The illegal killing of birds on UK territory in Cyprus

Every autumn, hundreds of thousands of migrant birds are illegally killed on the UK Sovereign Base Area of Dhekelia on Cyprus. The RSPB is working hard with Birdlife Cyprus, to end this abhorrent crime.

A deadly delicacy

Dhekelia in Cyprus is a UK Sovereign Base Area (SBA) with a terrible tale to tell. It hosts some of the most intense bird trapping across the whole of the Mediterranean: industrial-scale killing that fuels the demand from local restaurants for a dish called “ambelopoulia” – pickled songbirds, preferably blackcaps, that sell for as much as €100 (£85) per dozen.

Organised crime

Bird trapping has been illegal in Cyprus since 1974. In 2002, the RSPB set up a programme to measure the level of trapping, which was later continued by BirdLife Cyprus. Initially, thanks to enforcement action, almost certainly linked to Cyprus' accession to the EU, bird trapping fell significantly. However, it soon increased inexorably and the trappers became more brazen, seemingly ignoring any enforcement efforts.

Non-native acacia trees have been extensively planted to create defined trapping "rides" in which fine nets can be placed to catch the birds. Throughout the night, birdsong is blasted through loudspeakers to lure migrating songbirds to their deaths. The level of organisation involved is high: kilometres of irrigation ensure the trees are well-watered, with some rides even carpeted. 

Dead black cap trapped in net
A trapped Robin
It’s estimated 2.3 million birds were killed on Cyprus in 2017

The RSPB remains committed to ending this archaic practice.

Stopping the killing

In 2016, over 880,000 migrant birds were killed – up 183% from 2002. In 2017, however, autumn bird trapping activity in the UK Dhekelia Sovereign Base on Cyprus fell by 72% from the peak levels seen in 2016, implying that some 620,000 more songbirds flew on free from British territory to complete their migration

This decline is the result of efforts by the RSPB’s Investigations Team together with the SBA Police. Using methods developed to catch wildlife criminals in the UK, covert surveillance was used to obtain high-resolution footage of trappers catching and killing birds – evidence which had led to convictions involving substantial fines and lengthy suspended jail sentences.

The SBA Authorities and Police have also stepped their actions. The police purchase of a high specification surveillance drone (with support from the RSPB) has added to the arsenal of available deterrents, while the authorities are now using a wider range of criminal and civil sanctions, such as exclusion orders and vehicle impoundments, to ratchet up the pressure on the bird trapping community. The military, for their part, has been active in removing the irrigation infrastructure. Following some initial clearance work, it is hoped the rest of the acacia will be removed.

In 2017 the illegal trapping of songbirds fell by 72% from the peak levels of 2016

What can you do?

In autumn 2017, many RSPB members and supporters wrote to their MPs about the illegal killing of songbirds on UK territory in Cyprus. This was hugely beneficial and showed the Government the importance of tackling it.

At present, we are not asking people to take any specific action – but we will keep you updated on the progress that we make. Depending on how the 2018 trapping season unfolds, we may ask for your help later this year. 

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