So just what is 'sustainable shooting'?
Having read the excellent editorial of October 12 ('Call for stricter enforcement'), I would like to add to the very valid points it raises. The word 'sustainable' is cast about like so much confetti these days yet its meaning in different situations varies enormously.
With birdlife, the question of 'sustainability' currently appears to mean 'will there be enough to shoot at next year' and if the answer is 'yes', then shooting is regarded as 'sustainable'. This is an extraordinarily narrow interpretation of the word and, although not an exhaustive list, I would suggest the following as other aspects of sustainability as it relates to birds:
¤ What effect does shooting have on the total population of birds in Europe and Africa?
¤ What percentage of birds killed are less than a year old and what effect is this having on each species' future breeding capability?
¤ How has shooting reduced the gene pool of each species?
¤ What effect is there on food chains at the breeding and wintering habitats of migratory birds?
¤ To what extent have rare birds been affected?
¤ How much lead shot is building up on Malta and what are its pollutant effects?
Until the damage being done can be properly established and hence the 'sustainability' of shooting can be determined, I suggest that a moratorium on shooting is declared to allow a full environmental assessment to be undertaken.
Unfortunately, sustainability has detracted from the question of precisely why people should be allowed to shoot at all and what benefits it brings to Malta. And even when we home in on these issues, the question of illegal shooting takes precedence over why shooting is allowed at all and hence any proper consideration of changes in the law to reduce or halt shooting altogether. To focus solely on enforcement of current laws while ignoring the damage caused by legal shooting is to be penny wise and pound foolish.
The editorial was also quite correct to identify the moral dimension. Cases of animal cruelty are reported on a regular basis in the press but the thousands of birds left to die, injured and in pain, having only a few minutes before been heading for their breeding or wintering grounds, is woefully unreported. Can anyone tell me why shooters are apparently exempt from the animal cruelty laws?
Shooting exists in a vacuum, devoid of reasoned argument or morality. And if I ever doubted the wrong-headed outlook which blinds so many of the shooting fraternity, such doubt was dispelled by a letter published in The Times a few weeks ago. A hunter described how he had saved an injured bird because he wanted to avoid 'unnecessary suffering' to wildlife.
Oddly, quite why he saw the suffering inflicted by his own gun as 'necessary' was not explained. The quickest way this gentleman could fulfil his ambition to reduce unnecessary suffering was to stop shooting, sell his hideous weapon and buy a pair of binoculars to help him appreciate wildlife instead of killing it.
I can assure readers that non-residents like myself are very far from naive and are aware of shooting elsewhere in Europe. Very regrettably however, I can confirm that Malta is indeed regarded as the 'slaughter capital of Europe' and I imagine a number of readers will be upset at my describing Malta in this way. I suspect however, that blaming the messenger is an easier option than tackling the people who are actually responsible for this unwanted reputation.
I do hope no one dismisses my thoughts on the grounds that we also have wildlife problems in the UK. This would be to make the mistake that I somehow represent the UK or its government. I do, however, represent the millions of people in the UK who cannot enjoy thousands of birds because they are killed by the selfish minority on Malta.
We all have short lives. It is incumbent on all of us to do as much good in this world as we can but to spend one's leisure time butchering wildlife is to abuse the privilege we have been granted of life on this earth.