Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Only Casualties in this War

What you won't see in any travel brochure: “Watch magnificent birds of prey that have flown the length of Europe blasted out of the sky. See those that only have their legs blown away die slowly from being unable to land. Marvel at the rubbish-strewn, lunar landscape, stripped of vegetation by bird-trappers. Endure the dark, hostile scowls of the locals.”
Marsh Harrier

Outside the thin veneer that is Valletta. Mdina and the tourist resorts, this describes a week in Malta.

And what about this side-note? Planes from Britain, the Emirates, Egypt, Spain and other Western nations land just yards from gun-toting hunters. Doesn't this seem crazy? Who can tell the difference between them and Al-Qaeda operatives? The latter could position a whole arsenal by the airport without raising a single eyebrow. Imagine allowing that at Heathrow.

The raptor slaughter is but a pinprick in the hundreds and thousands of other birds who also fall prey to hunters’ guns and traps. Want to see a finch on the island? Go look in a cage. Go look in a British cage. Seriously, you’re more likely see one there.

The finches are more of a local problem. The international scandal is that Europe now invests time, space and money for migrant birds to come and breed in safety. They're our birds, born in our lands. We don't want them gunned down by Mediterranean savages, never to return again. In any other war – and this is a war, declared against birds by Maltese hunters and ruthlessly promoted by them – we would send the army to protect our citizens. As it is, a few dozen brave, dedicated birdwatchers from all over the continent can really only monitor the situation, as helpless as UN observers.

In case the Maltese government hadn’t noticed, the environment is top bill these days, right up there with terrorism. Birds are the environment, in fact one of its best gauges. To slaughter them on such an industrial scale must be the biggest act of vandalism in Europe. It’s time for the country to drag itself into the 20th century. Only then should we even consider allowing them to participate in the 21st century Union.


  1. I think that you are so right. Bird conservation is so much more tricky than most other terrestrial animals because of migration, and migration is so dangerous for birds in areas where conservation is simply ignored.

  2. There is hope. I was struck by the friendliness and openness, in contrast to their parents, of Maltese kids. In fact a couple have even set up a birding website and blog. Win the hearts and minds of the youngsters and they will swamp the murderous old farts. Then the next ten years will just be a damage limitation exercise.


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