I just finished my last Malta shift. For this season anyway. Yep, I’m sure I will be back. It’s grim and exhausting. But the knowledge that so many birds make it off the island alive, thanks to our effort, presence and determination is worth every moment.
I’m actually crying as I write this. As I sit at Malta airport, sharing my croissant with a tame sparrow, the intensity of the week is over. I guess I managed to suppress my emotions all week, remained calm and collected. Now I feel overwhelmed by everything I’ve seen and learnt. The outright massacre of protected and endangered bird species. The dedication of staff and volunteers year after year. The corruption. The control of a nation by a minority (the hunters).
But this rings a large loud bell. Birds of prey are turning up dead, all over the UK. We have our own bird crime, committed by a few land owners who do not abide by laws and get away with it thanks to connections in high places.
Yesterday CABS received a tip off on shooters using a small Nature Reserve. So this morning we sat in the car and watched and waited. We did eventually spot two hunters lurking in the trees with their guns, and we filmed them. Just carrying a gun on a Reserve is illegal. Proving who they are is a little more awkward. But I have faith in Fiona. She’ll get ’em. Keep me updated please Fiona!
Here at Malta airport I find I am looking at every Maltese man suspiciously. Imagining them in their camouflage hunting gear.
And, I look at every tourist and wonder how they are oblivious to what is going on. Do they never leave their hotels? Do they not see all the Rambo wannabes standing in every field corner, or proudly sitting atop their make-do shooting towers? How do they not hear the daily dawn chorus of gunshots?
Please don’t come to Malta on holiday. Not until the government clean up their act and cleanse their country of such atrocities. They could do it if they wanted to. The Maltese economy depends heavily on tourism. If the tourists boycotted Malta, the government might finally take illegal hunting seriously. While the tourists keep coming and the residents are too scared to complain, the politicians have no incentive to change.
Home/England feels like a distant memory. Experiencing so much needless slaughter and criminality in just eight days – well it was surreal to start with, but then it just felt like the norm. To expect the worst.
This year Malta holds a referendum on spring hunting. The majority of Maltese do not actually hunt. But will they get off their backsides and vote? Do they realise that they can have such a different Malta? Freedom to walk in their own countryside without making hunters angry, able to walk their dogs off leads without the worry that their dog will be shot for trespassing, peace and quiet in the mornings rather than resembling a war torn Bosnia, and none of the bullying and intimidation that comes from many of the hunters and ensures the people refrain from complaining. And of course, a countryside rich in spectacular migrating birds. A pride that these beautiful creatures come through their country on their phenomenal long journeys each year. And, some of them would actually stay and nest. If they weren’t obliterated. There are no Maltese falcons on Malta. The hunters exterminated their own national bird! Embarrassing?
BirdLife Malta are raising money to fund a campaign here, that will hopefully get the Maltese voting. Thanks to Chris Packham, they are up to €50,000 so far.
Meanwhile, CABS will continue to find criminality and collect evidence to provide to the police. Heroes, all of them.
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