Martin Hellicar from Birdlife Cyprus just sent me the final trapping report for Cyprus 2009. It’s absolutely horrible. I know that BirdLife Cyprus toes the line in their criticism of the Cyprus and British governments, because they have to work with those governments, but I’m free to be a little bit more blunt in my criticism…
And from my point of view, I find it hard to read the report’s conclusions without concluding myself that the Cypriot and British governments knowingly overlook this trapping. Despite the fact that it (the trapping and sale of ambelopoulia) is illegal, and despite the fact that it is the responsibility of hired government officials to enforce these laws. I.e., the government is willfully not fulfilling their responsibilities to their own laws. And I call that corruption.
A major part of the problem (for the report) is that the British government does not release their enforcement records easily – perhaps they’re trying to hide the fact that penalties are almost non-existent. The greatest fine imposed by the British SBA courts for 2009 for instance was €735 – barely more than one day’s profit from trapping for a limesticker, and less for a mist-netter. The Brits need to do more.
But at least the British government releases its enforcement records at all. The Cypriot government doesn’t. I can’t imagine what the reason could be. But we do know that one man caught with hundreds of killed songbirds in his refrigerator in September of 2009 was arrested when someone reported him. The arrest and fine (if there was one) was apparently enough to get him to skip making limesticks for one whole day. While the Brits need to do more, the Cypriots need to stop doing nothing.
Absolutely none of these enforcement activities tackle the source of the problem – the demand for ambelopoulia at restaurants. Restaurants know that they can get away with it too, despite it being illegal. Despite the fact that BirdLife Cyprus knows pretty damn well which restaurants are serving this illegal snack.
And the ‘Friends of the Limestick’ is a particularly “funny” group. In any other country in the world could you imagine a group proud of its association with crime? Only in Cyprus perhaps.
Here are the conclusions from the report:
- As we approach 2010, the international year of biodiversity, a 35% increase in mist netting in autumn 2009 shows that Cyprus is now seriously loosing ground in the battle against bird trapping, an illegal and indiscriminate practice that threatens many bird species of conservation concern, and migrants especially. With the well-documented, combined effects of Climate Change, habitat loss and degradation already hitting migrant birds hard, this is an added pressure this vital portion of biodiversity can ill-afford.
- A decisive and immediate response is required from the relevant UK and Cyprus authorities if this backsliding – which threatens to undermine the significant enforcement gains made since the start of the 21st century – is to be arrested and reversed. At stake are the obligations of these two member states under the EU Birds Directive.
- BirdLife monitoring of autumn bird trapping continued for the 8th successive year, with data gathered systematically in the field by a trained team of surveyors and all evidence of trapping relayed to the relevant enforcement authorities.
- The field evidence points clearly to a rise in trapping activity in autumn 2009 – an alarming one in the case of mist netting. A total of just over 3 km of active net rides were located by the survey team – a 35% increase on the autumn of 08, which was the worst trapping season for five years. The autumn 2009 finds included 22 in situ nets – an increase of over 60% compared to autumn of 08, suggesting trappers are becoming less wary of enforcement.
- Netting levels were particularly high in SBA areas, notably on the Pyla Range. A British-army backed sweep operation in this area in early October was a welcome first step in tackling ‘industrial’ trapping on the Range. Limestick use was also up in autumn 2009, and was largely the preserve of the Republic areas. In keeping with the pattern of recent years, there was widespread evidence of many restaurants in the Republic serving illegal trapped bird delicacies (ambelopoulia), and no reports of effective enforcement action against these.
- Hundreds of thousands of birds can be estimated to have fallen prey to trappers in autumn of 2009 – an unacceptable toll.
- These findings obliterate the cautious optimism created by the reduction in trapping levels recorded in spring 2009, especially as autumn is always the principal trapping season.
- A group of MPs from the trapping ‘heartland’ of Famagusta made a repeat (if failed) attempt to push through parliament a bill slashing penalties for trapping. The ‘Friends of the Limestick’ association meanwhile managed to secure a meeting with top-level Interior Ministry officials. More encouraging was a high level of media coverage of the issue, most all of it sympathetic to BirdLife’s anti-trapping campaign.
- Detailed evidence of fines handed down by SBA courts to convicted trappers showed penalties (fines ranging between €260 and €735) to be anything but deterrent, especially given the gains to be had from trapping (ambelopoulia were selling for between €50 and €80 a dozen in restaurants in November 2009)
- Top-level political decisions are now urgently needed to re-double the enforcement effort and bolster the enforcement bodies (Game Fund, Cyprus Police anti-trapping unit and SBA Police). Repeats of the October 2nd large-scale sweep operation of the Cape Pyla trapping ‘black spot’ must become the norm. Nicosia must at long last decisively tackle the restaurants fuelling trapping by serving ambelopoulia. Such political decisions could begin to have an effect on ambelopoulia consumption (which remains popular) and even a knock-on effect on courts, leading to deterrent sentencing of convicted trappers.