season for Yelkouan Shearwaters from Malta which are also likely to be important for other populations. Given the continuing decline of this species throughout its range, this information represents an essential step for improving international conservation efforts. At-sea threats in the wintering regions include by-catch in long-line and trawl fisheries, impacts of over-fishing, illegal hunting (particularly in Maltese waters), ingestion of plastics, pollution, and the potential impact of off-shore wind farms. These threats need to be addressed urgently in the areas identified by this study to prevent further declines. © 2012 Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V.

PubMed | Unite Avifaune Migratrice, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Cornell University, University of Extremadura and 5 more.
Type: Journal Article | Journal: BMC evolutionary biology | Year: 2016

Understanding how past climatic oscillations have affected organismic evolution will help predict the impact that current climate change has on living organisms. The European turtle dove, Streptopelia turtur, is a warm-temperature adapted species and a long distance migrant that uses multiple flyways to move between Europe and Africa. Despite being abundant, it is categorized as vulnerable because of a long-term demographic decline. We studied the demographic history and population genetic structure of the European turtle dove using genomic data and mitochondrial DNA sequences from individuals sampled across Europe, and performing paleoclimatic niche modelling simulations.Overall our data suggest that this species is panmictic across Europe, and is not genetically structured across flyways. We found the genetic signatures of demographic fluctuations, inferring an effective population size (Ne) expansion that occurred between the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, followed by a decrease in the Ne that started between the mid Holocene and the present. Our niche modelling analyses suggest that the variations in the Ne are coincident with recent changes in the availability of suitable habitat.We argue that the European turtle dove is prone to undergo demographic fluctuations, a trait that makes it sensitive to anthropogenic impacts, especially when its numbers are decreasing. Also, considering the lack of genetic structure, we suggest all populations across Europe are equally relevant for conservation.

News Article | May 3, 2014

When it comes to life and death I'm probably more stoic than most. But last week I cried in front of more than 20,000 viewers on YouTube. Like all our team, I was close to exhaustion – we'd been on four hours sleep a night for days. I was also clearly depressed by the daily slaughter we had been witness to and the relentless attrition that had been mounting with every dead bird I'd seen blasted from the Maltese skies. But in truth from the moment I reached into the cardboard box that held a shot Montagu's harrier and gently felt its badly broken wing, as soon as I saw the blood of this beautiful and rare raptor on my fingers and looked at the defiance and confusion in its brilliant yellow eyes, it was a predictable reaction. I like birds, and this was a very special bird. That morning I had been out with a team of observers from BirdLife Malta, patrolling the dry fields of this tiny island where about 10,000 hunters wander and wait to shoot at turtle doves and quail. It's their highly controversial spring hunting season, the only such in the European Union, of which Malta has been a member since 2004. The Wild Birds Directive expressly forbids any spring shooting for obvious reasons – these birds are the adult survivors en route to their summer breeding grounds. In the UK, turtle doves have declined by 95% since 1970 and both they and quail are in critical decline all over Europe. But the Maltese government is granted an exemption to the rules. Sadly, that's only the half of it. Illegal shooting of protected species, like the Montagu's harrier, is rife. Some species – swallows, swifts, warblers, gulls, waders, well, anything flying really – get blown out of the air just for target practice. Other rarer or exotic birds are sought after as taxidermy specimens, trophies. As the continuous rattle of gunfire had echoed across the valley that morning, a luckless flock of Montagu's and marsh harriers, kestrels, lesser kestrels and red footed falcons had floated in off the Mediterranean, tired and hungry after their crossing. They began to swoop and slice low over the fields, then to soar in tight circles, to rise up in a splendid swirling crowd, their wings flashing in the early sun. It was the best view I'd ever had of these birds – only a handful of "Monty's" breed in the UK. And yet none of us could revel in this fabulous display – we all knew that at any moment we could see them crumple and fall to the ground, and by mid-afternoon that had been the fate of my "Monty's". Thus in the vet's I held in my hands one of nature's greatest masterpieces, sleek, neat, a predator honed with a determined purpose, a synergy of beauty, form and function and gilded with the cachet of rarity. It was simply too valuable to have been wasted. But as its life drained out and its breathing slowed and it fell limp, it went from being one of nature's jewels to another statistic of slaughter on this bloody isle. And that was simply too much. The Maltese hunting issue has been known about for years, but unfortunately not among the wider public; our NGOs have generously supported BirdLife Malta but not run any high-profile campaigns. Indeed campaigning is not popular any longer; our larger charities don't seem to want to upset anyone however badly they contravene our objectives in wildlife protection. This caution or complacency doesn't sit well with my type of conservationist so in the end our little team of four couldn't wait any longer and set off on a self-funded mission to make and upload a video blog every night. We used off the shelf cameras to film it and edited it on a laptop, and the project cost little more than four flights and hotel bills. We got shouted at, jostled, threatened, harassed by the police, but who cares: the results have been astonishing. I have been invited to speak on television and radio programmes which together clock up nine million viewers, contributed to newspapers with a combined readership of 12 million and their online partners with 20 million readers. While we were in Malta there were 2.8m tweets to our account and we trended twice in the UK. Nearly 2,000 people downloaded our template letter to send to their MEPs, and by Friday we had raised more than €60,000 (£49,000) for BirdLife Malta and our blogs had been viewed by nearly 120,000 people. The real power of social media to call attention to issues of conservation interest cannot be denied and this is really exciting. But what about the birds, their future … Well, there are several lights at the end of the barrel. First, and significantly, 44,000 Maltese people have petitioned their government to hold a referendum on the spring hunting issue. Independent polls suggest a minimum of 65% of the population are sick of it, and it embarrasses them. Their sham of democracy is uncovered by the perverse union of the government and this destructive minority. It also threatens valuable tourist revenue and prevents them from enjoying their countryside. The vote should be held within a maximum of 11 months but last week the Maltese prime minister, Joseph Muscat, seemed to suggest that he would seek to block it under pressure from the hunting lobby, although now he seems to have retracted that remark. Unbelievable, really. But so is the revelation that the hunters have admitted employing a police officer to watch us and, in a change to regular schedules, this Saturday saw a half-hour slot normally given to an animal welfare programme broadcasting instead a "TV programme regarding the reality about the Maltese traditional hunting and live-bird capturing [trapping] passions". The hunters wield influence and also terror; many Maltese people said they fear reprisals if they speak out against the practice. But more are finding the confidence to stand up to intimidation, including public figures such as Moira Delia, presenter of the Animal Diaries TV show, and host of some of the most inspirational conservationists I've ever met. People have been shot at, had their homes burned down and their nature reserves destroyed, yet they bravely carry on. Returning to the positive, the European commissioner responsible for monitoring and enforcing the Wild Birds Directive will be replaced this year and on Wednesday the House of Commons will debate "UK policy on protection of migratory birds in Malta" in Westminster Hall from 4.30-5.00pm. The debate has been instigated by Sir John Randall MP, who said: "I have called this debate to ask the government what it will do to help put an end to this pointless killing." Of course, more pressure from MEPs is needed to legislate Malta into the 21st century when it comes to conservation but I'm minded by what Gandhi said about such conflicts. "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win" … and we will win, and the sorry death of that Montagu's harrier and my tears will have played their little part and that feels good.

Raine A.F.,Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project | Gauci M.,BirdLife Malta | Barbara N.,BirdLife Malta
ORYX | Year: 2016

Illegal hunting is a widespread problem in the Maltese Islands. As well as having a significant impact on the islands' breeding birds, the illegal hunting of migratory birds has a wider, international dimension. To investigate the international impact of illegal hunting in Malta we considered the entire ring recovery database of the Valletta Bird Ringing Scheme, from the 1920s to the present. All records of birds that were ringed overseas and shot by hunters in Malta were analysed, comprising a total of 435 records of 84 species from 36 countries. The majority of these ring recoveries (91.7%) were from species listed as protected and non-huntable throughout the European Union, with a significant proportion listed as European Species of Conservation Concern. Birds of prey were particularly represented in the database, 78.6% of which were ringed as nestlings or juveniles, highlighting the impact of illegal hunting on this group of species in particular. Species targeted illegally by Maltese hunters originate from countries throughout Europe and Africa, particularly Finland, Sweden, Tunisia, Italy and Germany. For rare species or those with small breeding populations in affected countries, illegal hunting could therefore have a significant impact on the long-term persistence of European populations. Poaching of species such as the pallid harrier Circus macrourus and saker falcon Falco cherrug could have a global impact on their populations. © Fauna & Flora International 2015.

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