Already, the punishing shift patterns are beginning to take their toll. The teams are allocated districts to monitor. Often that will mean what sometimes seems like an endless journey to distant parts of the island through the Maltese traffic. The rules of the road are different than that of the UK and could easily fill a ‘Postcard From Malta’ of their own!
When we arrive, the constant scanning of the countryside (not to look for a sought-after species for enjoyment but for the whereabouts of hunters who may, or may not, keep to shooting the 40 or so species they are legally allowed to hunt) is wearing. The infrastructure of the hobby is all around, a constant reminder of the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – old tin cans strung up in trees and bushes so that they can be used to flush birds for an easy kill; shooting butts made of wooden pallets or Maltese stone; hunting towers. The hunters who stick to the rules suffer the intrusion into their life of the team of monitors but that’s the fallout for not disassociating themselves from those that shoot protected species – buzzards, harriers, vultures, storks, flamingos, herons, bee-eaters etc etc.
There are regular places to visit and some random destinations. We’re continually logging who is doing what, where they’re doing it, vehicles, behaviours as well looking out for migratory species that might draw the attention of the less principled shooters. Are they far enough from built up areas (200m) or main roads (50m)? Did they fire more than 3 shots in a row (anymore and the shotgun may be have been modified illegally)? Are they using illegal electronic callers? Familiarity with the regulations helps of course but the constant reviewing in your head of what you’re seeing is sapping.
We might move around the area by car (more driving) or by foot. The Maltese build fine walls – the workmanship is truly impressive – and it’s easy to use these to our advantage (‘softly, softly catchee monkey’). We’re not allowed to enter private property, so we don’t but it’s amazing how you can nearly always find a line of vision by moving a few inches further down the lane. And it’s amazing what you sometimes see! Equally, it’s a moment that’s not forgotten when an unseen shotgun is fired from right next to you on the other side of a wall!