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Illegal bird trapping: plugging one gap only to create another

BirdLife Cyprus’ latest report on bird trapping, for autumn 2020, presents the lowest trapping levels with mist nets ever recorded. Unfortunately, this welcome progress contrasts sharply with a catastrophic recent relaxation of the hunting law, while at the same time limestick use is on the rise.
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Fan-tailed warbler trapped on limestick © BirdLife Cyprus

BirdLife Cyprus has been keeping a close eye on illegal bird trapping for almost two decades, thanks to its systematic monitoring programme. Data analysis from the field survey carried out in autumn 2020 shows a 94% decrease in trapping levels with mist nets (compared to baseline levels from 2002) within the survey area, which includes areas in the Republic and the SBA in Dhekelia. This is a remarkable progress, given the fact that just four years ago, BirdLife Cyprus recorded the highest ever trapping levels within this SBA. The decrease in trapping levels in the Republic is also a welcome development that makes up for the increase observed during 2019 and 2018.

Despite trapping with mist nets being at its lowest levels, autumn 2020 was a season when an increase in limestick use was observed. The BirdLife Cyprus field team found increased trapping activity with limesticks, both in terms of total number of limesticks found set and also in terms of sites found active for limestick trapping. This increase in limestick use seems to be supported by the Game and Fauna Service, whose data shows that twice as many limesticks were confiscated in autumn 2020 compared to autumn 2019.

This increase in limestick use is worrying and we believe it is linked to the much lower fine of 200 euros for limestick trapping, which is not deterrent to trappers. Equally worrying is the fact that big, organized trappers continued undisturbed with the mass killing of songbirds last autumn. The authorities need to apply effective enforcement action against these trappers to deal with this issue once and for all“, stated BirdLife Cyprus’ Campaigns Coordinator, Tassos Shialis.

The increase in use of limesticks was also observed by Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) during their autumn operations against illegal killing of birds in Cyprus.

Surely the increase is linked with the introduction of the new, low fines in 2017 as CABS is recording an increasing trend in the use of limesticks since 2018 in the Republic of Cyprus“, stated Andrea Rutigliano, coordinator of CABS campaign in Cyprus.

The low fines for limestick trapping and the recent law amendment that was voted through by the Parliament last December are jeopardizing a 20-year effort to save migratory birds from being illegally killed in Cyprus. With this recent law change, the on-the-spot fine for the offence of illegal killing (using limesticks or a shotgun) of up to 50 birds on a list of 14 protected non-game species was reduced from €2000 to €200 only. These 14 songbird species “happen” to be the target-species of trappers and poachers, also known as “ambelopoulia”. We are certain that this law amendment will enable further limestick use and encourage the illegal shooting of non-game species. Offenders will essentially be getting nothing more than a “slap on the wrist”. A glaring example of this is the shooting of dozens of protected bird species at Soros Lake in Meneou which BirdLife Cyprus reported to the authorities last autumn.

And while the Cyprus Parliament has essentially decriminalized the use of limesticks with these low fines, yesterday’s ruling by the European Court of Justice concerning France made clear that using limesticks as a traditional hunting method is illegal, slamming the door shut to the tradition argument once and for all.

BirdLife Cyprus has launched an online petition calling on the relevant Ministry and the House of Representatives to restore strict and effective fines – without any exceptions – through a new law amendment.

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