Sovereign Base Area (SBA) authorities said yesterday they take the issue of illegal bird trapping extremely seriously a day after Cyprus was reprimanded by Britain’s Prince Charles over its nonchalant stance on poaching.
“SBA Police has allocated significant resources in its efforts to tackle this illegal activity. Over the last four years, 132 people have been convicted within the SBAs for mistnetting offences,” the bases said in a statement.
The announcement added that the SBA authorities continue to work closely with conservationist groups to tackle “this abhorrent illegal activity”.
The Mail on Sunday published excerpts of a letter sent by Prince Charles to the commander of the British Bases and copied to President Nicos Anastasiades condemning the “industrial scale killing” of migrating songbirds.
In his letter, Prince Charles expressed particular concern over reports of increased levels of trapping on British bases in Cyprus and the authorities’ apparent failure to effectively tackle the ongoing problem.
“Disturbingly, autumn mist-netting levels are now much higher on this British soil than in the Republic of Cyprus, with mist-netting in the SBAs estimated to have increased 180% since 2002.”
The UK paper’s report added: “The killing fields are centred on the British Sovereign Base Area (SBA) of Dhekelia, on Cyprus’ southern coast, close to the tourist hot-spot of Ayia Napa.”
Charles further claimed that bird trapping on the island is big business, run by “serious organised criminals” who rake in £12 million (€14,342,000) a year.
The prince’s comments and the attention the Mail on Sunday report has already drawn were welcomed by local conservationist group BirdLife Cyprus.
Speaking to The Cyprus Daily, campaign officer for BirdLife Cyprus Tassos Shialis said the authorities will need to take positive action to avoid further embarrassment for Cyprus.
“Prince Charles has taken a very positive initiative by drawing international attention to illegal bird trapping on the island. We welcome all efforts that help to put additional pressure on the authorities to stamp out bird trapping and also publicise the negative effects of indiscriminate poaching on the environment.”
The conservationist added that BirdLife Cyprus hopes to see an immediate response from the authorities and effective anti-poaching measures implemented well before the main bird trapping season in autumn.
Cyprus was at the centre of criticism again last week after the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) and the Foundation Pro Biodiversity (SPA) said that a zero tolerance policy against songbird poaching should not be just a rhetorical political statement but an actual consistent and permanent effort by all political authorities.
CABS said that after spring 2013 cooperation with the competent law enforcement agencies of Cyprus was temporarily suspended by the newly appointed Minister of Justice after trappers began to create political pressure in the major trapping hotspot of Paralimni.
According to BirdLife Cyprus data, around 2 million ampelopoulia, otherwise known as songbirds are slaughtered on the island each year while the indiscriminate nature of the trapping means many rare and threatened species are caught.
While there are only 20 species of birds that are classified as ampelopoulia around 150 species end up as by-catch on lime sticks and in poacher’s mistnets.