The trapping season opened on 20 October, for Song Thrush and Golden Plover. Yet in June of this very same year, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) found Malta guilty of flouting European law when it allowed trapping of finch species to reopen in 2014.
You might be thinking: “Yes… but this season is only for Song Thrush and Golden Plover”. True… but the gaping holes in the government’s finch plan caused their case to crash land in court.
When it comes to Song Thrush and Golden Plover, those fatal flaws are still there. Here is the Idiots Guide to why this will propel Malta back into the European Court of Justice (ECJ), at (vast) taxpayers’ expense.
Trapping for Dummies 1: Trapping must be carried out under strict enforcement
When it came to Malta’s supposed ‘enforcement’ efforts, the basic message from the ECJ was, ‘we’re not buying it’. They noted that a measly 23% of trappers had been subject to individual checks, and accepted evidence from BirdLife Malta and CABS of frequent trapping in Natura 2000 sites.
This time around, the government is once again highly unlikely to convince the ECJ of its ability to regulate trapping. Since the season opened, CABS have reported an ‘explosion’ of illegal bird trapping and they have the evidence to prove it, having filmed and reported on dozens of trappers catching finches, trapping on unregistered sites and using illegal bird callers.
According to Axel Hirschfeld of CABS, illegalities are at an “all-time high for autumn”. Hirschfeld added, “(junior minister for animal rights) Camilleri has two options now. He can continue to close his eyes to the reality or meet his obligations and close the season.”
Trapping for Dummies 2: Trapping must be selective
Well, whaddya know, the Court spotted the fact that trapping in Malta is done with massive clap-nets, and is ‘non-selective’ (in other words, it captures not just target finches but other birds and fauna such as hedgehogs and reptiles). And guess what? Song Thrush and Golden Plover are caught using those same methods, despite the government’s fiddling with mesh size.
Trapping for Dummies 3: Only small numbers are allowed
The government claimed that only small, sustainable numbers of birds were caught. The ECJ saw straight through that one, ruling that the government’s claim that they allow ‘small numbers’ is not ‘substantiated by sound scientific evidence’.
Trapping for Dummies 4: No satisfactory solutions
To allow trapping, the government tried to argue that there were no other ‘satisfactory solutions’ to the practice … but the Court ruled that Malta had “failed to demonstrate that”.
Neither Ornis nor the government had not provided any ‘in-depth assessment of alternative solutions’. It seems unlikely that a government genius has managed to pull an adequate assessment out of thin air this time around.
In the light of this, Camilleri’s announcement that he was opening this year’s trapping season following “an agreement reached with the European Commission” was extraordinary.
Camilleri, himself a hunter, was unable to reveal exactly who was involved in this agreement, which is hardly surprising, given that the Commission doesn’t ‘agree deals’ but merely asks for justifications when it comes to derogations to the Birds Directive – which loops us handily back round to all the reasons why the government’s ‘justifications’ will fail.
And so the next stop on this particular avian journey is likely another European Court case for Malta – once again at the tax payers expense.