The European Commission is taking action against Malta over hunting and trapping.
In a statement, the Commission called on Malta to “correctly apply the Birds Directive, which requires a general system of protection for wild birds and allows derogations only subject to strict conditions.”
The Commission said that Malta has authorised derogations for the spring hunting of quail every year since 2011 and derogations for autumn live-capturing of song thrush and golden plover each year since 2012. “These derogations fall short systematically of the requirements set out in the legislation, related in particular to poor supervision of the conditions set out in the derogations, which results in other species than those targeted being affected.”
“Relying on insufficient or inaccurate information about the population of wild birds and the available alternatives, Malta also failed to fulfil the basic conditions for granting such derogations. Not least, the high numbers of wild birds illegally shot in Malta constitute a major and systemic failure to establish a general system of protection as required by Article 5 of the Birds Directive. Separately, Malta has also recently authorised finch trapping for research purposes, having authorised finch trapping for recreational purposes for several years, an action which was found to be non-compliant with the Birds Directive by the Court of Justice of the EU.”
Trappers were, earlier this year, allowed to trap protected songbirds as part of a study on their migration habits after a government decision on the matter was made. This has been a highly controversial issue.
The Commission said it considered 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 of the EU, by permitting trapping of finches in similar conditions as before this ruling, even if under a different regime. The Commission has therefore decided to send two letters of formal notice to Malta. Malta now has two months to remedy the situation, otherwise the Commission may decide to issue a reasoned opinion.”
The Maltese Government, in a statement, said that it has received the two Letters of Formal Notice sent by the European Commission regarding the research derogation to allow the trapping of finches in Malta, the enforcement of the general system of protection of wild birds and of derogations to allow trapping and hunting of wild birds in Malta.
“Whilst noting that replies will be provided within the stipulated timeframe, the Government remains committed to defend the interests and protect the rights of Maltese and Gozitan hunters and trappers, as these rights are protected in various other European Member States,” the government said in a statement.
The Government said that it is convinced that the derogations applied are in conformity with the European Union’s Birds Directive and “it is to be noted that a higher system of enforcement is applied locally beyond that demanded by the European Commission itself.”
With regard to the trapping of Golden Plover and Song Thrush, the Maltese Government said that it was the European Commission itself that requested amendments to the national legal framework in order to conform with the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union on the trapping of songbirds. “The Government also recalls that it was the Court of Justice itself that declared, in 2009, that in the case of Malta, there is no other solution to the hunting of pigeons and quail in Malta.”
In November 2019, the European Commission asked the Maltese authorities to further analyse the reference population of the two species of bird. “The Ornis Committee subsequently unanimously agreed that a research project on the reference population of Golden Plover and Song Thrush takes place.”
The Maltese Government said that it remains committed to continue discussing the matter with the European Commission in order to clarify the various divergences, whilst ensuring that the traditional hobby of hunters and trappers remains protected with full respect to the legislation in place and not accepting any abuse.
BirdLife Malta reacts
Commenting on the situation, BirdLife Malta said that all ongoing hunting and trapping derogations currently being applied in Malta are now the subject of infringement proceedings. “In the first step out of three which the European Union can take against any country for failing to abide to European legislation – in this case the European Birds Directive – the European Commission has issued two Letters of Formal Notice to Malta. The Government now has two months to reply to the Commission’s arguments and remedy the situation. Failure to do this would lead to the Commission issuing what is called a Reasoned Opinion, which would be a second warning against Malta. The third and final step would be Malta being taken to the European Court of Justice.”
During the press conference, BirdLife Malta Secretary General Saviour Balzan, CEO Mark Sultana and Head of Conservation Nicholas Barbara called on the Government to heed the EU’s warnings and immediately suspend the derogations. They insisted that the fact that the action by the European Commission on the new finch trapping derogation comes only a few weeks after the commencement of the season, “clearly shows that the EU is, rightly so, sceptical about this so-called scientific study and proves BirdLife Malta right in its earlier statements.”