The Malta Independent 14 April 2024, Sunday
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Evidence from finch trapping sites shows abuse of smokescreen ‘scientific research’ derogation

Monday, 4 March 2024, 10:18 Last update: about 2 months ago

As the European Court of Justice (ECJ) prepares for this week’s hearing on the smokescreen finch ‘research’ derogation in “Case C-23/23 European Commission v Republic of Malta”, BirdLife Malta said Monday it has has submitted a report on its findings and what it experienced during the past finch trapping derogation from October to December 2023.

During this period BirdLife Malta said it systematically observed a number of trapping sites in order to understand better the impacts of this trapping derogation masked as a ‘scientific research’ exercise.


With over 2,600 registered trapping sites for finches last autumn, fieldwork carried out by BirdLife Malta revealed that even a greater number of trapping sites were operating illegally, with some becoming registered with the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) after reports were filed with police. Legally registered finch trapping sites were also observed abusing the derogation conditions, with finches caught and kept in all cases.

BirdLife Malta Head of Conservation Nicholas Barbara stated: “With a simple and highly conservative extrapolation of what we have seen, we calculate that a minimum of 51,400 finches have been trapped from permitted sites and taken into captivity during the past season, instead of being released. This number comes out if we assume that at least one finch landed on each trapping site per day, if only 30 days of the 61-day-long season were good for trapping. From what we witnessed, trappers managed to catch around 65% of the birds that landed on a trapping site, with the remainder managing to escape. In all cases of caught birds however, these were never released. This is a far cry from any scientific research activity which the derogation is supposedly aimed for”.

The report also stated that even if a bird caught by a trapper during this trapping derogation was theoretically released, the likelihood that this bird is caught again in another trapping site was still high considering the stress on migration and negative impact that over 2,600 active finch trapping sites caused, BirdLife said.

During the last season, trappers only managed to report 30 birds with fitted rings from abroad, in the process decimating an estimated minimum of 51,400 birds from the wild. This shows how this derogation not only is a scam and a smokescreen for illegal trapping, but it is also an unjustified killing which has failed to bring about any noteworthy scientific data.

BirdLife Malta also pointed out how this derogation has also fuelled wildlife trade of finches over the past years, with thousands of such birds smuggled into Malta from Sicily for them to be used as live decoys. Footage recently aired on local media shows the horrendous misery and cruelty that these finches endure when they are kept in small cages or are tied onto a trapping site so that they flap around in order to attract migrating finches to eventually find their same sad fate.

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana said: “We are confident that the European Commission (EC) and the European Court of Justice will put an end to this trapping derogation once and for all. Apart from it being an embarrassment to science, the trapping of finches – which are protected across Europe – goes against what was agreed in Malta’s Accession Treaty to the European Union (EU), along with going against the European Birds Directive and against the landmark 2018 ECJ judgement that had found Malta guilty of infringing European law when it allowed finch trapping to reopen.”


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