An organised crime
Bird poaching in Cyprus is an industrial-scale organised crime, worth over €15m across the whole island. The RSPB, with its partners, and your support, is working hard to stop it…
Every autumn, the UK Sovereign Base Area (SBA) of Dhekelia in Cyprus witnesses the greatest and most concentrated illegal trapping of migrant birds across the whole island. Rows of mist nets are strung between planted invasive Australian acacia trees, illegally irrigated by water from boreholes delivered through a huge network of pipes. The RSPB and our local partner BirdLife Cyprus reported that an estimated 800,000 birds were killed on the Dhekelia Base in autumn 2016 alone. It is a number that has risen dramatically over the last decade, providing an ever-increasing supply of birds for a banned local dish, ambelopoulia: a plate of cooked, pickled songbirds.
The RSPB remains committed to working with BirdLife Cyprus and the SBA authorities to end this killing. As a result of the excellent work jointly undertaken by the RSPB Investigations unit and SBA police last autumn, convictions against 19 trappers in seven operations have been secured by the UK authorities in 2017. Faced with damning surveillance footage, the trappers entered guilty pleas.
The trappers have responded, with several filmed wearing balaclavas – they know the practice is illegal. However, what has been particularly encouraging is what appears to be a reduction in trapping in parts of the Dhekelia SBA in 2017. Several traditional trapping sites where RSPB Investigations had filmed people in 2016 were not in use last autumn.
Outlook gives cause for concern
The supply of birds trapped and killed on the SBA (and elsewhere across the Republic of Cyprus) fuels the demand in the Republic. In the short term, higher fines here too may be acting as a deterrent, but many of these fines are now being challenged through the courts. The longer-term outlook is not encouraging: the relaxation of the hunting laws at the end of June – in direct contravention of the EU Birds Directive – suggests less respect for the environment and legal obligations.
With your help
While tackling the restaurant trade is the key issue in Cyprus, the UK’s direct responsibility is, of course, to stop the supply from the SBA. We applaud the commitment shown by the SBA authorities to disrupt the irrigation infrastructure used to water the non-native acacia groves and apprehend the trappers killing protected species. However, we must not lose sight of the long-term goal: removal of the many patches of non-native acacia in the SBA which will seriously disrupt the illegal trapping of these birds.
What more needs to be done
In late 2014, removal of these acacia plots began. After early encouraging progress, during 2016 this work ground to a halt following large-scale local protests from the trapping community. Completion of this work is essential to secure a permanent reduction of trapping levels within the SBA. The RSPB has been calling on the Ministry of Defence to resume this acacia clearance – if it does not, recent gains will probably be lost.
You have already done so much to help birds around the world, with your generous support. But there’s still much more to be done, as the plight of Cyprus’ songbirds shows. Can you go a bit further for nature to make sure the progress we’ve made so far isn’t jeopardised?