Finch trapping 'research' derogation criticised by ornithologists

A government proposal to apply a derogation that would allow finch trapping to take place for research purposes has raised eyebrows among ornithologists

Maltese ornithologist Marie Claire Gatt is criticising the “flawed research derogation” being proposed by the Wild Birds’ Regulation Unit to allow finch trapping to go ahead this autumn.

Gatt called government's proposal a “gift to the trapping lobby”.

Finch trapping goes against EU directives but Malta has been adamant in trying to apply a derogation of sorts. The latest proposal disguises the derogation as a research exercise.

The derogation would allow for finch trapping in order to determine Malta’s reference population of seven different finch species, and in turn help determine whether Malta can introduce a separate derogatory regime using a legal loophole. This would be done through the catching of wild finches in the hopes of encountering birds with identification rings, also known as bird ringing.

But the move has not impressed bird conservation groups and ornithologists.

“It is clear that the point of this derogation is to allow an otherwise illegal and unsustainable activity – the trapping and caging of wild finches – to appease a group of hobbyists,” she commented.

The loophole arises from EU legislation - the trapping of live migratory birds is banned across the EU, but member states may put forward a derogation so long that it is used “judiciously, with small numbers and under strict supervision.”

While the research period is set to be not more than 64 days, a separate derogatory regime could be introduced under the small numbers criterion if the number of finch species captured in Malta is less than 1% of the bird populations’ annual mortality.

Gatt also commented that the argument for the derogation is scientifically flawed, with the probability of finding ringed songbirds typically less than 0.1%. 

Last month, BirdLife Malta had slammed the government’s decision earlier to allow finch trapping for scientific research purposes, with CEO Mark Sultana stating that the decision is a “smokescreen for tens of thousands of songbirds to be trapped by creatively classifying it as a scientific study.”

A public consultation is currently underway for the establishment of the research derogation for the trapping of finch birds.

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