The Problem

Trapping is a non-selective method

Trapping with mist nets and limesticks is illegal both at national and European level due to the non-selective nature of these methods, in other words it is not possible to select which bird species gets caught. According to field surveys nearly half of the bird species recorded in Cyprus, i.e. 157 different bird species, have been found trapped on limesticks or in nets, 90 of which are listed as conservation priority species under the EU Birds Directive and / or BirdLife International. Our three endemic species, the
Cyprus Warbler (Sylvia melanothorax), the Cyprus Wheatear (Oenanthe cypriaca) and the Cyprus Scops Owl (Otus cyprius), birds unique to our island, are also regularly caught. To put these numbers into context, overall 400 bird species have been recorded in Cyprus, of which 280 are regularly occurring species.

It is large scale

The widespread trapping of birds with the use of mist nets, limesticks and calling devices in Cyprus contributes to large scale killing of birds, whereby hundreds of thousands of birds are killed every year. According to the field surveys that BirdLife Cyprus has been undertaking since 2002, in the last few years hundreds of thousands of birds have been killed every year due to illegal trapping. A recent academic study undertaken in Cyprus by the University of Cyprus has shown that electronic calling devices, which are extensively used,  are highly effective in luring birds towards trapping sites (Sebastianelli M. et al, 2020), increasing the number of individuals of target bird species captured by 6 to 8 times. In addition, the study showed that calling devices increase the capture of non-target species (bycatch).  

According to a scientific study which assessed the scope and scale of illegal killing and taking of birds in the Mediterranean, it was estimated that 11–36 million individuals per year may be killed/taken illegally in the region, many of them on migration (Bird Conservation International paper, 2016). Sadly, Cyprus was identified among the 5 worst countries of the region, (The Killing report, 2016)Considering the multiple threats that birds face (climate change, habitat loss, intensification of agriculture etc.) it becomes clear that an ecological disaster is taking place on our island and across the Mediterranean region. 

It is prohibited across all EU

Bird trapping is prohibited both by the national legislation (Law 152(I)/2003) and by the European Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC), as well as International Conventions (e.g. the Bern Convention of 1979 and the Bonn Convention of 1979). The use of mist nets and limesticks has been forbidden in Cyprus since 1974, but real enforcement never materialised. Both the national and European legislation strictly forbid these methods due to their non-selective nature and the large scale killing of migratory birds they contribute to. Additionally, the Cypriot legislation strictly forbids the trade and/or possession of trapped birds, either in restaurants or homes. Derogations from the Birds Directive may be granted, but only after a detailed justification and purely for reasons of public safety, scientific research etc. 

Traditional hunting methods cannot be accepted as a valid reason for a derogation according to the European Court of Justice. Various countries have attempted in the past to use the justification of tradition, however the ECJ has rejected this claim and convicted various Member States:

  • Case C79/03 Commission of the European Communities vs Kingdom of Spain’(ECJ judgement issued 9th December 2004): Spain was convicted for permitting the use of limesticks as traditional practice for the trapping of song thrush species in the Valencia region.
  • Case C‑557/15 European Commission vs Republic of Malta (ECJ judgement issued 21st June 2018): Malta was convicted for failing to fulfil its obligations under the Birds Directive by adopting a derogation regime allowing the live-capturing of seven species of wild finches.
  • Case C-900/19 LPO vs the French Government (ECJ judgement issued 17th March 2021): a request for a ruling was made by LPO against French Government regarding the use of limesticks to catch thrushes and blackbirds, using the pretext that it is a traditional practice in the departments of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Vaucluse and Var (France). The judgement of the EU Court of Justice was very clear, stating that whether a method of hunting is traditional or not, is not sufficient in itself to grant a derogation for its use.

Moreover, the European Commission has various open infringement cases against Member States for failing to fulfil their obligations under the Birds Directive. On 8 December 2016 the European Commission announced that it is taking France to the EU Court of Justice for failing to address continued violations of the legislation on the conservation of wild birds, specifically for the continued illegal trapping of Ortolan Buntings (Emberiza hortulana). More recently, on 12th November 2021 the European Commission announced that it is taking Malta to the EU Court of Justice for failing to correctly apply the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC) by incorrectly applying a derogation regime and authorising the trapping of protected finches for research purposes.

Therefore this EU case law puts an end to the myth that other European countries have been granted derogations on the justification of traditional hunting practices and shows that the EU Commission takes seriously the protection of birds across all Member States.

It impacts Cyprus tourism

Illegal bird trapping in Cyprus has a negative impact on the tourism industry, since many concerned tourists choose a different holiday destination due to the bad image created for the country. According to a study done by an environmental Non-Governmental Organisation, Terra Cypria in 2011, the losses in revenue due to the bad reputation created from trapping range between 40 and 100 million euros every year! And in recent years there is a growing concern from the general public worldwide regarding environmental issues, including wildlife crime.   

Furthermore, the Game and Fauna Service estimated in 2010, that the ‘black market’ of this illegal activity is in the order of 15 million euros every year. 

It is an inhumane method of killing

Trapping with mist nets and limesticks are among the most inhumane methods that can be used for trapping birds. The captured birds usually remain trapped for hours in mist nets or on limesticks, getting further entangled with their every attempt to escape. Any claims that all non-target bird species, i.e. not blackcaps, are released by the trappers are untrue, as it is very difficult to nearly impossible to untangle a bird from a net and particularly to peel it off a limestick without inflicting injury. Usually ‘by catch’ is discarded by the trappers. 

Furthermore, birds suffer such a shock when they get caught, which in many cases proves lethal for them even if they have no apparent injuries. 

It is no longer a tradition

Bird trapping may have been a traditional, small scale method for hunting birds in the past. However, the current activity levels reveal an industrialised, large scale and profitable business. Organised trappers, with the use of electronic calling devices, trap tens of thousands of birds every season and make tens of thousands of euros illegally every year at the expense of our common natural heritage – a dozen of ambelopoulia could sell between 40-80 euros. The Game and Fauna Service estimated in 2010, that the ‘black market’ of this illegal activity is in the order of 15 million euros every year. 

Moreover, any activity that contributes to an ecological disaster cannot possibly be considered a traditional practice. 

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