Activists accuse Cyprus of doing little to protect birds

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Bird trapping levels have fallen in the British Bases but increased in the Cyprus Republic, according to a report on illegal poaching of birds.

BirdLife Cyprus’ latest report, on autumn 2019 trapping levels, highlights a further reduction in the British Base areas, with zero trapping activity recorded for the first time at the Cape Pyla trapping black spot.

In contrast, developments in the Republic “continue to disappoint”, as trapping levels have increased.

“Big trappers continue more-or-less undisturbed and the Cyprus Police Anti-Poaching Unit has been closed down,” said Birdlife Cyprus.

Up until a few years ago, the bird trapping situation was the complete opposite between the two jurisdictions.

“The Bases story highlights that the trapping problem can be solved, given the right approach and use of all available enforcement tools.

However, the story in the Republic shows how easy it is to lose ground in the fight against this damaging practice.”

BirdLife Cyprus has been keeping a close eye on illegal bird trapping for almost two decades via its systematic monitoring programme.

Data analysis from the field survey carried out in autumn 2019 shows an 89% decrease in trapping levels with mist nets within the survey area (compared to baseline levels from 2002).

“This positive news is mainly due to the progress achieved within the Dhekelia SBA over the last three years, reversing the ‘trapping hotspot’ status the jurisdiction once had.”

Close collaboration between SBA Police and environmental NGOs, covert surveillance with help from the RSPB Investigations team as well as a series of deterrent measures against illegal bird trapping activity have resulted in tangible results within the Bases.

In fact, autumn 2019 was also the first survey season where zero activity was recorded at Cape Pyla, formerly a major trapping black spot within the Dhekelia SBA.

While trapping levels remain low overall, developments in the Republic last autumn were not encouraging.

“Trapping activity increased in autumn 2019 for a second consecutive year within the Republic areas, undermining the progress that had been achieved up until 2017.”

Reduced enforcement

BirdLife Cyprus believes this outcome is associated with the reduced enforcement action – especially against large organized trapping sites – by the Cyprus Police Anti-Poaching Unit (APU).

“The final ‘strike’ to this previously effective Anti-Poaching Unit came last November when the Cyprus Police decided to close it down entirely, claiming ‘poor results’,”.

BirdLife Cyprus strongly disagrees with the closure of the Cyprus Police Anti-Poaching Unit, “as it played a key role in tackling large organized trappers, who now continue their operations largely undisturbed”.

BirdLife Cyprus acknowledged enforcement action taken by the Game and Fauna Service (GFS) in the Republic – imposed more on-the-spot-fines for illegal bird trapping than in previous years.

“This has undoubtedly acted as a deterrent for trappers.

However, indicative numbers provided by the GFS show that the higher the fine, the less chance there is of it being paid by the offender.”

Martin Hellicar, Director of BirdLife Cyprus, said: “Seeing a trapping blackspot like Cape Pyla being transformed into a safe area for birds…is encouraging and proof of the effectiveness of the work being done within the SBAs.

It is high time the Republic of Cyprus adopted a similar approach. Reinstating and re-enforcing the Cyprus Police Anti-Poaching Unit would be a good start.”

Bird trapping with mist nets and limesticks is a damaging and non-selective practice that affects over 150 species of birds, mostly migratory.

The main killing season is autumn when illegal trappers are after Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla to be sold as illegal but highly lucrative ambelopoulia ‘delicacies’.