Thursday, 9 March 2017


Could Ministry of Defence do more to save migrants? 

Song Thrush caught in net in the Biritsh Base
Song thrush caught up in netting
THE Ministry of Defence is facing renewed flak  over the continuing killing of thousands of songbirds on British bases  in Cyprus.

The birds, including warblers now come to the UK, are being illegally trapped by poachers who use tape lures - recorded  calls - to attract  birds both  to  mist nets and to a glue-like lime  that makes their feet and  feathers stick to perches.

They are then killed  and sold to restaurants where their meat is used in a dish called ambelopoulia

Of the 155 species known to have been killed in this way, 78 are listed as threatened by the EU Birds Directive.

The trapping is non-selective and species caught even include long-eared owls and stone curlews.

Protectionists describe Cyprus' sovereign base areas as "probably the deadliest place for birds in the whole of Europe".

They estimate  that almost one million migratory and resident birds are being trapped and killed there each year.

Mist netting is on an almost industrial scale
A Bonn-based organisation, the Committee Against Bird Slaughter, which monitors the situation, claims ineffective enforcement by military police has allowed  the trappers to  "pursue their illegal activities with impunity", and the situation has become "worse than ever".

Chairman Heinz Schwarze says : “We are well aware of the dangers involved in opposing criminal trappers, but these can never be a reason for reluctance to expose and enforce the law.”

The MoD says that, over the past two years, its  police have arrested 62 poachers and
conducted 55 major mist netting clearance operations, resulting in the seizure of 1,330 mist
nets and 857 lime sticks.

It continues: "Policing this area is very difficult, encompassing, as it does, more than 13,000 acres of open land with unrestricted access to the public. 

"Efforts are further complicated by continuing demand for illegally trapped birds elsewhere on the island and by those who see trapping and hunting as traditional ways of life.
"Within the sovereign base areas,  there are no restaurants selling ambelopoulia, but the demand appears to be significant elsewhere, and this is not something the administration can directly control."

Redstart on limestick
Happily this male redstart was rescued after having trapped by sticky lime

The MoD says enforcement actions have met with strong resistance from the local community and have resulted in protests from bird trappers in  summer and winter, 2016.

"Some 60 local residents came out in force one  night, blocked in military vehicles with their own cars and prevented officers' safe departure for a number of hours until the situation was resolved. 

" Police officers employed by the military base have also been attacked and threatened.

"Property nearby has  been damaged and graffiti sprayed on signs."
Bonelli’s Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli)
This  Bonelli's warbler also came to grief  on a limed perch
Below is the letter written by  the Ministry of Defence in response to protests sent to Prime Minister  Theresa May

 Ministry of Defence
Joint Forces Command
Main Building
London SW1A 2HB
United Kingdom


22 November 2016

From Her Majesty’s Government in response to representations on illegal bird trapping in the Sovereign Base Areas to the UK Prime Minister, Rt Hon Theresa May MP.

The Rt Hon Teresa May MP has asked me to respond to you, regarding the many postcards received from members of the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) on the subject of illegal bird trapping in the Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) on the island of Cyprus. 

Your campaign correspondence called on the UK government to take action in response to bird poaching in the SBA and sought assurances that perpetrators are being brought to justice. 

The addresses of some of the many representations could not be easily identified; therefore, we have agreed with Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) they will place this letter on their website. 

Please accept this as a full reply to your correspondence from the UK government.

The practice of trapping birds in the SBA is an issue the SBA Administration has been taking very seriously. 

Whilst this problem is not unique to the SBA, they are aware of problems faced at Cape Pyla near Dhekelia, because it is one of the principal sites on the island for migrating birds. 

During the last two years the SBA Police have arrested 62 poachers and conducted 55 major mist netting clearance operations, resulting in the seizure of 1,330 mist-nets and 857 lime sticks. 

This has impacted on bird trapping activity and bird trapping intervention will continue.

In addition to this continuing enforcement activity the SBA Administration has also taken significant steps during the autumn migration of 2015, and again in 2016, to remove the invasive acacia bushes and associated irrigation used by the bird trappers. 

As you may know, acacia is planted and used by trappers to attract birds towards their mist nets. 

Since November 2014, the SBA has directly removed 61 acres of acacia from the range, at a cost in excess of €400K.

Notwithstanding the success and progress made over the last few years, policing this area is very difficult, encompassing as it does over 13,000 acres of open land with unrestricted access to the public. 

The SBA Administration’s efforts are further complicated by continuing demand for illegally trapped birds elsewhere on the island and by those who see trapping and hunting as traditional ways of life.

 Within the SBAs there are no restaurants selling ambelopoulia (a dish in Cyprus made from songbirds), but the demand appears to be significant elsewhere and this is not something the SBA Administration can directly control. 

However, where possible the Administration will continue to deploy robust enforcement measures and work with others to continue to prevent bird trapping in the SBA.

The SBA Administration’s enforcement and removal actions have met with strong resistance from the local community and have resulted in protests (from bird trappers) in the summer and winter of 2016. 

Most recently, during an acacia clearance operation on 19 October 2016 the cutting of the bushes was interrupted when 50-60 local residents came out in force during the night to disrupt the work.

 The protesters blocked in military vehicles with their own cars and prevented their safe departure for a number of hours until the situation was resolved. 

SBA property near the military base has also been damaged and protest graffiti sprayed on signs. SBA Police officers employed by the base have also been attacked and threatened. Nevertheless, the SBA Administration’s commitment to continuing their efforts to tackle bird-trapping within the SBA remains undiminished.

As part of their enforcement activity the SBA Police continues to work closely with the RSPB and BirdLife of Cyprus to tackle trapping including measures to boost cooperation by undertaking more joint patrols. 

The SBA Administration has also participated with Non-governmental organisations to endorse a Strategic Action Plan to counter illegal bird trapping, which brings various measures together to tackle the problem. 

The plan is currently being considered by the Republic of Cyprus. The offer of collaborative activities has also been extended to CABS.

One of the top priorities in 2015 for the NGOs was for the designation of Cape Pyla as a Special Area of Conservation. This was achieved by the SBA Administration in December 2015. 

As a result of the designation, the SBA Administration has taken on an obligation to maintain the site at a favourable conservation status. An Environmental Management Plan will be drawn up for the area, which will include a provision for the removal of all invasive acacia in the coming years so that natural habitats can be restored.

In addition to enforcement operations, the SBA Police also invest significant time in wider educational programmes in the areas around and in the SBA. 

They work in partnership with the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) Game Fund and BirdLife to promote the protection of wildlife and assist in changing the Cypriot culture towards wildlife in the local communities to reduce demand for songbirds and to educate communities about the effects of illegal bird and wildlife trapping. 

In 2014 the SBA Administration opened a new Environmental Education Centre in Akrotiri within the SBA. This centre offers educational programmes to school children on the importance of migratory birds and their protection.

I hope this correspondence assures you of the seriousness with which the SBA Administration takes this illegal activity, and of the efforts they are progressing to tackle it. 

This remains one of the SBA Administration’s highest priorities, and they remain committed to working with all relevant organisations to do all they can to further reduce bird trapping within the Sovereign Base Areas.

Yours sincerely,
Joint Forces Command

 Below is the response (December 3, 2016) of the Campaign Against Bird Slaughter to the letter from the Ministry of Defence.

 Dear Joint Forces Command

we are thankful for your kind reply to the many postcards received from our members, supporters and overall citizens concerned with the shameful bird slaughter perpetrated in Cyprus and mostly in the British Base Area.

Although we appreciate your statement that "bird trapping has been taken very seriously", we are forced to underline that your argumentation and analysis is not correctly portraying the situation in the ESBA, misleading the public opinion and all concerned birdwatchers and birdlovers in the UK and Europe. 

You may consider that 62 poachers arrested within two years is a satisfactory result. This means 31 trappers per year.

 The truth is that this is a very poor result. According to our monitoring in Autumn 2016, we have observed a minimum of 116 active trapping sites in the ESBA, and this is a conservative estimate, since we couldn't check the whole territory.

 Conservatively trappers are active in the ESBA from end of August until begin of March (some trap also in spring until mid May) for a total of 200 days a year. 

This makes some astounding 30,000 trapping days yearly. 31 arrests show that the police definitely missed lots of opportunities to catch trappers in flagranti.

Just to provide you with an example of good enforcement, the Anti-Poaching Unit of the Italian Forest Police in October 2016 managed to arrest 86 poachers in 23 operational days with three patrols, almost 4 poachers per day.

Even the Anti-Poaching Squad of the Cyprus police is achieving more significant results than the ESBA police: in Autumn 2016 within one month they had 22 people arrested in 18 operational days with one patrol. 

The ESBA is catching on average one poacher every 6 trapping days!

Therefore there is no surprise that also your following statement that seizures and arrests have "impacted on bird trapping activity" does not reflect the reality. 

The situation in the ESBA is worse than ever, with no control, police officers and even soldiers blackmailed, frighetened and subjugated by criminal trapping gangs. And in autumn 2016 we saw no improvement at all.

There was only one night when we could observe a significant lack of trapping activity in the core area with no tape lures calling: it was the night when the BBC crew was invited to join the anti-poaching operations of the ESBA police.

Another bad news is that "acacia salina" is still blossoming in the trapping sites of Cape Pyla. Despite our and Birdlife Cyprus's recommendations about where to eradicate the invasive plant, in order to destroy trapping sites, your Administration is not targeting these areas and the eradication has been taking place where there are no trapping sites or around them. 

So far according to your statement, you have spent 400K € for the eradication, but only 2 or 3 trapping sites out of the approx. one hundred have been affected. 

For sure, if you negotiate with the trapping communities where to eradicate the acacias, this will never give the expected results.

The last criticism we are forced to move towards your policy addresses the issue of the difficulty of policing the core trapping area, Cape Pyla, an "open land with unrestricted access to the public". 

Cape Pyla trapping area, with some one hundred of well marked and known trapping sites, is served by 5 roads which are used every morning by trappers from 4:00 a.m to 5:00 a.m. 

Every morning the same cars at the same time drive down and up this road, like going to work. 

In addition the activity of each trapping site is signaled by a tape lure, calling all the night from 10:00 p.m until after dawn. 

Trapping sites are few dozens of yards away from each other and in few hours by foot the police can visit and deactivate dozens of trapping sites. We honestly see no difficulty in policing this area.

 Much more, we have done it, collecting nets and destroying tape lures, because the responsible body is not doing it.

 We are aware of the dangers involved in opposing such a professional and criminal phenomenon, which nobody can call "traditional ways of life", and we understand your reluctance to expose agents and Administration against criminal gangs.

 But your policy of "laissez faire" in the past has created this sense of impunity within trappers communities and now it is up to you to carry the burden. 

And as long as you follow this soft policy, stepping back when they block roads, asking them where to eradicate acacias and let them police the territory with night patrols, guards, sentinels, abuses, shoutings, threats, they will always have the upper hand.

CABS is more than willing to logistically and strategically assist the ESBA Administration in tackling bird trapping, but we need to see that action follows your statement that "bird trapping is taken very seriously".

Otherwise we will have to act on our own, assuming all dangers and risks for our volunteers. We hope that the Ministry of Defence will not leave us alone in this hard battle.

Yours sincerely,
The CABS staff and volunteers 

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