Conservation NGO BirdLife Malta has filed a judicial protest against the Environment and Gozo ministries as well as the Environment and Resources Authority and the Wild Birds Regulation Unit, which it is holding responsible for authorising a law that allows for illegal finch trapping under the guise of research.
The law, which was repealed only to be quietly reinstated overnight a few days afterwards, was not subjected to public consultation as is required by Malta’s Environment Protection Act, the NGO said in a press statement.
The EU Commission has maintained a long-running battle against the Maltese government’s insistence on accommodating the hunting and trapping lobby despite a 2018 ruling in the European Courts of Justice which pointedly declared that trapping should not be allowed under the EU Birds Directive.
In light of this, BirdLife announced its judicial protest, arguing that the finch trapping ‘research’ derogation which was used to circumvent the ruling was issued just a few hours before the expected start of the trapping season on 20 October “without the mandatory four-week consultation”.
“Nobody is above the law. Both the Environment Minister and the Gozo Minister need to respect the environment laws to the full and we strongly believe that they have breached the Environment Protection Act,” BirdLife CEO Mark Sultana said.
“We are talking about a country-wide activity on both private and public land, even within Natura 2000 sites, to the detriment of the rest of the Maltese and Gozitan citizens,” he added.
Last week, The Shift spoke to conservation anthropologist and former chair of the Ornis committee Mark Anthony Falzon about the government’s decision to extend the derogation. Falzon had described the decision as a “lazy, cynical and quite frankly ludicrous route”.
In its press statement announcing the judicial protest, BirdLife also argued that “the current situation with thousands of trapping sites operating and catching finches is resulting in the killing of thousands of finches which are ending up permanently caged under the excuse of ‘research’”.
BirdLife and the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) have been working on overtime since the ‘research’ season started, with the organisations stating that their actions have so far resulted in “the confiscation of over 500 finches by police units since the start of the season”.
In a separate statement, CABS announced that its reports had led to the convictions of two poachers convicted for illegal trapping during the closed season.
“Yesterday, the law court in Valletta delivered the sentences against two men who have been filmed by CABS illegally trapping finches close to Tal-Merħla on the west coast of Malta in Spring 2019,” CABS’ statement reads.
“Both men admitted to the charges and were fined €1,500 each. The court also ordered the revocation of their trapping licences for two years,” the statement adds.
CABS expects at least 32 additional trappers to be taken to court for offences the organisation had documented in 2020 and 2021. In spite of a relatively positive streak of action, CABS warned that “frequent reshuffles and transfers within the police may harm the Environment Protection Unit in proportionately tackling these widespread cases of wildlife crime”.
While the organisation praised the unit’s efforts, it described the government as being “determined to appease poachers at all costs to ensure their votes in the upcoming election”.
“We understand that the outstanding track records of some particular EPU officers are a thorn in the flesh of the poaching community who use their political sway to prevent them from fullfilling their duties.” CABS Press Officer Axel Hirschfeld stated.
“This is totally unacceptable,” Hirschfeld added.
The Shift has also reached out to spokespersons of Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia as well as Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri for comment, however they have not yet replied.
Camilleri in particular had unilaterally taken the decision to reinstate the derogation after the Ornis committee, which is supposed to take decisions related to the hunting seasons, passed the buck onto the minister.