Evidence from finch trapping sites shows rampant abuse of smokescreen ‘scientific research’ derogation

March 4, 2024 9:57 am

As the European Court of Justice (ECJ) prepares for this week’s (Thursday 7th March) hearing on the smokescreen finch ‘research’ derogation in “Case C-23/23 European Commission v Republic of Malta”, BirdLife Malta has submitted a report on its findings and what it experienced during the past finch trapping derogation from October to December 2023.

BirdLife Malta contributes to infringement case to be heard this Thursday at the European Court of Justice

Finch used as live decoy during the trapping season (Photo by Nicholas Barbara)

During this period BirdLife Malta systematically observed a number of trapping sites in order to understand better the impacts of this trapping derogation masked as a ‘scientific research’ exercise.

With over 2,600 registered trapping sites for finches last autumn, fieldwork carried out by BirdLife Malta revealed that even a greater number of trapping sites were operating illegally, with some becoming registered with the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) after reports were filed with police. Legally registered finch trapping sites were also observed abusing the derogation conditions, with finches caught and kept in all cases.  

A finch trapping site (Photo by Nicholas Barbara)

BirdLife Malta Head of Conservation Nicholas Barbara stated: “With a simple and highly conservative extrapolation of what we have seen, we calculate that a minimum of 51,400 finches have been trapped from permitted sites and taken into captivity during the past season, instead of being released. This number comes out if we assume that at least one finch landed on each trapping site per day, if only 30 days of the 61-day-long season were good for trapping. From what we witnessed, trappers managed to catch around 65% of the birds that landed on a trapping site, with the remainder managing to escape. In all cases of caught birds however, these were never released. This is a far cry from any scientific research activity which the derogation is supposedly aimed for”. We have released this video that evidences these findings.

The report also states that even if a bird caught by a trapper during this trapping derogation was theoretically released, the likelihood that this bird is caught again in another trapping site was still high considering the stress on migration and negative impact that over 2,600 active finch trapping sites caused. During the last season, trappers only managed to report 30 birds with fitted rings from abroad, in the process decimating an estimated minimum of 51,400 birds from the wild. This shows how this derogation not only is a scam and a smokescreen for illegal trapping, but it is also an unjustified killing which has failed to bring about any noteworthy scientific data.

Map prepared by BirdLife Malta which shows the extent of trapping sites across Malta and Gozo in 2023. Click on the map to access the online version

BirdLife Malta also pointed out how this derogation has also fuelled wildlife trade of finches over the past years, with thousands of such birds smuggled into Malta from Sicily for them to be used as live decoys. Footage recently aired on local media shows the horrendous misery and cruelty that these finches endure when they are kept in small cages or are tied onto a trapping site so that they flap around in order to attract migrating finches to eventually find their same sad fate. Watch the footage below.

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana said: “We are confident that the European Commission (EC) and the European Court of Justice will put an end to this trapping derogation once and for all. Apart from it being an embarrassment to science, the trapping of finches – which are protected across Europe – goes against what was agreed in Malta’s Accession Treaty to the European Union (EU), along with going against the European Birds Directive and against the landmark 2018 ECJ judgement that had found Malta guilty of infringing European law when it allowed finch trapping to reopen.”

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.

Footage aired recently on local media showing the misery and cruelty these birds have to endure when being used as live decoys, kept in small cages or with their legs tied (Footage by ONE TV)
A sample from the video evidence included in BirdLife Malta’s report showing trappers keeping finches they trapped, rather than releasing them (Footage by BirdLife Malta, editing by Murat Gelir)