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European Commission - Press release

Environment: Malta asked to ensure bird protection

Brussels, 27 February 2012 – The Commission has asked Malta to improve the protection of birds that pass over its islands in the autumn. Since Malta joined the EU in 2004 it has allowed the autumn trapping of four species of birds protected by EU laws: the Turtle Dove, Quail, Golden Plover and Song Thrush. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is sending a reasoned opinion to ask Malta to correctly implement the relevant bird protection legislation. If Malta fails to reply within two months, the Commission may refer the case to the EU Court of Justice.

In Europe, most wild birds are protected under the Birds Directive, and trapping with large-scale or non-selective methods of capture such as nets is generally prohibited and may only be legally practised under a derogation from the Directive. Such exceptions may only be granted if there is no viable alternative, if the Member State respects the strict conditions and requirements laid down in Article 9 of the Directive, and if it can prove to the Commission it has done so.

In June 2011 the Commission sent Malta a letter of formal notice concerning the incorrect application of derogations allowing bird trapping. The Commission holds that Malta failed to submit sufficient evidence to prove that its trapping derogations respected all the necessary conditions of the Directive and in particular, the rules relating to:

  • ensuring only small numbers of birds are captured

  • selective targeting of the species concerned by the derogation, and

  • strict supervision of trapping conditions.

In their reply to the Commission, the Maltese authorities disputed the Commission's claims and insisted that the conditions for the application of the derogation were met. In 2011 Malta also changed the derogation so that it applied to only one species, the Song Thrush. But the Commission still considers that Malta has failed to produce satisfactory supporting evidence and has applied the derogations, including the latest autumn 2011 derogation, incorrectly. Therefore the Commission is now sending a reasoned opinion.


Birds are a significant part of our wildlife and play an important role in ensuring that our ecosystems function properly. Many birds in the EU are migratory and represent a common heritage, so effective protection requires transboundary measures. The Birds Directive, the EU’s oldest piece of nature legislation, creates a comprehensive scheme of protection for all wild bird species naturally occurring in the Union.

Bird populations have to be maintained at a level which ensures their survival over the long term. The Directive recognises hunting as a legitimate activity but limits it strictly to what is necessary to comply with the principles of wise use and providing it is compatible with the maintenance of the populations of the huntable species at a satisfactory level. The Directive provides a comprehensive system for the management of hunting to ensure that this practice is sustainable. This includes a requirement to outlaw all forms of non-selective and large scale killing of birds.

For current statistics on infringements in general see:

See also:

About the Birds Directive:


Contacts :

Joe Hennon (+32 2 295 35 93)

Monica Westeren (+32 2 299 18 30)

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