Chris Packham in UK after questioning by Malta police

Chris Packham with a hunter The television presenter was questioned for four hours

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Chris Packham has returned to the UK after he was questioned for four hours by police in Malta as he tried to film the illegal hunting of migrating birds.

The naturalist and TV presenter said rare species were being targeted, and hunters were even shooting Montagu's harrier birds on the ground at night.

Mr Packham, from Hampshire, described Malta as an "avian apocalypse".

He was questioned after the hunters demanded the police investigate his alleged defamation against them.

Lawyers for FKNK, the hunters' federation on Malta, also asked the police to look at a transgression of data protection laws.

In Malta, if a lawyer lodges such a demand, the police are legally obliged to investigate.

Dead turtle dove - file pic Maltese hunters can shoot turtle doves legally

Mr Packham, who is based in Marchwood, in the New Forest, was in Malta making a series of short video blogs for YouTube.

He voluntarily attended the police station where he was questioned.

Mr Packham, who has presented BBC Springwatch and more recently, Inside the Animal Mind, said: "Ultimately I want something positive to come out of this.

Maltese birds migration

  • Malta lies on one of three migration superhighways between Europe and Africa
  • Millions of birds migrate along this route every year and the Maltese Islands are an important resting place for birds making the long flight across the Mediterranean
  • The hunting season lasts three weeks
  • Last year, 24 species of protected birds were shot, but only two species - turtle dove and quail - may be shot during the spring hunting season, says BirdLife Malta
  • A hunter is allowed to kill a maximum of two birds in one day, to four in one season

"The police seemed to me to be keen to develop a more co-operative working relationship with NGOs such as BirdLife Malta and the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS).

"If that happens as a result of this questioning, then it will be a good outcome as it will lead to more successful prosecutions of illegal hunting activities."

He added: "The situation on Malta is a very difficult working environment for all parties. Emotions are running high and polarisation between hunters and conservationists is extreme.

"I'm not here to take sides. I want to help the Maltese people stop the spring hunting and illegal hunting."

A Maltese wildlife official insisted that patrols to stop illegal hunting had been stepped up.

Sergei Golovkin, head of Malta's Wild Birds Regulation Unit, insisted that the authorities were controlling the hunters.

Malta has an exemption from the EU Birds Directive, allowing its hunters to shoot turtle doves and quail during the spring migration, a crucial stage in the birds' life cycle. But according to Mr Packham, turtle doves were vulnerable, with their numbers down by 95% in the UK.

It is the only EU country to have a recreational spring hunting season allowing birds to be shot.

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