BirdLife Malta initiates legal action as finch trapping Framework Law enacted without public consultation

November 5, 2021 11:00 am

BirdLife Malta has today filed a Judicial Protest against the Minister for Gozo, the Minister for the Environment, the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) and the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) demanding Malta’s law courts to revoke the new framework law allowing over 2,500 trappers to practise illegal finch trapping under the guise of a scientific ‘research’ project, arguing that the enactment can happen only after a period of public consultation.

Finches confiscated during a recent operation against illegal trapping (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

The Protest, filed by Dr. Claire Bonello on behalf of BirdLife Malta, blames Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri of circumventing the requirements set by Malta’s Environment Protection Act which demand such regulations are subject to a public consultation exercise before being published. The Framework Law allowing the finch trapping ‘research’ derogation (L.N. 394 of 2021) was issued a few hours before the opening of the season on the 20th of October, without the mandatory four-week public consultation exercise stipulated by law.

During its last meeting, the ORNIS Committee had passed a motion refraining from making a recommendation on the season, due to ongoing infringement proceedings by the European Union (EU). Framework laws set the various parameters within which trapping or hunting seasons can be opened. The ‘research’ derogation framework law was issued afresh less than a week after last year’s regulations were repealed on the 14th of October.

These included an overnight transformation of over 2,500 trappers into specially licensed ‘researchers’, able to operate across an equal number of trapping sites across Malta and Gozo. Such authorised trapping sites span across private and third-party land, including government-owned sites and protected areas such as Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas under the Natura 2000 network.

European Commission must escalate Infringement Procedure against Malta

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana stated: “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 by enacting a law without a public consultation period. 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. To add insult to injury, the citizens were not given the opportunity to be consulted even if the law demands this.”

Authorised trapping sites in 2021 include 3,000 ‘research stations’ situated across private, third-party and government-owned land, including Natura 2000 sites

This year’s autumn trapping season is Malta’s second attempt at justifying trapping of finches for ‘research’ purposes, after last year’s season elicited the opening of an infringement procedure by the European Commission (EC) in December 2020. The Wild Birds Regulation Unit failed to justify the ‘research’ project to the European Union on several occasions, with the European Commission having no other option but to issue a second warning on the practice last June.

Mark Sultana also stated: “Government has failed to justify the ‘research’ excuse of finch trapping to the EC. When the infringement process intensified, rather than seeing the obvious and ending this charade, the Government insisted to continue challenging the Commission. This derogation goes against the European Birds Directive, the EU’s Acquis Communautaire which Malta signed when it joined the EU, and even the European Court of Justice’s ruling of 2018 which found Malta guilty of opening finch trapping seasons in previous years.”

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’. Over the past weeks, we have reported to police various illegal activities – from the illegal catching of finches to their trade. Our actions and those of the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) have so far resulted in the confiscation of over 500 finches by police units since the start of the season.

BirdLife Malta has relayed its position to the European Commission over the past weeks, demanding a quick and effective referral to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Government’s actions in enacting legislation without the mandatory public consultation process, and its insistence in continuing to mock scientific research with the killing of thousands of protected birds, is a clear sign that the EU should step in and regulate Malta’s conformity to the European Birds Directive once again at the ECJ.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.

This year’s finch ‘research’ trapping derogation was opened without public consultation, as stipulated by law. BirdLife Malta has launched legal action against the Government