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Malta's Bird Directive raised in the European Parliament

A question was raised on 2 December 2003 in the European Parliament by Chris Davies, MEP (ELDR-UK), on the implementation of the Birds Directive in Malta.

The Accession Treaty signed by Malta on 16 April 2003 commits Malta to the full implementation of the Birds Directive 79/409/EEC by 1 May 2004. Although Malta revised its laws in January 2003, these do not fully comply with the Birds Directive. The Maltese law is not consistent with the Directive as it allows spring hunting and bird trapping, beyond the transition agreement obtained by Malta for the trapping of finches in the period defined by article 7(4) of the Birds Directive.

The illegal hunting of protected birds is a serious, widespread problem in Malta. According to the Accession Treaty, the EU urged Malta to take all necessary measures, such as ensuring adequate administrative capacity and sufficient legal instruments, to curb illegal hunting, and capture methods prohibited under the acquis. What is the Commission’s assessment of Malta’s progress regarding the implementation of the Birds Directive? How will the Commission ensure that Malta complies with the Birds Directive from the date of accession? What action is the Commission taking to assist Malta in its attempts to control illegal hunting?

The Commission representative, Mr. Yiorgos Cremlis, DG Environment, said that concerning the implementation of the Birds Directive, Malta received one derogation for the trapping of seven different finch species which will last until 31 December 2008. The sole purpose of trapping finches with clap nets is to keep them as singing birds in cages. It appears that this practice has a long tradition on the island and so there was a strong lobby to ascertain a phasing out period.

Mr. Cremlis assured that the Commission services would closely monitor the systematic implementation of the Birds Directive on the Maltese islands and would not hesitate to launch infringement procedures, if necessary. However he did not go into details concerning the specific monitoring instruments and activities. From the reply given by Mr. Cremlis, it is clear that the derogation is not a permanent one but it will come to an end by 31 December 2008. Mr Cremlis also stated that the derogation is for the trapping of seven different finches species, and nothing else. This means that the selling of birds on the Sunday markets at Valletta, Rabat, and at Ir-razett tal-Hbieberija (as well as a considerable number of pet shops) will then become illegal.

During the enlargement negotiations, Malta received a derogation from the EU’s Wild Birds Directives in spite of four EU member countries not agreeing to this, which means that the hunting of turtledoves and quail will go on until Spring. A period when they should normally be subject to protection under the directive.

A recent judgment from the European Court of Justice (16 November 2003) in the case of the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux and others versus France states that derogations from the Birds Directive may only be granted subject to certain conditions: ie that there is no other satisfactory solution, and that hunting is carried out under strictly supervised conditions, on a selective basis, only applying to certain birds in small numbers. The commission expressed its concern regarding the situation in Malta and stated that action will be taken if Malta does not comply with its obligations. It was added that they are aware of the illegal hunting and they consider it as a very serious situation. The commission will be monitoring the situation and urge the Government to ensure that the obligations will be fulfilled. If the government does not abide with the obligations, all the necessary actions to stop any concessions will be taken.

Max Farrugia said in his statement that from the beginning of the year to the end of October, the ALE with its limited resources managed to apprehend 125 illegal hunters on land, 21 illegal hunters at sea, 17 trappers, confiscated 61 shotguns on land and 9 at sea, as well as confiscated 91 protected species. These figures are very alarming, considering the size of the ALE team and proves how rampant hunting is. During this year’s migration seasons, hunting was so widespread that the police force could not cope with all the calls they received.

Birdlife Malta, who are the hunting partners on the Ornis committee, launched several complains both to the local authorities and the EU Commission because of their present situation.

According to Max Farrugia, the number of injured birds received at the rescue center has increased over the last few years.