Updated | Animal rights minister brushes off warnings on widespread trapping illegalities

Vast majority of unregistered trapping sites flagged by BirdLife and CABS are no longer active, animal rights junior minister Roderick Galdes argues

BirdLife and CABS's survey indicated that a third of trapping sites are illegal
BirdLife and CABS's survey indicated that a third of trapping sites are illegal

The parliamentary secretary for animal rights has brushed off warnings by environmental NGOs that around a third of trapping sites across Malta are illegal as “grossly misleading”.

Roderick Galdes accused BirdLife Malta and the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) of not cooperating with government entities and insisted that enforcement of the ongoing trapping season for finches and golden plover is rigorous.

BirdLife and CABS on Monday published the results of a study on 179 trapping sites across Malta and Gozo, which revealed that 69 (38%) of them were not registered with the Wild Bird Regulation Unit and therefore illegal. The two NGOs complained of a lack of enforcement of the trapping season, warning that several illegal trapping sites were still active at the end of November despite the fact that they had been flagged to the police and the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA). Also, the WBRU recently said that police had up until 15 December only prosecuted three people for the illegal use of trapping sites this season, while ERA had taken action on a single site in Gozo.

“We have no faith in the WBRU to provide adequate enforcement due to lack of technical competence, and conflict of interest since they also open trapping derogations and issue trapping licenses,” CABS press officer Axel Hirschfeld said.

BirdLife conservation manager Nicholas Barbara warned that the illegal trapping sites are harming protected Natura 2000 sites and called for a central authority to supervise environmental enforcement. 

However, Galdes in a statement on Tuesday poured cold water over the NGOs’ claims, arguing that their study was based on a very small and unrepresentative sample of locations surveyed from the air.

“Following checks performed by the WBRU, the NGOs were informed that several site locations provided by them were indeed unregistered with the authorities, and therefore any presumed trapping activity on the sites is outright illegal,” he said. “This verification was immediately followed by physical inspections of each unregistered site, performed by the police and WBRU. This revealed that in the vast majority of cases, the locations reported by CABS and BLM contained old disused trapping sites which, although appearing to the NGOs from the air as being active, in actual fact were found to have not been used for years.”

He added that the WBRU in July 2014 introduced a new rigorous trapping site registration and screening system that, among other conditions, requires trappers to prove that the sites had existed prior to the end of December 2012. Galdes said that, as a result of this new system, over a third of the total number of trapping sites that were previously active are no longer used. 

BirdLife calls for details on trapping inspections

BirdLife responded by urging the WBRU to list the dates of inspections it has carried out on each and every trapping site in Malta, so as to help the public understand the extent of its coverage in enforcement. It also called on the unit to publish the list of illegalities it has acted upon via its officers, out of their own accord, and not following reports by NGOs.

“Ultimately, as WBRU itself admits in the results it publishes, the unit seems to simply rely on NGOs to report on enforcement,” BirdLife said. “NGOs have been forthcoming with illegal reports, yet they will never support a derogation which is in breach of the Birds’ Directive and which is being contested at the European Court of Justice. A greater result for conservation is one in which trapping is halted, and Natura 2000 sites and wild birds are protected – something WBRU seems to advocate against.”

It also defended its use of aerial surveys in its study, arguing that trapping nets visible from the air indicate that they are actually active. 

More in Nature