My latest beat-writer post is up at 10,000 Birds:
Birding Cyprus’ Sewage Pools:
UP TO FOUR million German television viewers have been shown disturbing footage of Cypriot bird trappers assaulting a group of conservationists on a top-rated current affairs programme.
Germany’s largest private free-to-air station RTL broadcast a report titled: “Dirty business – how millions of birds end up as table delicacies”, which featured graphic video of a poacher brandishing a plank of wood whilst attempting to bundle a conservationist into the back of a truck near Paralimni.
Footage of several terrified ornithologists being threatened by an irate poacher was also featured in the film, which was shown on Thursday evening and comes exactly a year after a brutal attack by poachers left several conservationists injured in hospital.
It’s nice to see this kind of publicity getting out there across Europe, but sadly, this isn’t news. It’s what BirdLife Cyprus‘ staff has to worry about on a regular basis. We conservationists simply can’t openly go to certain areas of Cyprus without fearing for our safety.
It’s always fantastic when Martin gets a little extra publicity for his campaigning work for BirdLife Cyprus. For those who don’t know Martin, he’s the Campaigns officer for BirdLife Cyprus. While he does a lot of work with habitat protections, his work against illegal bird trapping in Cyprus gets a bit more press, and is the subject of the podcast.
A short conversation with Martin Hellicar, Campaigns Manager for BirdLife Cyprus (BLC), following the recent release of BLC’s ‘Trapping Monitoring Report’ which covered this year’s winter season – between December 2010 and February 2011 – and which stated that “over 231,000 birds were caught in nets within the survey area during the 2010-11 winter season”. The report also gave the staggering estimate of almost 2.5 million birds trapped across the whole of Cyprus in 2010.
Why are so many birds dying, and what can be done to stop this huge and inexcusable slaughter?
Speaking of, the podcast in question is the work of Charlie Moores’ and his Talking Naturally blogging and podcasting efforts.
Martin Hellicar just informed me that the report had been release this past week, for this past Winter’s trapping levels in Cyprus. See BirdLife Cyprus‘s posting here: Winter 2011 Trapping Report for their release, or download a PDF of the report.
Summary of the report’s findings:
- 53 1-km2 squares were surveyed, finding almost a total of 1km active / prepared rides for the setting of mist nets. Overall, trapping activity appears to have decreased compared to the levels recorded in winter 2009-10. The relatively small number of thrushes (Turdus philomelos) wintering in Cyprus in 2010-11 was undoubtedly a key factor for this reduced trapping activity.
- In keeping with the overall pattern described above, winter mist netting activity was down by just over 60% in the Sovereign Base Areas (SBA), but, despite ongoing enforcement efforts, recorded trapping activity with mist nets (active net rides) was again much higher (nearly two times higher on average per square checked) in SBA compared to the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) areas, in line with the recorded pattern of recent seasons.
- Overall for the year 2010, trapping activity (measured on basis of recorded active net rides) was highest in autumn, followed by spring and winter seasons, as would be expected given bird abundance patterns during autumn, spring and winter.
- It is estimated that over 231,000 birds were caught in nets within the survey area during the 2010-11 winter season (and nearly 310,000 birds across Cyprus).
- As for the year 2010 overall, the estimated toll reached just over 1,813,000 birds for the survey area and almost 2,418,000 birds across the whole of Cyprus.
Without a determined and consistent action from the competent authorities to target the demand and availability of birds in restaurants and without a massive targeted public information and awareness raising campaign, then the atrocious death toll of 2010 will likely be repeated and could even get worse. Finally, it is necessary for true political will to be shown at the highest level in support for increased enforcement action, which is also necessary in order to fully tackle this intractable problem.
And in true BirdLife form, the report follows strict rules of backing everything up in a methodical and empirical manner. The discussion section of the report elaborates a bit:
Overall the field data recorded for the winter 2010-11 season suggest that the trapping activity was lower than the preceding year (winter 2009-10) which is good news. On the other hand, we believe, this decrease does not reflect a behavioral and cultural change in illegal trapping. Nor can this change be attributed solely to enforcement of the legislation by the competent authorities, which undertook raids and operations to confiscate illegal trapping equipment and ambelopoulia served in restaurants. The primary factor keeping trapping levels (relatively) low is more likely the low numbers of wintering song thrushes, the trappers’ main winter target species.
Despite the positive news about the decline in winter bird trapping (and regardless of the underlying reasons for this reduction) the year 2010 has seen a disastrous “slaughter” of birds in Cyprus. The death toll was estimated to be in the order of 2,5 million birds across the Island, which suggests that illegal trapping was higher than previous years (for 2009 it was estimated that just over 2 million birds were killed across the island). This is an unacceptable situation considering the volume of bird killing and the non selective nature of the trapping. Evidence from well documented reports4 has shown that as many as 122 different bird species have been recorded as caught on mist nets and limesticks, of which 58 species are listed as threatened by BirdLife International and the EU Birds Directive (2009/147/EC) and should receive special conservation measures for their survival and protection. Ironically 2010 was the “International year of Biodiversity” where global efforts were taking place to halt biodiversity loss, but obviously not in Cyprus, at least not when it came to bird trapping.
The successful raids on restaurants suspected of serving ambelopoulia seen in the late autumn of 2010 and winter 2010-2011 need to become the “norm”. BirdLife Cyprus calls upon the competent authorities to draw up targeted action plans and to allocate additional resources to reverse this situation, since bird trapping has been steadily increasing in the recent four years. Truly effective enforcement is necessary to deal with the well organized network of illegal trappers who are making millions of Euros out of this illegal practice and the restaurants which are serving the ambelopoulia delicacies to indifferent customers. Moreover true political will and support to enforcement authorities for more enforcement is vital. Finally, it is clear that a big awareness raising campaign, targeting the ‘indifferent’ public is needed in order to bring about a change in public opinion.
Recalling one of the first studies done regarding bird trapping in Cyprus, by Hubbard (1968), the researcher had reached the conclusion that “…The basic answer seems to be one of education; education at all levels and in a massive dose…Much more is necessary in order to bring the subject to wider attention, especially in the schools and via the mass media”. Ironically this statement is even truer in today’s Cyprus, more than 40 years after Hubbard’s report, when the public is the driver for the ambelopoulia market. Changing public attitude is the core for stamping out bird trapping and BirdLife Cyprus is determined to continue and step up its “enlightenment” efforts against bird trapping.
Education and awareness raising could also help redress the other serious gap in effective enforcement: the absence of deterrent penalties being imposed by local courts to offenders, despite the harsh penalties foreseen in the law.
Last weekend I got to lead a field trip for BirdLife Cyprus in the Akrotiri area. The field trips usually have a late start at 9:30am and this was no different, with a relatively large attendance of I think about 20-25 people.
The designated meeting/starting spot was at Zakaki, where we were treated to close-up views of Coots and their chicks. The newbie birders enjoyed this quite a lot I think. There was also a Great White Pelican that was circling above us, which is a very unseasonal bird for this time in Cyprus. But it was almost certainly an escape, as it was trailing a cord or rope of some kind from its feet. Other notable birds at Zakaki included at least 6 Ferruginous Ducks, 2 Squacco Heron, 1 Little Egret, at least 1 Sand Martin, and an Eleonora’s Falcon.
We continued on to nearby Lady’s Mile, where there the primary attraction was a cluster of about 12 Little Egrets along with 2 Squacco Herons. There were at least 4 Kentish Plovers also.
At Bishop’s Pool, we noted one each of Squacco Heron and Night Heron, along with 4 Ferruginous Ducks and an Eleonora’s Falcon.
But the best site of the day in my opinion was at Phassouri, where we had 2 Glossy Ibises and 1 Little Bittern to see. There were also at least 5 Squacco Heron and 1 Cattle Egret. A late Yellow Wagtail flewover too, but the mystery was either a subadult Night Heron or a female Little Bittern, that was rather well-hidden in the reeds and difficult to see. It was a nice challenge that I wasn’t able to resolve.
This May, anyone happening to be around the BirdLife Cyprus office in Strakka after dark has been treated to the unusual and weird calls and shrieks of the resident family of Long-eared owls (Asio otus). Regular breeders in the groves around the office, a pair of our rarest and arguably most impressive species of breeding owl has raised at least three young this year. Having left the nest, the owlets have been anything but quiet in their ceaseless begging for food from their perches in the pines and cypresses outside the office.
Among the calls we receive for injured birds found by citizens (although BirdLife Cyprus does not operate a bird hospital) last month we received a different call from a lady who lives in Nicosia informing us that a pair of Kestrels had decided to build a nest on a ledge outside her attic window and she was asking for advice on how to keep the nest safe. Luckily the ledge around the house was a perfectly safe location for the five Kestrel chicks. BirdLife Cyprus’ staff members, after getting Mrs. Kaitie’ s permission to visit her house, checked on the chicks and proceeded in ringing them.
The authorities of the British Bases (SBA) in Cyprus were the “target” for a combined BirdLife Cyprus and RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) lobbying effort in late April. The main focus of the lobbying effort was the growing trapping problem, but also proper protective management for the Akrotiri area and its birds. An RSPB delegation headed by Tim Stowe, Director of International Operations at the RSPB, lent its weight to our ongoing efforts in both these areas during a series of meetings with top SBA officials. The three-day RSPB visit also involved inspecting the notorious trapping problem area of Cape Pyla, within the Dhekelia SBA.
BirdLife Cyprus regrets to announce the death of George Hadjikostas, an Honourary Chairman of the Society, on April 10th, 2011. George Hadjikostas was Minister of Communications and Works from 1980-82. His involvement with birds started through his wife Cleo, who is a birdwatcher, and in 1998 he was offered the post of President of Cyprus Ornithological Society 1957.
Members and friends of BirdLife Cyprus will be sorry to hear that Panos Stavrou passed away on 15th May 2011. Panos was a regular at BirdLife Cyprus field meetings and social events accompanying his wife Patricia, Social Secretary of BirdLife Cyprus and member of the Council.
We knew this already, but the Cyprus Mail reported on Friday that ‘Bird trappers have no real fear of prosecution’:
“In addition with Blackcaps (Ambelopoulia), numerous species of conservation concern, such as Wryneck, Masked Shrike, Spotted Flycatcher and Redstart were found on the limesticks and in the nets,” CABS said.
“Although Cyprus is considered as a ‘biodiversity hotspot area’ and its bird fauna is particularly rich, almost one third of bird species recorded in the island are affected by illegal trapping with limesticks and mistnets to a greater or lesser extent,” added CABS general secretary, Alexander Heyd. “Furthermore, more than half of the bird species that are affected are in decline to a greater or lesser extent, while many of those are already facing the danger of extinction.”
In contrast with previous camps, no immediate physical violence was this time used against the conservationists and environmentalists. “Nonetheless, it is evident that trappers have no real fear of prosecution,” said CABS.
“The almost blanket distribution of the traps, the failure by the majority of trappers to acknowledge the illegality of their acts, as well as their blatant and violent behaviour, demonstrate that the measures taken to date by the authorities to combat bird poaching are a long way from being effective”, said Klitos Papastylianou, biodiversity and environmental rights campaigner for Friends of the Earth Cyprus.
More can be read on the CABS website: Cyprus spring bird protection camp diary 2011.
Meanwhile, BirdLife Cyprus has completed its Spring monitoring program for collecting data on the extent of the trapping. They’re just starting to crunch the numbers, but I’m told by Campaigns Manager Martin Hellicar that it doesn’t look good.