By Tim Attard Montalto
"We must keep quiet," I am told.
We're seated at a table in the cafeteria of the Gozo Channel ferry around which four other people are sitting. They are BirdLife officials and volunteers, but it only occurs to me throughout the Channel crossing, that everything but ornithology is being discussed here - a stark difference to the dialogue in the car on the way to Cirkewwa.
"If word gets around that we are coming, they will be on the look-out," the leader of our little expedition says. "Gozo is small and word gets around very quickly," he tells me, his eyes scanning the cafeteria for any likely eavesdroppers.
This sounds like cloak-and-dagger stuff but spending a day with BirdLife activists requires some stealth. They are heading to Gozo to investigate the ongoing cases of illegal bird trapping, despite the practice being banned in Malta which currently only derogates from the EU's laws on spring hunting.
Only a fortnight previously, BirdLife had sent a surveillance team to Gozo in which they found many traces of possible illegal trapping sites. This time, though, they are hoping to catch the real thing - the trappers in action.
Our first destination was the area known as Ta' Sarraflu, along the West coast of Gozo. I was told that it was a stronghold for hunters and trappers, meaning that the chance of spotting poaching was quite high.
As we drove along the bumpy country roads leading towards Ta' Sarraflu, we passed a few pick-up trucks, driven by what seemed to be farmers or hunters working the area. The looks we received made one thing chillingly clear - this was their territory.
I asked whether BirdLife usually encounter problems with hunters and trappers. "We do sometimes, but the relations between the hunting lobby and BirdLife are more civil than most people think," BirdLife coordinator Nick Barbara says. More....