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Migrant songbirds slaughtered on industrial scale on MoD base

900,000 songbirds killed on Autumn migration at British military base in Cyprus

The numbers of trapped songbirds illegally killed on a British military base in Cyprus last autumn reached an estimated 900,000 birds - the highest level recorded in 12 years, according to the latest RSPB-funded research of trapping activity on the Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area, close to the tourist hotspot of Ayia Napa.

Female Blackcap trapped in an illegal net on MoD land on Cyprus (© RSPB Images)

Following the dramatic increase in bird deaths, the RSPB and BirdLife Cyprus – the RSPB’s BirdLife International partner on the island - are urging the Base Area authorities to continue the positive start made late last year to clamp down on the illegal trappers by removing the planted scrub, which the trappers use as cover for their illegal activities while on the military base. The acacia scrub also attracts vast numbers of migrating songbirds, moving between Europe and Africa each autumn.

Small-scale trapping of songbirds for human consumption on Cyprus was practiced for many centuries, but it has been illegal on the island for 40 years, when it was outlawed in 1974. Unfortunately, organised crime now seems to be driving this illegal activity which is thought to be worth millions of Euros every autumn from the songbirds the trappers kill on British Ministry of Defence (MoD) land and then sell to consume illegally in the Republic.

BirdLife Cyprus and the RSPB have been monitoring illegal songbird trapping activity on the British military base at Dhekelia since 2002. The figures for last autumn reveal that 2014 was the worst year on record, by far, with an estimated 900,000 birds being killed. This is equivalent to almost 15,000 songbirds a day during the September-October period. The latest figures are now three times higher than when the monitoring started in 2002.

The non-native Acacia is planted across the base to attract migrating songbirds (© RSPB Images)

Comparative figures for the Republic of Cyprus reveal that illegal bird trapping is still a considerable issue, but the figures have reduced since 2002. This is probably because of the more extensive areas of illegally-planted avenues of acacia scrub which have been allowed to be grown by criminals on MoD land. This illegal bird-killing infrastructure is used by the trappers as cover to attract the birds and to set their nets.

Dr Tim Stowe is the RSPB’s International Director. He said: “The report highlights the illegal trapping of songbirds on the British military base has escalated and we are urging the Ministry of Defence and the Base Area authorities to resolve it before this autumn’s migration. Such extensive illegal activity requires all the Cyprus authorities to work together to combat it, and the Base Areas’ contribution should be zero-tolerance towards illegal bird trapping.

“We were pleased that the Base Area authorities have started to remove acacia scrub last December. We believe the scale of illegal trapping requires continuing and sustained action, and we’ll continue to offer our support.”

The RSPB welcomes the signing by the Base Area authorities of a Cyprus Strategic Action Plan on illegal bird trapping.

One of the very large illegal mist nets running through an Acacia ride (© RSPB Images)

BirdLife Cyprus and the RSPB believe that the Sovereign Base Area authorities should now develop a plan to remove all the illegally-planted and non-native avenues of acacia on MoD land as rapidly as possible.

Dr Clairie Papazoglou is the Executive Director of BirdLife Cyprus. She said: “Acacia isn’t a native plant in Cyprus, so the planting of extensive stands of this shrub by the trappers is a highly visible symbol of their flagrant disregard for anti-trapping laws. In fact, you can see these plantations from space. By removing the acacia, the Sovereign Base Area authorities would send a clear signal that they will not tolerate the slaughter of birds on British bases.”

The songbirds are trapped to provide the main ingredient for the local and expensive delicacy of ambelopoulia, where a plate of songbirds, such as Blackcaps or Robins, is served to restaurant diners. The illegality of the practice and the high profits are attracting the attention of organised crime gangs.

Although 'traditional' trapping methods such as lime-sticks are still used the mist nets are taking the slaughter to another level (© RSPB Images)

Today, most trappers will use long lines of nearly invisible netting, known as mist nets. They attract birds into them on an industrial-scale by playing birdsong to lure them in. Traditionally, trappers had relied solely on lime-sticks, where stems of pomegranate are coated in a locally-manufactured ‘lime’ and are then placed in trees and bushes. Passing birds become stuck on the lime-coated sticks where they fall easy prey to trappers. Whilst lime-sticks are still used in many areas, mist-netting between planted avenues of acacia has now taken the slaughter to a whole new level.

Since 2002, the monitoring program has recorded over 150 different bird species which have become trapped in nets or on lime-sticks. Cyprus has two songbirds found nowhere else in the world: the Cyprus warbler and the Cyprus Wheatear. Both of these songbirds are impacted by illegal trapping.

 

RSPB
09 March 2015

 

 

Support the BBRC Vagrants team in Champions of the Flyway 2015

 

 

The long dusty corridors and smoke filled parlours of BBRC Towers have been roused. Stirred on by tales of last years race and seeing the fantastic amount of money raised for Bird Conservation Georgia, the smoking jackets and dog-eared slippers of three members have been hung up and they have been let out for a week this spring to compete in “Champions of the Flyway 2015”.

Now just by-catch, a magnificent Eurasian Bee-eater, robbed forever of its aerial mastery, hangs helpless and awaiting despatch in a Cypriot hunter’s mist net

The Champions of the Flyway is a bird race in the legendary birding area of Eilat and southern Israel. Last years inaugural race involved teams from all over the World competing to see who could find the most species in this area in 24 hours, and more importantly, who could raise the most money for conservation. Nearly US$60,000 was raised, and this amazing achievement has inspired the BBRC Vagrants to try their hand this year. The team comprises Paul French, Richard Schofield and Micky Maher and they will be trying their hardest to compete with other teams from both the UK and around the world, with Finland, Spain, USA, South Africa and Israel among the nations represented.

Looking ahead to this years event Paul French said “This is the first time we know of any BBRC team entering a bird race, so we’re not expecting great things! We’re also not looking forward to the inevitable controversial judges decisions, but some might call that poetic justice! As long as we manage to raise some money to tackle the hunting of birds in Cyprus, we’ll be happy.

Importantly though, they need our help. The beneficiary of this years race will be Birdlife Cyprus, and money raised will go towards helping them fight the illegal slaughter of birds that goes on every year. Of particular vulgarity is the so called delicacy “Ambelopoulia”. This dish is made from whole small passerines and eaten by locals and tourists alike. The capture of birds by mist net and lime sticks and the sale of Ambelopulia have been illegal since 1974, but the law has little effect.

A €40 plate of Ambelopoulia served illegally in a Cyprus restaurant

 

Rare Bird Alert supporting the BBRC Vagrants team

The very nature of the BBRC’s work will mean that from time to time a few people may disagree with some of their decisions on rarities. However, we are sure that you will all agree that the committee do fantastic (unpaid) work on assessing rarity records and publishing their annual report. To recognise this hard work, and the very important cause for this year’s Champions of the Flyway, RBA will this year be backing the BBRC Vagrants team. We have made a significant donation to the team and hope you can make a donation too, no matter how small it all goes to help Birdlife Cyprus put a stop to the illegal slaughter of birds.

 

Donate today to stop the slaughter

More details on the race can be found here - champions-of-the-flyway.com/cause.

Donate to the BBRC Vagrants team here - justgiving.com/COTF2015BV

 

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