The European Court of Justice has ruled that Malta was guilty of infringing the European Birds Directive when it allowed bird trapping to resume in 2014, stating that by allowing the trapping of seven species of finches, Malta has failed to fulfill its obligations under EU law.

Delivered by the European Court of Justice as the final stage of the infringement case by the European Commission against Malta (as case C-557/15 'European Commission vs Republic of Malta'), the verdict is clear and unequivocal, leaving no room for interpretation. BirdLife Malta has insisted that in the light of this judgement, its government should never open the trapping season for finches again and should repeal the relevant framework law with immediate effect.

Now the Maltese government faces the delicate task of enforcing the European Court's decision, BirdLife Malta is ready to assist in implementing the verdict, providing advice based on scientific facts, conservation values and full interpretation of the EU Birds Directive.

The verdict, delivered in Luxembourg, found Malta guilty on four main counts and defeated all arguments presented by the Maltese government.

With this decision, the negative impacts of the practice of trapping should be eliminated, with the verdict effectively translating into a number of benefits for nature. The first main positive impact will be that large swathes of land in the Maltese Islands which in the past years were authorised for trapping by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU), should become inactive, allowing hectares of cleared vegetation to recover.

The majority of these trapping sites are on public land situated in Natura 2000 sites, which should be given special importance due to their ecological importance. Huge swathes of garigue (a kind of Mediterranean scrubland) in these sites have been destroyed over the past years, to make way for nets set up for trapping purposes. The current estimate of the area of trapping sites cleared every year is equivalent to that of 43 football pitches. Once the trapping season is permanently closed, police should also find it easier to enforce the law and stop those who occupy unregistered land to trap.

Another positive impact of the outcome of the European Court of Justice verdict will be on other wildlife that end up in the thousands of trapping nets which are left in the countryside, besides the birds themselves. With the end of trapping, nets will cease to be left unattended, resulting in a death trap to other animals, including different bird species, hedgehogs and reptiles.

Finch trapping

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Furthermore, the decision will also have an impact on the illegal trade of finches to be used as live decoys to attract other finches during the open season. All this will be brought to an end, since the demand for caged finches will cease to exist. Most of these consignments consisted of finches which were being illegally trapped in Italy and Sicily, and smuggled every autumn into Malta to be sold in markets.

The verdict, which cannot be appealed, is binding and Malta is obliged to abide by its conclusions. Although Malta was ordered to pay all the court expenses related to the case, it will not incur any further fines if it abides by the ruling.

BirdLife Malta has now called on Malta to honour the ECJ verdict and repeal framework laws which conflict with the principles of the EU's Birds Directive. The organisation also reiterated that this verdict should be considered as a clear and unequivocal case that the European Commission stands strong in the face of unsustainable and damaging environmental practices like trapping, which were permitted for political expediency against scientific and legal advice from Malta's own Attorney General. 

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