Political row flares over 'brutal slaughter' of three million birds a year in Cyprus

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Migrating birds caught in the deadly middle of political spat over responsibility for 'cruel practice' of illegally trapping birds to use in local delicacy

Harvesting the skies of beautiful wild birds using sticks, nets and even arrays of speaker systems, the bird-catchers of Cyprus snare and kill nearly three million of their prey every year.

Their main target is the blackcap, a dainty warbler known as the northern nightingale for its sweet fluting song.

Now these pretty little creatures have flown into another messy situation: a political row over who's to blame for their slaughter, involving the British military, Cypriot villagers and a furious MEP.

Struan Stevenson, a Scottish Tory member of the European Parliament, has told Europe to “stop blaming Britain” for the “cruel practice,” after the Environment Commissioner accused the Ministry of Defence of not doing enough to stop poachers on its bases on the Mediterranean island.

With the two Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) at Akrotiri and Dhekelia subject to British laws and policing, the Slovenian politician Janez Potocnik said the EU and Cypriot authorities are unable to act against crimes on these vast tracts of land, calling them an “important” part of the problem and adding that the UK needed to join the “fight against illegal trapping of birds” if the issue is to be resolved.

Together with Robins, Blackcaps are trapped to supply taverna restaurants with meat for the local delicacy, ambelopoulia, through black-market trading - despite the practice being illegal since 1974.

But after being reassured by the MoD that it took the matter “very seriously” and that there is “no evidence to suggest that there are any restaurants selling illegally trapped birds in the SBAs,” Mr Stevenson launched his tirade against the European Commission for not taking responsibility.

“Instead of taking firm action, they turn a blind eye to the real problem and spinelessly attempt to place the blame with our military,” he said of the “brutal slaughter”.

“Perhaps they don't want to embarrass Cyprus, the current holders of the EU presidency, but the Commission appears to be deliberately ignoring the great work being done by our personnel… It should be ashamed by this attempt to pass the buck.”

Caught in the deadly middle of this spat are the birds, which pass over the island while migrating from Europe to Africa and are more susceptible to being caught because of the exhausting journey.

A total of 2.8million were trapped and killed last year at a rate of more than 7,700 a day, according to BirdLife Cyprus - and the RSPB told The Independent that the British bases are indeed a big part of the problem.

“These military bases are massive, as they also encompass quite a lot of hinterland where you have villages and communities, and it's on these sites that a lot of the trapping takes place,” said Grahame Madge, a spokesman for the charity.

“This isn't just a few guys trapping on a Sunday morning with a few nets, this is almost getting into the realms of organised crime. There are massive operations at some locations, to the point where shrubbery is planted across hillsides to attract the birds, irrigation systems are put in to water the bushes to make them attractive to insects and therefore to birds, sound systems are put in. They play the bird song at night as the birds are migrating over the island in an attempt to try and pull them in to trap them.”

Mr Madge admitted that it is an “awkward situation” for the MoD. “Part of their problem is that they don't want to crack down too heavily on the locals because it will create unrest and tensions that they would find difficult to manage. I've seen the Sovereign Base Area Police in operation, I know they do crack down.”

But he added: “If you have crimes where millions of birds are being killed every year, is the enforcement proportionate to the crimes taking place? We urge the MOD and the Cypriot authorities to take whatever action is necessary to avoid the deaths of millions of birds every year. We can't deny they're putting the effort in, but that level of effort doesn't seem to be in any way stemming the amount of slaughter that is taking place.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
News
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Sport
football
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?