TIMES OF MALTA
9 April 2014 by Steve Micklewright
Last weekend I met one of the greatest campaigners for conservation and wild-life. We talked about the terrible situation with badger culling in the UK and the situation regarding spring hunting on Malta. We also talked about what he is most famous for – being possibly the greatest guitarist the world has ever seen and a songwriter in an iconic rock band. I liked Brian May enormously and was delighted to have my photograph taken with him. I wanted my friends to know I had met Brian, so, of course, I made it my Facebook cover photo.
From such innocent actions, all sorts of conspiracy theories have been created by the hunting community: the most amusing and misjudged being that May is a parrot of Birdlife Malta, simply because I met him before the show.
The truth is, like many conservationists, May has known about the situation regarding bird hunting and trapping on Malta for a long time and like many Maltese and foreigners who love these islands, he is appalled by the situation. As both a talented musician and someone with a doctorate in astrophysics, he is quite capable of making up his own mind on something and make any statement about the matter he chooses.
The furore his statement has created actually says more about the people making a fuss about it than May’s mild-mannered and very measured remarks.
According to his critics, being a foreigner, May should not comment on domestic issues. This conveniently ignores the fact that the birds targeted by hunters in spring are on their long journey back to mainland Europe to breed.
** They are as much May’s birds as they are Malta’s or anyone else’s. **
Apparently, so some have said, May should not have used an event that partly celebrated 10 years since Malta joined the European Union as a platform for views about bird conservation. The furore his statement has created actually says more about the people making a fuss about it than May’s mild mannered and very measured remarks. Yet it is a requirement of EU law that birds are not hunted in spring when on migration. Malta is in fact the only EU country to have spring hunting for turtle dove and quail.
It is perhaps the attack on freedom of speech that is most insidious here, but it should come as no surprise when you consider that the FKNK, the hunters’ organisation, have tried to get people prosecuted when they have commented about hunting issues on timesofmalta.com.
These harmless comments are merely a statement of opinion, but the hunters claim they are somehow libellous. Surely this is some form of projection when you take into account the bullying and harassment the hunters themselves undertake, either when directed at public figures through the internet or on innocent Maltese families enjoying the beautiful spring countryside.
It is a countryside that is ruined at this time of year by the rampant and uncontrolled hunting that takes place. But the hunters and others that have spoken against May forget two very simple and incredible facts: almost 45,000 Maltese residents have signed the petition to call for a referendum to abolish spring hunting, and 66 per cent of Maltese voters are known to want to see this happen. And it is little wonder that such a decision to abolish it has to be taken by the Maltese themselves.
In a blog post following his visit to Malta, May said: “The present government is against hunting, but would find it hard to go against the small but powerful pro-hunting faction. So the referendum, (due to be held next year?) just enables them to sidestep the issue and not make enemies in the hunting community.”
Could it be that the empowerment of the Maltese people to take the final decision about spring hunting through a referendum and the ending of the undue influence of the hunting organisations on politicians is what critics of Brian May are so frightened of?
Steve Micklewright is the executive director at Birdlife Malta.