IUCN has urged the European Commission to immediately request the Maltese authorities to protect the European Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur). Malta has proceeded with opening its spring hunting season (by applying a derogation to the EU Birds Directive), which will allow 5,000 birds to be shot. This is concerning given that the species has undergone a rapid decline in numbers in recent years and has now been up-listed to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
In a letter to the EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella, IUCN highlights the conditions for sustainable hunting within the Birds Directive. In the case of species with an ‘unfavourable conservation status’ or with ‘very low population levels’, the Birds Directive clearly stipulates that a derogation should not be granted.
Research is still ongoing as to why the Turtle Dove is declining faster than other migratory bird species, but there is already evidence which links the serious fall in numbers to agricultural intensification, diseases and over-hunting. Until further research can be carried out to understand these threats and there is proof that can clearly demonstrate that spring hunting is sustainable, IUCN considers the practice to be questionable.
In order to save the Turtle Dove from a real threat of extinction, IUCN has requested the Commission to apply an urgent moratorium on spring hunting of the species in Malta. This should remain in place until sustainability and recovery of the Turtle Dove can be clearly demonstrated.