A total of 26,850 birds can be captured live over two months, according to the proposal for an autumn trapping season for seven species of finches, Times of Malta can reveal.

Trappers would be allowed to capture 5,000 chaffinch, 12,000 linnet, 800 goldfinch, 4,500 greenfinch, 500 hawfinch, 2,350 serin and 1,700 siskin species, assuming the numbers are respected and no illegalities occur.

The government’s advisory body on hunting, the Ornis Committee, on Tuesday recommended applying an exemption from EU laws to open a trapping season during the peak migration period for finches.

The recommendation was based on an analysis by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit, which amended a set of proposals submitted by the hunters’ federation, FKNK, last August.

The unit falls under the Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights, Roderick Galdes.

All species are protected under the Birds Directive, which guarantees protected status to wild finches and prohibits songbird trapping due to the activity’s ability to decimate wild populations.

The proposed enforcement of regulations would be based on a similar system to that used for spring hunting: spot checks, SMS reporting of finches caught and listing the number of captured birds on the carnet de chasse.

Finch trapping has not been practised in Malta since 2009 when it was barred by EU regulations, although a limited trapping season for song thrush and golden plover was granted in 2012.

Even under the limited conditions, illegalities were already hard to contain and Malta received two formal warnings from the European Commission.

The government insists the legal framework and supervision regime were “completely revamped” since.

The Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) said that an aerial survey in March showed several hundred sites across Malta and Gozo with vegetation cleared for trapping, even though the practice was supposed to be limited and supervised.

In a joint statement with Birdlife Malta, the organisation said the countryside was cluttered with hundreds of illegal clap net installations. They criticised the lack of police presence and the authorities’ failure to properly enforce the law to curb abuse, saying trappers were not fearing prosecution.

“CABS reported more than 30 cases from just last March and April when no finch trapping was supposed to be going on.

“Three of them were in protected areas. The police were not proactively monitoring trapping but reacting to our calls. This was a time when it was easy to catch abusers because the trapping of finches was banned,” said Axel Hirschfeld, press and operations officer for CABS.

He said the derogation Malta would need to allow an autumn trapping season would be on two counts: the species to be targeted and the methodology used because the use of clap nets was banned by EU law.

Mr Hirschfeld announced that CABS would be organising a team of volunteers to monitor the finch trapping season and record illegalities.

Birdlife Malta also slammed the Ornis proposal, saying it would set bird conservation in Malta back five years.

“There is just no valid reason to take songbirds from the wild. Finches readily breed in captivity, so people are still able to keep caged birds perfectly legally. It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Birdlife Malta’s conservation manager Nicholas Barbara.

The organisation said it was an “environmentally indefensible practice” and the move to reintroduce finch trapping was solely meant to “placate the trapping lobby”.

At the Ornis Committee meeting, the proposal to re-legalise finch trapping was passed thanks to the FKNK, Mepa and the three government-appointed representatives voting in favour. Birdlife was the only organisation to vote against the proposal.

The government told Times of Malta it would decide and announce its decision on the proposal in due course.

“Before this decision is announced, it is premature to speculate on the principle, or the exact parameters of potential season and the controls that may be put into place to ensure compliance with the Birds Directive,” Mr Galdes said.