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BirdLife Malta – where the eco-balls in Malta are at

I remember visiting the Għadira Nature Reserve as a child with my primary school, and enrolling myself as a member to receive my issue of il-Ħuttafa. I also have a very vivid recollection of attending activities and a day excursion to Comino with my father. For a long time, BirdLife Malta has always existed in my mind as this type of informative organisation. It has now, thankfully, morphed itself into an integral pressure group in the Maltese environmental scene.

Ghadira Nature Reserve – Managed entirely by BirdLife Malta, and the scene of the recent arrest of Christian Gauci, 27, a hunter who entered the site to shoot legally protected birds (Photo credit:

This is the true meaning of an NGO. Not only do they strive to educate the public about the importance of conserving threatened species of birds, but they also actively participate in achieving their mission statement.

Just to give a brief overview of their tasks over the past couple of weeks, this organisation has been:

  • Taking stock of shot protected birds
  • Sending injured animals to Centro Recupero Fauna Selvatica, a wildlife rehabilitation centre in Sicily
  • Coordinating monitoring campaigns with volunteers in protecting areas
  • Recording the firing of shots at a desingated rate – e.g. per hour (which many people questioned as impossible, but anyone who has a slight idea of quantitative sampling knows how possible this is)
  • Issuing constant press releases detailing updates of the current spring hunting season

This all done in an effort to protect threatened species of birds during this sham of a ‘regulated’ spring hunting season. If this NGO was not employing such efforts during this spring hunting season, the following video would not have been made public.

Other Maltese NGOs should take note – Friends of the Earth Malta (FoE Malta), Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), Nature Trust Malta (NTM), Din L-Art Ħelwa (DLH), Biological Conservation Research Foundation (BICREF), Ramblers Association Malta.

It is quite useless having the status of an ‘NGO’ so that they can organise activities with the occasional press release here and there. It is also relatively counterproductive to conduct research and then not take a stand when the government makes an environmental blunder. Admittedly, NTM and FAA have been quite publicly vocal about certain environmental issues (such as Dwejra and development), but there needs to be a greater mobilising of the masses.

Having said that BirdLife Malta is partnered with BirdLife International, which makes it easier for them to access certain important resources. In fact, it is one of the only NGOs in Malta that offers paid positions for conservationists apart from voluntary one. This shows the level or seriousness which BirdLife Malta operates with, where it has become a contemporary pressure group that even contributed to the recent electoral campaign.

One of the billboards used by BirdLife Malta during the 2013 Electoral Campaign. It is admirable that this NGO publicly declared that ‘Hunters Hijack Election Again’, which as I argued in a previous post, has historically happened before and it seems that has happened once again in this election (Photo credit: TimesofMalta)

If other NGOs in Malta are (understandably) concerned about not having funds or the man power to achieve their targets, it could be an option for them to partner up with a big international organisation.

A change in the primitive perception of the environment by the Maltese public can only be brought about by these NGOs, but it is undeniable that there needs to be a greater effort. Well done BirdLife Malta, you make environmentalists in Malta  and Europe very proud.

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  1. Astrid Vella

    Hi Antoine,

    Well done for this interesting and informative blog. Allow me to expand on this subject; I’m not sure if you are suggesting that other NGOs take action on bird hunting. You may also have missed the frequent press releases issued by FAA, Ramblers, Friends of the Earth etc both before and after the elections. However, since we are all very limited in our active human resources, it’s impossible for us to cover all topics, so we each take care of our niche and while we have all come out in support of Birdlife, we cannot do more than that.

    It’s also inappropriate to compare Birdlife to other groups. Birdlife are in the ‘enviable’ situation that Malta’s birds are seen to be the property of all Europe, therefore European groups have a vested interest in helping Birdlife Malta, even financially. Many other Maltese environment groups have partnered with “big international organisations” as you suggest, but since our issues are seen as local issues, we get no more than moral support. Even the EU tells us that the destruction of local heritage does not affect heritage architecture in Europe, so they have no remit to step in!

    • Antoine Borg Micallef

      Hi Astrid,

      Many thanks for your feedback, much appreciated! The main point I wanted to make with this post was that I feel as though BirdLife has a greater ‘power’ to mobilise the masses, or bring issues to light. I was not suggesting that other NGOs tackle the issue of bird hunting, since as you rightly said each organisation is specialised to focus on its own environmental agenda.

      Unfortunately the issue inevitably stems from lack of resources which (as you pointed out) puts BirdLife at a greater advance compared to other local NGOs. I purposely wrote this article to question whether other NGOs in Malta are as influential as BirdLife in their respective fields and if they can perhaps make use of other resources to further their causes. Despite the fact that press releases are issued, and protests are held on certain matters, are other NGOs tackling issues at arms’ length, or are some of them hesitant to challenge the government and their political agendas? (Since ultimately all environmental issues in our blessed country will always be relegated to political ones)

      • Astrid Vella

        Hi Antoine, thanks for your reply which makes your point much clearer.

        The answer to your question: ” are other NGOs tackling issues at arms’ length, or are some of them hesitant to challenge the government and their political agendas?” is roundly YES, many NGOs hold back from lobbying strenuously for the issues that count. They are scared of falling out of favour with politicians who are incapable of accepting constructive criticism and shamefully resort to accusations that NGOs are vociferous, hysterical, and following a political agenda, even when this is patently not the case.

        Cowed by such psychological blackmail, certain NGOs have also allowed themselves to be trapped by handouts in the form of properties they manage, therefore their policies are guided by the fear of biting the hand that feeds them. In a logical world, NGOs would point out to Government that if it were not for them maintaining heritage properties, Government would have a far heavier load to bear, therefore it is Govt that is obligated, not the NGOs. However nothing is logical in our tiny post-colonial island where lackey-ism and patronage rules supreme.

        • Antoine Borg Micallef

          That is why I pointed about that BirdLife have ‘balls’ in a sense. I was pleasantly surprised that they issued their own billboards during the electoral campaign, as I saw this as a breath of fresh air in an otherwise polluted and congested political climate. I like to be optimistic in thinking that things can only move forward, as we have reached another phase were things are changing (especially with the onset of changes in MEPA and development permits). I hope that the NGOs will be supported by the public to avert any controversial projects/decisions.

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