BirdLife calls on Brussels to intervene on Malta ‘research’ finch trapping season

European Commission urged to re-establish “rule of law” in bird protection in Malta following re-opening of finch  trapping season in defiance of 2018 judgement by Court of Justice

Photo taken in November 2020: ‘Research’ trapping sites currently pepper the Maltese coastline’s Natura 2000 sites, targeting finches with clap nets. The research smokescreen derogation is 2020’s way of circumventing the ECJ ruling of 2018, by allowing trappers to catch thousands of finches as they migrate south to Africa, with the objective of checking for ring recoveries
Photo taken in November 2020: ‘Research’ trapping sites currently pepper the Maltese coastline’s Natura 2000 sites, targeting finches with clap nets. The research smokescreen derogation is 2020’s way of circumventing the ECJ ruling of 2018, by allowing trappers to catch thousands of finches as they migrate south to Africa, with the objective of checking for ring recoveries

24 BirdLife partners from EU member states have endorsed a letter signed by BirdLife International CEO Patricia Zurita to Virginijus Sinkevičius, the European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries.

In this letter, Zurita and BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana, are requesting the European Commission to act quickly and directly against Malta on the ongoing finch trapping derogation.

The organisations argue that the derogation is setting a precedent and sending the message that countries may get away with allowing the illegal killing of Europe’s wild birds under the excuse of scientific research.

“The Commission is being urged to intervene on the current situation in Malta to re-establish the rule of law when it comes to bird protection in the Maltese Islands,” Sultana said.

The letter explains how Malta was defying the Court of Justcie ruling with the re-opening of a trapping season, but also Malta’s EU Accession Treaty.

“In order to try and get away with it, Malta is this time applying a derogation under the EU Birds Directive for scientific research purposes... the government’s rationale of allowing trappers to trap without any limits as long as they release all the birds they catch is seriously flawed, leaves much to be desired and expects everyone to believe, including the European Commission, that all the birds trapped are being released.

A finch trapping site
A finch trapping site

“It is also very clear that this supposedly ‘scientific’ study is not really aimed to help the conservation of these protected birds but constitutes only a massive effort to try to increase the reference population to be able to justify more finch trapping derogations in the future. This is even actually stated in the Framework Law enacted a few days before the start of this autumn trapping season. Our letter aims to move the European Commission to act immediately,” Sultana said.

A derogation allowing the trapping of finches can never be justified, given that the ECJ verdict is clear and unequivocal that Malta has never been interested in finding any other alternative to the practice of trapping wild finches, which remain protected species at EU level.

However, Malta’s finch trapping derogation is also being applied in synch with another derogation allowing the trapping of Golden Plover and Song Thrush, by the same trappers at the same sites. “Never before has there been such a blurred line between killing of wild birds and research being tested before the European Commission,” Sultana said.

“We believe the Commission will have very few options apart from stopping Malta from continuing with this ‘creative’ way of abusing the EU Bird Directive. This has alarmed many across Europe and the massive support we are finding from our BirdLife partners is overwhelming and puts more weight on our calls directed towards the European Commission.”

Together with the letter, the European Commissioner for Environment has also been sent a dossier with all the arguments and facts that demonstrate this abuse of the Birds Directive. The report, which calls for the immediate suspension of the derogations, was already sent to the EC’s Directorate-General for the Environment at the start of this year’s trapping season.

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