Despite trapping at this time of year being illegal, during the past days various active illegal trapping sites were observed around the Maltese Islands by BirdLife Malta and the general public. Particularly over the weekend, several members of the public who were out enjoying the countryside reported coming across these sites which were all reported to the police.
One incident in particular involved BirdLife Malta’s youth group, Falko, on Sunday the 19th of March. The group, whose members were leading a hike in Gozo, were faced with a trapper who covered his face and threatened to hurl a stone at them after they stumbled upon an illegally active finch trapping site at Sanap Cliffs – a Natura 2000 site in Munxar. This incident was filmed and footage was sent to the police.
Sunday, which was also a public holiday in Malta, was recorded as being a good migration day for Linnets – one of seven finch species which are illegally targeted during this period of peak finch spring migration. Although the trapping season is closed and trapping is not permitted in spring, a lot of sites along the coast are still actively targeting finches during this period.
According to a Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) press release issued yesterday, the Maltese coastline is at the moment paved with hundreds of illegal clap nets to catch finches and other songbirds. An aerial survey from last week carried out by CABS revealed a record number of 133 active trapping sites on one single morning, with Gozo having the greatest concentration of trapping sites. CABS has stated that this is twice as many compared to last year and has also announced that it will send a complaint against Malta to the European Commission for “the de facto tolerance of illegal bird trapping in spring”.
BirdLife Malta states that this situation is the result of poor enforcement especially on the island of Gozo which to this day still lacks the presence of a branch of the Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) police unit.
Also on Sunday, BirdLife Malta was alerted of illegal trapping at Ħal Għargħur, Bengħajsa, Qrendi, Munxar Point at St Thomas Bay and Mtaħleb, yet only one Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) police vehicle was dispatched to react to these illegalities. Members of the public calling our emergency number have also complained of facing trappers who aggressively asked them to leave public footpaths, such as the case in Ta’ Sanap, Gozo.
It is clear that opening the finch trapping season in autumn – over which Malta has already been referred to the European Court of Justice – has led to an increase in the amount of illegal spring trapping. Due to the autumn trapping derogation, there is a demand for decoy finches to the point that trappers are ready to risk disobeying the law to catch even more birds in spring.
With all of this taking place, the authorities are in no position to enforce the law with the ridiculous situation where only one police car is deployed on the island because police forces are stretched due to other matters. This leads us to question whether the Government has the will to enforce or if in reality it is turning a blind eye to illegal trapping during the closed season.
Thus, BirdLife Malta reiterates the need of setting up a Wildlife Crime Unit which during peak migration periods would be able to respond unconditionally to illegal hunting and trapping reports irrispective of what other duties the police force may have.