Birdlife Malta – Nothing changes…except that the trapping season opens

More hunting illegalities with total of known killed protected birds reaching 48 as this year’s trapping season opens once again in the face of EU legal action

Today marks the opening of the bird trapping season for 2016 which the Government has opened once again in the face of EU legal action being pursued by the European Commission against Malta at the European Court of Justice. At the same time this year’s autumn hunting season continues to bear its brunt on birds migrating over Malta as more hunting illegalities are being reported.Since October 13th, when BirdLife Malta held its Valletta press conference outlining the illegalities observed since the start of this year’s autumn hunting season, BirdLife Malta became aware of at least another 14 protected birds that were shot at, four of which had to be euthanised due to their injuries. The rest, except for one which luckily survived its injuries, were killed in the field. This last week’s full list includes:

  • A shot Common Kestrel in Ħaż-Żebbuġ (16th October) which had to be euthanised by the vet
  • A shot Common Kestrel retrieved from Victoria Police Station in Gozo (16th October), also euthanised by the vet
  • A Yellow-legged Gull in Mellieħa (16th October) which also had to be euthanised due to its injuries
  • Up to nine Barn Swallows (17th October) shot down in a field and not retrieved at Santa Katarina valley, limits of Rabat
  • A Scopoli’s Shearwater possibly shot at sea and recovered at Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq (18th October) also euthanised by the vet
  • A Eurasian Hobby targeted but luckily not killed (19th October) at Santa Katarina, limits of Rabat

Together with these, another three birds shot down were collected from the Government since the end of September:

  • A Common Kestrel found injured in Bengħajsa, limits of Birżebbuġa (30th September) collected by WBRU officers and had to be euthanised
  • A Honey Buzzard recovered by ALE from the Animal Welfare Department premises (1st October) which also had to be euthanised
  • A juvenile Night Heron handed over by ALE (12th October) also had to be euthanised by the vet due to shotgun injuriesApart from these, during the daily monitoring being done by BirdLife Malta for illegalities in Malta’s countryside, countless electronic lures of huntable species were also observed during the same period in Imtaħleb and Santa Katarina.

These latest illegalities bring up the total of known shot and killed protected birds to 48 – truly a shameful start to this year’s season. It is even more shameful that the Government does not seem to take any notice or care about this situation. This in light of this week’s declaration by a spokesperson for the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights as reported in the media that there is no justification to stop the season (click on link below).

As regards trapping which is banned by the European Birds’ Directive, BirdLife Malta remains concerned about the validity of the two derogations being currently applied. The trapping season, which will remain open till 31st December, has been opened thanks to the application of two derogations – one for the trapping of seven finch species (Linnets, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Hawfinch, Serin, Chaffinch and Siskin) and the other for the trapping of Golden Plover and Song Thrush.

The Government has decided to open the season despite the fact that Malta is facing legal action by the European Commission over one of these two derogations, that for the trapping of the seven species of finch.

When Malta joined the EU in 2004, a ban on finch trapping was one of the conditions of the accession treaty. The Government agreed to gradually phase out trapping for finches over a five year period. However, in 2014 the practice was reintroduced with the Government going backwards on the phasing out period negotiated with the EU. Despite a series of warnings the Maltese Government opened yet another finch trapping season in 2015 and this led the European Commission to announce in September 2015 that it will be taking Malta to the European Court of Justice for allowing finch trapping against EU law. The Court is still evaluating the case but now that the Government has once again ignored this legal challenge and persisted in opening even this year’s finch trapping season, it is bound to deliver its verdict.

Up to now, during the season, each trapper may catch up to 10 finches and a maximum of six birds between Song Thrush and/or Golden Plover. Each finch trapped must be marked by placing a specific plastic ring (issued by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit, WBRU) around its leg and each trapping site needs to be registered with the WBRU and should not be located on protected sites and habitats. The season carries quotas for each species and if on a national scale any of these numbers are reached, the season for that particular species is declared

closed. Trapping is permitted every day from two hours before sunrise until two hours after sunset (trapping is not allowed during the night).

It is illegal to trap any other bird other than these during the season and it is also illegal to use electronic callers/ tape lures, to have more than 10 live birds used as lures on a site, to operate the nets automatically by any means (nets must always be operated manually, by the trapper) and to have more than two pairs of nets in use at one time.

All trapping sites legally registered to operate are authorised by the WBRU and BirdLife Malta has over the years requested several times the location of sites but this data was not shared quoting data protection and privacy issues. As WBRU kept refusing to share this data, BirdLife Malta launched an official complaint to the Commissioner for Data Protection who was asked to intervene and who after investigating the case concluded that BirdLife Malta had the right to request this information but the task would prove too laborious for WBRU to execute. Now, just last week, BirdLife Malta has challenged the Commissioner’s decision appealing the decision in the light of the fact that the data, irrespective of the effort required, can and should be made publicly available. It is in the public’s interest to know which areas are being used for trapping in order to help curtail abuse.

 A trapping site in Gozo (Photo © BirdLife Malta)

A trapping site in Gozo (Photo © BirdLife Malta)

As it did when the hunting season opened at the beginning of last month, BirdLife Malta reiterates its call on the authorities, in particular the Malta Police Force and its Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) unit to ensure that environmental law enforcement remains a priority and to take the necessary actions against those who are caught breaking regulations. BirdLife Malta reminds the Government that it is obliged to ensure strict enforcement of the derogation with a total of seven police patrolling out in the countryside per 1,000 licences.

We also urge the public to immediately report any illegality they may witness in order for immediate action to be taken. Any illegal activity should be reported immediately to the Police on 119, and then to BirdLife Malta on 2134 7645/6 or on emergency (out of office hours) number 7925 5697.

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