Another successful year for the international partnership tackling gangs that illegally trap and kill songbirds at a British military base in Cyprus

Gareth Brede

Thursday 30 April 2020

New figures show the number of songbirds trapped and killed at a British military base in Cyprus is lower than it has been in over a decade to 117,000 birds from 880,000 in 2016

  • An almost 90% reduction in illegal netting in the Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area (compared to the 2002 baseline) has prevented tens of thousands of songbirds from being killed and sold to restaurants on the black market
  • Trapping activity in the Republic increased for a second consecutive year, undermining the progress that had been achieved up until 2017.
  • Songbirds caught by near invisible mist nets include species familiar to the UK such as blackcaps, robins and garden warblers

An international partnership of law enforcement and conservationists has reduced the number of songbirds illegally killed at a British military base in Cyprus to the lowest levels in over a decade. New figures released by BirdLife Cyprus highlight the continued success in reducing illegal songbird trapping on the Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area (SBA), a British military base. However, the situation in the Republic of Cyprus is less encouraging with a second successive increase in trapping since 2017.


The SBA authorities working closely with BirdLife Cyprus, the RSPB and Committee Against Birds Slaughter (CABS) have reduced the number of illegally trapped and killed songbirds to an estimated 117,000 in 2019, down from around 900,000 in 2016. However, it is estimated that over 300,000 songbirds are killed within the survey area in the Republic of Cyprus.


Every autumn hundreds of thousands of songbirds are illegally trapped and killed, before being sold via the black market to restaurants in the Republic of Cyprus for diners to eat (in a dish called ambelopoulia), with criminal gangs earning hundreds of thousands of Euros. The gangs target migrating birds that fly between Europe and Africa, using electronic calls to lure them into mist nets placed between acacia bushes and within orchards.


Since 2016, the RSPB has assisted the SBA authorities every autumn, using covert surveillance to catch the trappers in the act. With the support of the RSPB’s investigations team 26 trappers have been successfully convicted, with high fines and suspended jail sentences imposed in many cases.


In the Republic, since 2017 the authorities have issued 426 on-the-spot fines for offences related to bird trapping or killing, which now total over £1million (€1.3m). However, trapping levels have increased during this period. BirdLife Cyprus attributes this to the reduced enforcement action on the ground by the Cyprus Police Anti-Poaching Unit (APU), particularly against large organized trapping sites.


In 2019 the RSPB’s investigations team and others, made several reports to the Cyprus Police about extensive bird trapping activity at a large well known site in the Republic. However, no effective enforcement action was taken. The activity of Cyprus Police APU has dropped significantly over the last two years, and it was highly disappointing that the Cyprus Police closed down the APU in November, claiming “poor results”.


Martin Harper, the RSPB’s director for global conservation said: “Working in partnership has acted as a major deterrent in the fight against bird trapping. The hard work and persistence by the SBA authorities and NGOs since 2016 shows what can be achieved. There are still areas of non-native acacia that need to be removed as we continue to drive out this illegal trade and give these gangs no place to hide their traps.


“In the Republic more work is clearly needed especially to curb demand for ambelopoulia but also we urge the Cypriot Government to reinstate police capacity to address illegal wildlife crime. However, this should not detract from the success of this partnership of conservationists and government authorities really highlights the power and effectiveness of an international partnership as we all work together to help songbirds that are travelling between continents.“


Martin Hellicar, director of BirdLife Cyprus, said: “Seeing this great progress and impressive reduction in trapping levels within the Dhekelia SBA in a span of three years is encouraging and proof of the effectiveness of the work being done by the SBA authorities, in collaboration with the NGOs. We call on the competent authorities of the Republic of Cyprus to adopt a similar approach. Reinstating and re-enforcing the Cyprus Police Anti-Poaching Unit would be a good start on the road to determined enforcement action against the big, organised trappers.”


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Last Updated: Thursday 30 April 2020

Tagged with: Country: Cyprus Topic: Birds Topic: Conservation Topic: Wildlife