Playing around with the concept of culture

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Finches used as live decoys by trappers in Malta. [BirdLife Malta]

When Malta joined the EU way back in 2004, it welcomed the Birds Directive by transposing it into local legislation. This must not be undone to promote a false notion of cultural heritage, argues Nicholas Barbara.

Nicholas Barbara is conservation manager at BirdLife Malta.

Trapping with the use of nets is considered a prohibited means of capture under Annex IV of the same directive, and accordingly it was agreed with Malta that the practice would be phased out gradually.

The arguments of pro-trapping advocates such as Mr Lino Farrugia, who published an opinion piece on EURACTIV.com on 5 December, clearly play with the concept of culture, attempting to present my country Malta as being a victim at the mercy of the greater European Union and European Court of Justice. The aims of both institutions are fundamentally different, as is the concept of what constitutes cultural heritage.

An overwhelming public response last year mandated the EU to keep the Nature Directives as they are and not change or revise them. Malta was at the forefront of this response demanding President Juncker and Maltese Commissioner for the Environment Karmenu Vella to maintain them. This demand did not come with any exemptions. Nature Directives like the Birds Directive are there to conserve birds which are European heritage. What is protected in Sweden should be protected in Malta, and what is huntable in Malta, may be huntable elsewhere. This is what harmonises conservation efforts across the man-made borders of Europe, in the spirit of a common European heritage.

Since Malta’s accession to the EU, Mr Farrugia’s organisation has played the political game with successive governments and excels in bending the Birds Directive. From the hunting in spring of the declining Turtle Dove, to more recently the trapping of finches, which was re-introduced by the current government after it was banned in 2009, derogations to the Birds Directive have been misused to uphold unsustainable practices. Bull fighting in Spain, Ortolan Bunting trapping in France, and lime-stick trapping in Cyprus can also be termed cultural practices. This does not mean they are ethical or right, neither does it mean that derogations can somehow justify their continuation.

Trapping wild finches for mere enjoyment, for these European birds to end up dying in small Maltese cages is a practice the EU finds unjustifiable for the application of a derogation to the Birds Directive. This is why the European Court of Justice will soon deliver its verdict on the matter. 2018 could finally see Malta coming closer to being in line with the Birds Directive, 14 years after its accession to the EU. Will it happen during the term a Maltese Commissioner for Environment is in place?

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