BirdLife Malta has collected evidence from finch trapping sites showing "rampant abuse of a smokescreen scientific research derogation" that it will be handing over to the European Court of Justice. 

The controversial practice of trapping protected finches using cages and nets was effectively banned by the European Court of Justice in 2018.

But in 2020, the government went ahead and opened the season anyway, claiming it was for a scientific study to ring birds and re-release them.

For some years now trappers have been participating in this catch-and-release ‘study’. 

Activists have slammed the so-called research, with the Committee Against Bird Slaughter calling it "poaching under the cover of pseudo-science".

In 2021, Brussels announced it was taking Malta to the European Court for violating the ban on bird trapping.  

A hearing is set for Thursday.

BirdLife on Monday said it has now filed a report, accompanied by video evidence - collected between October and December of last year - with the ECJ.

The NGO said that with over 2,600 registered trapping sites for finches last autumn, fieldwork carried out by its members has 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.

A spokesperson for the eNGO told Times of Malta BirdLife cannot as yet divulge more information about its report, including how many sites were operating illegally. 

Meanwhile, sites operating legally were also observed abusing the derogation conditions, with finches caught and kept in all cases.

BirdLife Malta's Nicholas Barbara estimated a minimum of 51,400 finches have been trapped from permitted sites and taken into captivity without being released.

"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," the Head of Conservation noted.

BirdLife claims that even if a bird caught by a trapper was released, the likelihood that this same bird would be caught again in another trapping site is high.

Last Autumn, "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", BirdLife said on Monday.

"This shows that this derogation is not only a scam and a smokescreen for illegal trapping, but also an unjustified killing that has failed to bring about any noteworthy scientific data."

Additionally, this derogation fuelled the wildlife trade of finches over the past years, with thousands of birds smuggled into Malta from Sicily for them to be used as live decoys, BirdLife added. 

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