Clap Trap: Malta’s defence of finch trapping

‘Absurd and nonsensical talk or ideas’ – the definition of ‘clap trap’ which sums up Malta’s defence of trapping to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The court trashed every justification the government made for the derogation to allow trapping of wild finches to continue in Malta. Yet neither the government nor the opposition can quite bring themselves to declare trapping a relic of the past.


In a searing judgement, the ECJ found against the Maltese government on multiple counts including;

Strike One – They failed to “establish the absence of another satisfactory solution” because captive breeding of finches is, of course, perfectly possible without trapping. The ECJ stated, “the fact that that option requires Maltese bird fanciers to change their behaviour —instead of keeping in captivity the wild birds they caught, they will have to keep birds bred in captivity — does not prevent it from being regarded as a satisfactory solution.”

Strike Two – The government did not demonstrate that trapping involved ‘small numbers’ of birds. The judgement said, “the 2007 Raine study shows that, in Malta, trapping is so intensive that only a handful of each of the common finch species regularly breed on the islands, whereas they breed in high numbers in other areas of the Mediterranean… Breeding populations in Malta … of Serin, Greenfinch and Linnet, only include, at most, one to five pairs”.

Strike Three– The government did not provide ‘strictly supervised conditions’. The ECJ said, “Two pillars of the enforcement regime — self-reporting by SMS and on-the-spot checks by police — contain systemic flaws… First the SMS tracking system is based on self-reporting … and there is a high risk that it may be abused. The highly questionable number of captured birds reported by SMS in … 2014 well illustrates that risk. Second, … Malta has not demonstrated that … on-the-spot checks ensure sufficiently strict supervision”.

The ECJ noted that NGO reports on the 2014 trapping season showed the “inadequacy of that supervision” including the use of illegal bird callers and widespread trapping inside protected Natura 2000 sites.

Big bill

Reacting to the Court’s judgment, the European Commission said it confirmed the Commission’s position that there is no justification for finch trapping in Malta.

“Finches are strictly protected under the EU Birds Directive. Malta had to end finch trapping by the end of 2008 after a transition period it had negotiated when acceding to the EU had expired. The Commission now expects Malta to fully respect the Court’s judgement and to stop this practice once and for all,” the Commission said in a statement.

But here’s the rub. Despite the damning, knock-out verdict, and the huge tab that Maltese taxpayers will now have to pay to cover the government’s court costs; and despite the obvious benefit to wildlife of stopping this illegal and destructive behaviour, both major political Parties are still pretending that trapping can make a comeback and pointing the finger at the other Party for finch trapping’s inevitable demise.

Trapping site in Gozo .

Trapping site in Gozo . Photo: Birdlife Malta

Race to the bottom

The Labour Party said: “Trappers knew that it was only the PL who did all it could to defend their tradition” and predictably shifted the blame on “lies” by former PN Leader Simon Busuttil.

The Labour Party’s position is self-explanatory – they designed a derogation for political gain that was based on hot air rather than science. The result was entirely predictable and in line with warnings by environmental NGOs over the years.

Yet the Nationalist Party is still throwing all its finch eggs into the same broken basket and squandering the perfect opportunity to do what is right; namely, come out in favour of the ECJ’s decision. The Nationalist Party said trappers will not be able to practice their hobby “because of bad government decisions”. This is false. EU law is clear on trapping and the Court has decided.

The PN appealed for “a serious dialogue with the commission and with trappers to find … how trapping could be done in a sustainable way which would not breach the Bird’s Directive”. And with that sentence the Party took the country back to square one.

It is these false promises based on loose interpretations of the law that landed Malta in this situation. Taxpayers’ money has been wasted trying to defend the indefensible. Trappers, as well as citizens, have been misled. Enough is enough.


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