The illegal trapping of migrating birds still persists in Cyprus, with over 800,000 songbirds killed last autumn. Charities are asking the UK government to help military police who are struggling with the problem at the British Sovereign Base in Cyprus.
Since monitoring began in 2002, the RSPB and Birdlife Cyprus have discovered a record number of “mist” nets, which are virtually invisible, on Ministry of Defence (MoD) land in Cyprus. The number of nets has increased by 183%.
Driving the illegal trapping of the birds is the local consumption of a traditional dish called ambelopoulia. Despite the fact that the practice was outlawed in 1974, a report estimates that 2.3 million bird, of around 153 different species were trapped to supply the ingredients for this dish.
Non-native Australian acacia trees, which support the “mist” have been planted by trappers on MoD land to trap migrant birds, Trapping birds for food supply has increased massively as it is a very lucrative business.
“The British base is the number one bird-killing hotspot on the whole island of Cyprus,” said Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, calling on the British government to help military base police stop the illegal trapping. “Many much-loved garden bird species are being trapped and killed for huge profit by criminal gangs.”
Over the past two years, the British military removed 54 acres of acacia from its land. However last year, they only managed to clear seven acres of the trees because a large number of protesters, organised by the bird trappers, blockaded the base.
“The trappers’ brazen prevention of the removal of their criminal infrastructure from MoD land could never be tolerated here in the UK,” said Harper. “The UK government must therefore provide enforcement support to help the base authorities respond to the trappers and safely remove the remaining 90 acres of acacia so that they cannot be used to kill hundreds of thousands more birds.”
A spokesperson for the MoD said: “We’re committed to tackling illegal bird trapping and the RSPB has recognised our increased enforcement activity, which has led to a record number of arrests, equipment seizures, prosecutions and fines. For the second year running we’ve halted the rising trend in the numbers of birds being killed by poachers and we continue to work with the RSPB and Birdlife Cyprus to implement a long-term strategy to reduce this number.”
Martin Hellicar, director of BirdLife Cyprus, said: “We cannot ignore the distasteful fact that the restaurants serving trapped birds operate within the Cyprus Republic. Enforcement against these law-breaking restaurants has been limited – at best – in recent years, and the Cypriot authorities must change this. We need a clamp-down on the illegal market supporting this wildlife crime, something the European Commission has called for, repeatedly.”
Recently, a DNA barcoding database of resident birds and commonly trapped species to accurately identify illegally killed birds, was developed by conservation scientists in Cyprus.
The database will, hopefully, help to prosecute trappers and deter restaurants from putting ambelopoulia on the menu.