Malta broke EU law by allowing the trapping of songbirds in nets, the European Court of Justice ruled Thursday.
While finch trapping was outlawed in 2009, the country introduced a derogation in 2014 that meant seven species of finch could still be trapped under strict conditions, which included the introduction of a legal trapping season in autumn.
"This ruling sends a message to the government that they must do more to reinforce the ban," said Nicholas Barbara, Conservation Manager at BirdLife Malta.
The Mediterranian country could face large fines if it fails to put a stop to the exemption.
Trapping of wild birds is not allowed by the European Birds Directive, which lists the use of nets as prohibited.
Clap nets are considered a very effective means of catching large amounts of birds in a non-selective manner.
The trapping of songbirds in Malta is carried out for recreation with birds being kept in cages afterwards, unlike in Greece, where birds are considered a delicacy and caught to eat.
"Malta is a small island," said Barbara, "for the nets to be used land needs to be cleared — a 38m2 area for each net — and as many as 8,000 sites for nets can be used in any one hunting season."
"This land can be returned to nature," he added.
The nets also trap other wildlife including reptiles and hedgehog in the hunting areas.
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.
It said it would now evaluate the ruling in detail so that any decision by the government is "legally sound".
"We expect the government to respect the ruling," said Barbara. "The next logical step would be to repeal this law (derogation)."