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.”

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
Cumberbatch spectacularly photobombs U2 at the Oscars
Life and Style
Could you tell the difference between this and an organic alternative?
food + drink

Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'

Will menus with calorie counts really deter junk-food addicts from eating junk?
Today's Liverpool Echo back page
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
Life and Style

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

2nd Line server support - Microsoft certified

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our large organisa...

Year 5/6Teacher needed - Roath, Cardiff

£100 - £105 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The...

Reception Teacher

£120 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required...

IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?