Skip to main content


Log in

Black Stork Down: Military Discourses in Bird Conservation in Malta

  • Published:
Human Ecology Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Tensions between Maltese hunters and bird conservation NGOs have intensified over the past decade. Conservation NGOs have become frustrated with the Maltese State for conceding to the hunter lobby and negotiating derogations from the European Union’s Bird Directive. Some NGOs have recently started to organize complex field-operations where volunteers are trained to patrol the landscape, operate drones and other surveillance technologies, detect illegalities, and lead police teams to arrest poachers. We describe the sophisticated military metaphors which conservation NGOs have developed to describe, guide and legitimize their efforts to the Maltese public and their fee-paying members. We also discuss why such groups might be inclined to adopt these metaphors. Finally, we suggest that anthropological studies of discourse could help understand delicate contexts such as this where conservation NGOs, hunting associations and the State have ended in political deadlock.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. The article is based on material published between 2008 and March 2014 in “The Times of Malta,” the country’s most influential newspaper, supplemented by extensive reference to press releases and reports issued by both hunting and bird conservation NGOs. We started with 2008 because in that year the European Court of Justice accused Malta of breaking terms negotiated with the EU, which encouraged NGOs to organize their quasi-military field-operations. March 2014 was the month immediately preceding the 2014 spring hunting season.

  2. Hunting generally refers to the shooting of migratory birds; however, rabbits are also hunted by a minority. This article focuses exclusively on the hunting of migratory birds.

  3. Estimates of the number of birds hunted per season range from an average of 150,000 to 6 million (Fenech 2010; MEPA 2010, 2011, 2012). According to official records for 2012, the most commonly hunted species was the song thrush (Turdus philomelos), at about 33,000 specimens, followed by the common starling (Sturnus vulgaris) with about 28,500 specimens and the skylark (Alauda arvensis) with about 15,500 specimens. These species, none of which are considered globally threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), constituted 82 % of all hunted individuals in 2012. All three species are listed in Annex II of the European Union’s Bird Directive, which includes those species that can be hunted under national legislation.

  4. An exemption from or relaxation of a law.

  5. As opposed to native, roosting birds, which are referred to as tal-post (lit. of the place).

  6. The Ornis committee brings together the different stakeholders around the management of bird species in Malta. It is considered unsatisfactory by both hunting and bird conservation NGOs as the number of voting government representatives greatly outweighs the number of hunting and conservation representatives combined. Moreover, it has no legislative power being solely a consultative platform.

  7. Ramblers Association of Malta, Nature Trust, Moviment Graffiti, International Animal Rescue Malta, Greenhouse Malta, Gaia Foundation, Friends of the Earth Malta, Flimkien ghall-Ambjent Aħjar, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Coalition for Animal Rights (CAR) and BirdLife Malta.

  8. At the time of writing (January 2014), CASH claimed to have collected the necessary number of signatures (34,000, or 10% of the total voting population) and is considering holding its abrogative referendum in March 2014. An abrogative referendum requires the government to enact the outcome of the vote into law with no further discussion. In an attempt to amend the Referendum Law the hunting associations have also started collecting signatures.

  9. CABS and the Stiftung pro Artenvielfalt (SPA) (Foundation Pro Biodiversity)

  10. To gather more information on hunting in Malta, in October and November 2013 we conducted 25 semi-structured interviews and online questionnaires with the representatives of CASH, the active members of CAR, the two main hunting organisations, the Ministry of Environment’s Wild Birds Regulation Unit and the police’s Administrative Law Enforcement Section.

  11. In an official report whose formal tone barely hides a sense of frustration and disappointment, the CABS leadership lamented that they had received no reply to their offer of a drone to the police in the wake of theirs being shot down (CABS 2012b, c).

  12. The ranks of the CASH coalition, in fact, are boosted by the inclusion of another coalition (Animal Rights Coalition) itself composed of over 20 animal welfare organisations.


Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Brian Campbell.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Campbell, B., Veríssimo, D. Black Stork Down: Military Discourses in Bird Conservation in Malta. Hum Ecol 43, 79–92 (2015).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: