This year’s changes to trapping season based on trappers’ demands, not facts

October 24, 2019 4:12 pm

This year’s trapping season which opened last Sunday has introduced a number of changes to the derogation, in what BirdLife Malta deems were a result of non-factual concerns voiced by trappers.

Golden Plover (Photo by Denis Cachia)

Main changes include an extension of ten days to the trapping season, particularly targeting Golden Plover, and a decrease in mesh size of nets used for Song Thrush. Trapping for both these species is still under Infringement Proceedings initiated by the European Commission (EC) in 2011.

Changes to the trapping legislation were initially presented at Ornis Committee meetings after it resulted that the Commission earlier this year had voiced a number of concerns with Maltese authorities over the manner the derogation was implemented in 2018.

Song Thrush (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

Earlier in May 2019, BirdLife Malta presented its results from fieldwork carried out during the trapping season of 2018 to the EC’s Directorate-General for the Environment, which showed that 82.8% of surveyed trapping sites in 2018 were illegally targeting finches or other species not permitted by the derogation. 57.5% of surveyed trapping sites found to be active were also operating illegally in areas unauthorised by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU). The last exercise was possible by comparing aerial photographs taken during the season, with locations published by WBRU.

Some of the measures that WBRU planned to address included a reduction in the maximum area for a trapping site targeting Song Thrush, and a reduction by 41 days dedicated to trapping Song Thrush. However, in subsequent meetings WBRU withdrew such proposals without any reasoning, a clear indication that discussions behind closed doors between the Government and the trapping lobby had taken place, with the Government giving in to the lobby’s pressure. Proposals that were finally forwarded and voted upon by Ornis Committee represented what the trapping lobby had insisted upon, and was not based on any conservation or scientific facts.

Overall the season has not seen any kind of reduction in trapping effort, rather this was increased.

Where previous trapping seasons were limited to the periods October to December, this year’s amendment to law has allowed the trapping season to be extended to the 10th of January. No particular studies indicating why such an extension was needed were presented to Ornis Committee, which outvoted BirdLife Malta in recommending the go-ahead to such a new measure.

Aerial view of a trapping site (Photo by BirdLife Malta)
Clap net used for trapping (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

The other major change has included a reduction in mesh size from 45mm x 45mm of the nets used in the 2018 season, to a 35mm x 35mm mesh that is being permitted to be used for Song Thrush. The change was enacted as a result of ‘complaints’ to WBRU, with Federation for Hunting & Conservation (FKNK) and hunting experts at Ornis Committee claiming that nets were resulting in more than 50% of ensnared thrushes escaping. No scientific evidence was ever made public or submitted to the Ornis Committee documenting the missed catches by trappers.

Ironically data collected by WBRU for the trapping season of 2018, showed 2018 as being the season with the most trapped Song Thrush recorded in recent years. Such data, apart from the fact that it is grossly under-represented, discredits claims that nets with a 45mm x 45mm mesh size were unsuitable last year.

Decoy used for finch trapping, which is now illegal (Photo by Karen Varnham)

Opening of season risks another ECJ referral

BirdLife Malta Conservation Manager Nicholas Barbara said: “With a trapping season in 2018 already having resulted in a good percentage of trapping sites operating illegally, the changes introduced this year – namely an extension to the days trappers are allowed to operate, and to make matters worse with the possibility of using nets with a finer mesh – will only add to an overall increased catch effort on Song Thrush, Golden Plover as well as allowing a greater possibility for trappers to illegally net finches, especially the larger species such as Hawfinch”.

Instead of ensuring stricter control, the measures enacted this year are only targeted to allow more trapping. Various issues remain unaddressed including the indiscriminate use of bird callers, and the insufficient coverage by police on Gozo and Malta to execute spot checks. A recommendation for the setting up of a Wildlife Crime Unit filed with the Hon. Clint Camilleri remains unacted upon.

BirdLife Malta reiterates its position that the trapping derogation remains unsustainable and calls on the Maltese Government to not risk Malta being taken back to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) just to appease a lobby which insists in opening trapping seasons irrespective of repercussions. Just last Friday, in a statement FKNK declared it will keep working with the Government to get back finch trapping and spring hunting of Turtle Dove. Such statements show nothing but an egoistic approach to the use of our countryside and the protection of wild birds.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.