“Finch trapping proposal sounds like a way to bypass law” – Church Commission

Song Bird Association Malta

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The Interdiocesan Environment Commission stated that the research derogation that would allow wild finch trapping sounds like a way to get around European law on trapping.

 The Wild Birds’ Regulation Unit’s (WBRU) under the direction of the Ministry of Gozo, is to apply a research derogation to determine that the numbers of 7 finch species captured in Malta are less than 1% of the bird populations’ annual mortality. The Committee described this derogation as hastily structured and that it seems like a way to reopen finch trapping season.

The WBRU is proposing to allow trappers to catch wild finches in an attempt to encounter finches wearing lightweight metal identification rings fitted by international research groups for the scientific study of wild birds (bird ringing) to find out their origin. However, it is unclear how ringing control data would address the WBRU’s research question, as the “small numbers” rule they are referring to requires an assessment of species annual survivability.

The Committee is saying that such a project will most likely draw  the attention of the European Comission (EC) which has already warned Malta about the matter twice. This will continue to tarnish Malta’s reputation. It is also unfair that a project created with trappers in mind is not thought out well enough to avoid their frustrations.

The Committee went on to point out flaws in the proposal. Firstly, it does not declare a methodology, which is an essential characteristic of all scientific research. Furthermore, truly scientific research should involve that trappers catch finches, ring them, and let them go, to provide valuable information on where the birds go. However, the proposal is that trappers can freely catch finches, take note of any rings they may be wearing, and let them go. However, the percentage of ringing controls for small bird species is typically less than 0.1%; this means that for every 1000 wild birds caught, only 1 is likely to be carrying a ring.

It went on to point out that there can be abuses. This is because the proposed regulations stated that the birds in question are those caught in the 2016-17 season, and that have rings with the code RI6U. Trappers are saying that few of these birds are still alive. One must keep in mind that similar rings can be bought for cheap online, and illegal importation of birds has increased not decreased. The project also allows trappers to use precorded bird calls, which are illegal for hunting and trapping.

The Commission concluded by stating that although it agrees that trappers can be involved in scientific research, it does not agree with the proposal being put forward. This is because it has the potential to smear Malta’s name in front of the EC and darken the shadow on the hobby. Therefore, it appeals for more rigorous scientific research, ensuring the people taking part know what to do, a serious guarantee that there will be no abuse, and that such a project can be in place for multiple years due to its success.

Finch trapping is illegal under the EU Birds’ Directive since finches are protected species, and it is unnecessary for the practice of bird breeding since finches can be successfully bred in captivity (one reason for Malta having been slammed by the EU for the 2014-2015 trapping season in the C-557/15 judgment).