This is part of the series of posts Poaching in Cyprus FAQ
What are limesticks and mist nets?
Songbirds are trapped (and later killed) for the illegal ambelopoulia through the use of limesticks and mist nets. Most trapping takes place in the South, and especially the Southeast, of the island during the Autumn migration, although the trappers are also out during the Spring migration, when their cull is especially harmful since it occurs before the birds have had a chance to breed. Some trapping also takes place in the mountains. The most notorious regions are, paradoxically, also the most popular tourist areas: from Paralimni and Protaras on the east coast, to Ayia Napa on the south. Here, few migrants survive the trapping: the nets and lime-sticks are everywhere, including within the Cape Greco National Park, along nature trails, and even in the grounds of hotels.
Lime-sticks are twigs, about 50-70cm long, which are covered in an extremely sticky ‘glue’ made by boiling up the fruit of the Syrian plum-tree. These sticks are placed in bushes, or sometimes inserted into the ends of bamboo poles, to provide very inviting perches for birds. Any bird landing on a lime-stick becomes stuck, falls upside down, and as it flutters to free itself it becomes progressively more attached to the stick. The birds do not usually die quickly: this is a long, lingering death, which may only occur when the trapper arrives to cut their throats or crush their heads.
The manufacture, sale, ownership, and use of lime-sticks is illegal, but the law has been very widely flouted: bunches of lime-sticks have, until this year, been openly on sale, even in tourist-frequented markets, and their use is very widespread. The use of lime-sticks for bird-trapping goes back for centuries, and in the past was a means by which poor people supplemented a meager diet. That is no longer the case: Cyprus now has an extremely high standard of living, and most liming is done for (tax-free) profit.
According to one conservative estimate, some 15,000 to 20,000 lime sticks are set out on the South coast of Cyprus in spring. In the Paralimni/Agia Napa area alone, the number of lime sticks probably amount to some 5,000 to 10,000. In autumn these numbers are at least four times higher and therefore probably total some 100,000! Installations of limesticks ranged from the size of a small garden to 3 hectares (7. 5 acres) in one recent (Spring 2009) survey. In the same survey, out of approx. 2100 limesticks, 143 birds were found, 25 of which were already dead. Some 45 % of all trapped birds were the targeted Blackcaps; other species included in particular Spectacled Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Pied, Collared and Spotted Flycatcher, as well as Sedge Warbler, Golden Oriole, Turtle Dove, Bee-eater, Wryneck and a single Tawny Owl.
Because the trapping methods are non-selective, 150 species are known to have been caught in the traps. More than a third (58 species) of these are species of conservation concern, including the lesser kestrel, which is vulnerable to global extinction.
The trappers themselves publicly admitted (as reported on 11 September 2002 on the front page of Phileleftheros, the highest circulation Greek language newspaper in Cyprus) that due to the crack-down in 2002 they were losing 300-500 Cyprus pounds per day from the sale of ambelopoulia (the trapped birds sold as a gastronomic delicacy). As trappers earn about one pound per bird trapped and the autumn trapping season lasts some 60 days, at least 18,000 birds are being caught per trapper per autumn. So how many trappers are there? The Cyprus Weekly of 27 Sept to 3 Oct reported that the trappers had surrendered 8000 ballot books in protest at the clamp-down on their activities. Thus, even if the average catch per trapper is only, say, 3000 birds, and if we take 8000 as the total number trappers (when, in fact, not all trappers are likely to have handed in their ballot books) some 24 million birds may be trapped each autumn. And this total does not include the non-commercial species that are trapped in the nets and discarded.
Mist-nets are very fine filament nets, which can be strung end-to-end to make invisible ‘walls of death’ for the birds. These nets may be stretched across water-courses, or between trees and bushes (which are often planted and irrigated solely for the purpose of attracting birds for trapping). The importation of mist-nets into Cyprus is illegal, but thousands are smuggled into the country and acquired by the trappers. They cost about Cy£80 (about US$120) each, an indication of how profitable their use is. Unlike the use of lime-sticks, netting in Cyprus is not traditional.
While there has been no systematic study of the impact of these poaching practices, it is clear that even for a very common and widespread species such as the blackcap, sustained trapping at the levels there was in Cyprus in the 1990s, when enforcement was non-existent and BirdLife Cyprus estimated conservatively that around 10 million birds were being caught per year, would have a serious impact on populations. And, crucially, many of the species being killed are in decline or rare – nightingales, bee-eaters, flycatchers, shrikes…the list goes on. Such species cannot survive even today’s reduced trapping levels.
The sheer volume and effectiveness of these practices, combined with the way in which they catch a huge variety of birdlife, results in fields of death to an entire class of wildlife as they pass through Cyprus.