Applaud and not criticise the Commission for upholding the Birds’ Directive in Malta

BirdLife Malta

Linnet in a cage

Applaud and not criticise the Commission for upholding the Birds’ Directive in Malta


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Professor Juan Bautista Torregrosa Soler in his piece on Malta’s finch trapping tradition, reverberates an earlier piece published by Malta’s trapping federation’s Lino Farrugia on Euractiv some days ago. Finch trapping in Malta is a practice endorsed by circa 4,000 inhabitants on the island. But this is far from being ‘ingrained into the life’ of the islanders in comparison to Malta’s circa 500,000 inhabitants. Certainly, not all of Malta’s islanders endorse the inhumane practice of trapping wild European finches in small cages for pure enjoyment of having these birds in captivity. Surely an agronomist from Valencia, a region notorious for its own trapping practices in conflict with EU law, would not know better.

The reality of Malta’s ‘exemptive derogation’ as Prof Torregrosa Soler puts it, is far from being a selective capture of certain birds in small numbers. The enforcement regime in place on the islands since the practice was reignited in 2014, is such that no thorough checks can be made on trappers authorised to practice. About 4,000 trappers have each autumn been authorised to operate up to 4 clap nets each, over a period of two months and a half (October to December). All these conditions are in place for a trapper to catch 10 finches. This is not a daily quota, but a season’s quota. The national quota is that of 27,500 finches. Don’t try to work out the mathematics – just picture a trapper keeping to a quota of 10 birds during a two and a half months’ season with up to 4 clap nets, and multiply it by 4,000 trappers. Certainly wilds birds are the ones getting permanently ingrained by this ‘tradition’.

Trapping is considered as being a very effective means of capture of wild birds. One swoop of a net can capture a whole flock of birds. This is the reason why the Birds’ Directive bans nets as a means of capture. Allow such a practice on an island notorious for its enforcement on the illegal killing of birds, and the sustainability of this derogation should be the first thing one should question.

Strict supervision conditions are not there and have never been there to the standard required for a derogation. However, such conditions are not even the argument of why the European Commission has taken Malta to court over this practice. Finches are protected in all of Europe, the use of nets is banned by the Birds Directive, and the very justification of this derogation is flawed – trapping finches to enjoy them in captivity – while completely ignoring the alternative of captive breeding of finches – is simply not on.

The Commission’s action in this saga come as a last resort to environmentalists seeking justice on this matter. The Maltese government, without it even having an electoral mandate, enacted law to allow 4,000 trappers to restart a practice that had been banned to allow Malta conformity to the Birds’ Directive. The Commission should be commended, not criticised, for ensuring the Birds’ Directive is upheld in a member state.

Comparing Malta’s finch trapping practices to other countries has also a question of dimension to it. Austria operates small nets and eventually release the small amount of caught birds. Spain is in the process of phasing out the practice. Malta currently allows over 8,000 trapping sites to catch finches and other birds in a space just over 300 square kilometres of which a third is built-up. It is Europe’s wild life that is under attack and not Maltese finch trappers.

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