Malta must stop finch trapping as Brussels sees through ‘research’ ploy

The European Commission gives the Maltese government one month to remedy the situation and halt finch trapping for research purposes or else face court action

Government allowed finch trapping for research purposes last October but the European Commission says this is in breach of the Birds Directive
Government allowed finch trapping for research purposes last October but the European Commission says this is in breach of the Birds Directive

Updated at 3:50pm with BirdLife statement and PN reaction

Malta must halt finch trapping for research purposes as Brussels warns of further legal action should the practice be continued.

In a reasoned opinion communicated by the European Commission, the Maltese government has been given just one month to remedy the situation.

Finch trapping cannot take place in line with the Birds Directive and Malta lost its case in front of the European Court of Justice when it applied such a derogation. However, last October, government decided to apply a new derogation for the practice to continue under the guise of research.

Bird conservation groups warned this was just a ploy to continue finch trapping as before and the European Commission appears to have seen through the government's decision.

“The Commission considers that the new derogation scheme adopted in October 2020 authorising the trapping of finches for research purposes circumvents the judgment of the Court of Justice, by permitting trapping of finches in similar conditions as before this ruling, even if under a different regime,” the communication released on Wednesday said.

It added that following the unsatisfactory reply from the Maltese authorities to the letter of formal notice, the Commission decided to send a reasoned opinion.

“Malta now has one month to remedy the situation, otherwise, the Commission may decide to refer the case to the Court of Justice. A shortened deadline aims to prevent serious and irreversible damage to the environment, in case the Republic of Malta intends to open yet another trapping season,” the Commission warned.

The Brussels executive also called on Malta to correctly apply the Birds Directive and discontinue its practice to authorise finch trapping.

“The Birds Directive requires a general system of protection for wild birds and allows derogations on hunting and trapping only subject to strict conditions. These are key requirements to protect biodiversity across the EU. The European Green Deal and the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 both indicate that it is crucial for the EU to halt its biodiversity loss by preserving our natural sites and restoring damaged ecosystems to good ecological status,” the Commission said.

BirdLife welcomes Commission's stand

BirdLife Malta said it welcomed the European Commission's stand on the matter and called on the government to avoid dragging Malta back to the European Court of Justice.

"Once again BirdLife Malta has been proven to be on the right side of bird protection. This communication is also a stern warning to the Maltese government that the EU will not tolerate anymore the abuse of the European Birds Directive," the bird conservation group said, adding that the latest development was the result of the "farcical finch trapping derogation applied by the Gozo Ministry under the pretence of a scientific study".

BirdLife said that an ORNIS Committee meeting planned for today was set to discuss the next finch trapping season, an item that was placed on the agenda by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU), a government body. The meeting was, however, cancelled yesterday.

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana urged the government to take the right decision and stop the finch trapping practice once and for all.

"If this doesn’t happen, Prime Minister Robert Abela will be leading Malta back to the European court to defend the indefensible and apart from further discrediting our international reputation on environmental matters, it will be a case of wasting taxpayers’ money for a handful of votes at a time when the government should be investing in transforming Malta into a green economy. We urge the Prime Minister to be courageous enough to see the writing on the wall, and act accordingly," Sultana said.

PN to explore options

Reacting to the Commission's warning, the Nationalist Party said that if in government it would engage technical experts to seriously explore the possibility of having sustainable trapping of birds that conforms with EU directives. The party did not say what options it would explore but agreed with trapping for scientific research purposes.