By Evie Andreou
OVER ZEALOUS pruning of eucalyptus trees in the Armenian cemetery in Nicosia near the Ledra Palace check point have raised fears over the fate of rare long-eared baby owls which were nesting in the branches of the trees.
Residents witnessed with horror on Monday morning a crew, reportedly sent by the Armenian prelature, cutting down eucalyptus trees more than 50 metres tall in the yard of the cemetery.
In the trees were reportedly many owls and their young which could be danger if nests were destroyed.
“There were many nests and many owls and they make a lot of noise; we can hear them at night, we could see them hunting and we can hear their babies too,” said resident Nadia Coatsworth, expressing concern whether the owls could remain after the heavy pruning of the tress the owls will still be there.
“I want to see if tonight there will be the same noise,” Coatsworth said.
The forestry department which had given permission to the Armenian prelature to prune the trees told the tree-cutting crew to stop all activities once they were told the owls were in danger.
“I gave instructions to stop pruning the trees immediately and I will personally go down there first thing tomorrow to inspect if there are nests on these trees,” said Loizos Loizou, Nicosia district officer of the forestry department.
Loizou said they gave permission to the prelature to prune the trees because branches were breaking and falling and it was a matter of safety. He said the department did not have enough staff to inspect sites before granting permission.
“It’s too late! There should be an officer from the forestry department with them on the site,” Coatsworth said, adding that pruning was not the right term to describe what the crew had done.
“They have cut the trunks of the trees, not the branches. When are these trees are going to grow back to their height? Not in my life time, I’m sorry to say,” she said.
The Armenian prelature could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Martin Hellicar, Campaign Manager for BirdLife Cyprus said that the long-eared owls nesting in the area, are a rare species and that the forestry department is to blame for how much the trees were cut and the time of year it took place.
According to the European Birds Directive, it is illegal to cut down trees during breeding seasons if there are nests in them with eggs or young birds.
Hellicar explained that even though the young owls wouldn’t have been in the nests, they sit in nearby trees waiting for their parents to hunt and are still very vulnerable.
“Destruction of their nests will have an impact; it is a serious disruption and there are dangers of predation as they will have to seek refuge somewhere else and until they do, they face being snatched by other birds,” Hellicar said.
“The forestry department should’ve known better,” said Hellicar.
Hellicar said that there 50 to 200 pairs of long-eared owls in Cyprus.
Eucalyptus trees were introduced into Cyprus during British colonial times to help drain swampy land which was the breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. In recent decades these majestic trees have fallen out of favour with the forestry department because they need so much water.