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Bird trapping on Malta

A tradition in transition

Illegally caught Goldfinches and LinnetsIllegally caught Goldfinches and LinnetsBird trapping is a form of national hobby on Malta and Gozo. In contrast to most of the other trapping areas in the Mediterranean however, the song birds caught do not end up in the pot but are kept as cage birds in dark garages of supposed ‘bird lovers’. Bird trappers also make a successful business out of the capture and sale of wild caught birds, and often live birds from other countries are smuggled into Malta for use as decoy birds for trapping.

Until Malta’s accession to the EU in 2004, bird trapping was permitted as a normal activity. Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Hawfinch, Serin and Linnet were legally trapped using ground horizontal ‘clap nets’.

Despite accession of Malta to the European Union in 2004 Maltese politicians were able to negotiate a generous transition period. With Brussels’ consent the trapping of 7 finch species was permitted until 2008. During the interim period the future cage bird requirement would be met by a captive breeding programme which was to be introduced.

Since Autumn 2014 finch trapping has once again been permitted by recommendation of the Ornis Committee, a Maltese consultation body. This is against the recommendations of the European Commission who immediately gave Malta a formal warning, despite this the Maltese Government opened the finch trapping season in 2014.

Many trappers specialised in catching rare species such as the Ortolan Bunting.Many trappers specialised in catching rare species such as the Ortolan Bunting. In 2014 the finch trapping season ran from October to December and allowed a quota of 12,000 linnets, 800 goldfinch, 4,500 greenfinch, 2,350 siskins, 500 hawfinch, 5,000 chaffinch and 2,350 siskins. 4,168 finch trapping licenses were issued and each trapper was allowed a bag limit of 10 finches per season, each bird having to be reported by sms and ringed with a ‘single use’ ring. Despite the declaration that the season was to be ‘regulated and restricted’ it was reported the only ¼ of finch trappers were subject to spot checks by police or officials. Also it was discovered that the official rings for tagging caught birds could easily be tampered with and removed.

Infringement procedures have been launched by EC against Malta, since there is no scientific justification for finch trapping. If Malta opens the finch trapping season again in Autumn 2015 Malta may be taken to the European Court of Justice.

In addition to finches, song thrush and golden plover are permitted to be trapped in Autumn. Spring trapping is not allowed for any species. Many other protected birds are illegally trapped each year. Popular species to trap are Short Toed Lark (which breed on Malta), waders of all variety, pipits, Ortolan Bunting, Quail (trapping of which was previously allowed), Lapwing and Turtle Dove (previously allowed). The trapping sites require large stretches of land to be flattened and cleared of vegetation using petrol, fire and chemicals. Often protected landscapes are destroyed and with it, important flora and fauna. The landscape takes decades to recover and the scars of trapping sites abandoned years ago still are visible today. Malta as a country has an area of only 316 km2, suffers from overdevelopment and is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, so the fact that these last few areas of countryside are being devastated is even more tragic.