The European court has ruled against Malta for allowing the hunting and trapping of several finch species. The country now faces substantial fines unless it ends a derogation it introduced in 2014 allowing the songbirds to be captured.

In Malta, the continued use of clap nets to trap birds has led to the near absence of many nesting species of migratory birds, according to BirdLife Europe.

“Today’s court judgment sends a message that the rule of law must be respected. It should mark the end of indiscriminate trapping, which is a completely unsustainable and barbaric practice,” said Ariel Brunner, the group’s policy chief.

It has been reported that an estimated 110,000 finches have been caught by hunters since then, along with many other wild birds such as song thrushes and golden plovers.

Catherine Bearder, the Liberal Democrat MEP, hailed the verdict as “a welcome judgment that confirms what we have all known for too long. The slaughter of these wonderful birds is illegal and unsustainable. The EU must step in and take action to stop the killing without delay.”

As reported by The Guardian, finch-trapping was once common across Europe but the practice has been progressively rolled back by the EU’s birds directive, which aims to conserve avian species and prevent.

The judges in Luxembourg found that Malta’s derogation was not selective, did not apply merely to “small numbers of birds”, and that more humane alternatives had not been considered.

“Trapping in Malta is so intensive that only a handful of each of the common finch species regularly breed on the islands, whereas they breed in high numbers in other areas of the Mediterranean,” the ruling noted.

In a separate report, Euronews noted that the government of Malta is evaluating the ruling in detail so that any decision it takes is “legally sound”.

In a press release, the Maltese government said it “did its utmost to defend this tradition and open the live capturing season of finch birds”.

“The government dedicated all possible resources to defend its case in the best possible way, hand in hand with the organisations that represent trappers,” it added.