Cyprus Mail

Govt. proposes ‘selective’ hunting of songbirds

A bird caught on a limestick

By Constantinos Psillides

The government’s plan to battle illegal bird trapping includes a controversial provision that allows selective trapping of black caps, or ambelopoulia, it emerged on Thursday, outraging conservation groups who vowed to fight it tooth and nail.

In its announcement of the plan, the cabinet included a section saying that it would try to achieve its primary target –conservation and dealing with poachers — by looking into ways to allow for the “selective” hunting of ambelopoulia, without specifying.

The popular methods currently used by poachers are nets and limesticks — both indiscriminate.

Cyprus has been heavily criticized for its reluctance to deal with illegal bird trapping. The government’s proposal also touches on the subject, saying that one of its goals is to “deal with the negative image Cyprus has abroad.”

“This is a disaster. In one stroke they have taken the discussion on bird conservation back fifteen years,” said Tasos Shialis, campaigns manager at conservation group BirdLife Cyprus. “We are back at square one.”

Shialis told the Cyprus Mail that the NGO strongly opposed any form of bird trapping and that they would fight the government proposal tooth and nail.

“This is not the plan we proposed. This is not what was agreed during the meetings of conservation NGOs with government officials,” he said.

For the proposal to go ahead, it must be approved by the European Commission by granting an exemption from the 2009 EU Directive on the conservation of wild birds.

The government will have a hard time convincing the EU Commission, Shialis said.

“Getting an exemption is almost impossible. The directive is crystal clear on what grounds a selective hunting of birds is allowed. We do not fit any of the criteria,” he said.

Article 9 of the 2009 directive specifies that member states are allowed derogations in the interests of “public health and safety, in the interests of air safety, to prevent serious damage to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries and water and for the protection of flora and fauna. Also, for the purposes of research and teaching, of re-population, of re-introduction and for the breeding necessary for these purposes and to permit, under strictly supervised conditions and on a selective basis, the capture, keeping or other judicious use of certain birds in small numbers.”

It is likely that the government will file a derogation request based on the last provision, claiming that hunting song birds is a traditional practice.

Asked on whether that would hold in court, Shialis said Cyprus was not the only one that came up with that idea.

“In 2003 Spain filed a request to be allowed to use limesticks to hunt certain types of thrushes, claiming it was traditional in the region of Valencia. The request was denied, citing that exact article of the EU directive,” explained the campaign manager for Birdlife Cyprus.

According to BirdLife Cyprus, 2014 was the worst year for bird trapping since a record 900,000 songbirds were killed by poachers in the British base area of Dhekelia alone last autumn.

That is three times the number since monitoring began in 2002.

It is estimated that 1.5 million songbirds are killed each year by poachers.

Ambelopoulia are considered a local delicacy and a dozen can go for up to €80. Despite strict regulations, restaurants mainly in the Famagusta district still serve ambelopoulia.

The Cabinet’s proposal will be taken to the parliament for discussion at the House Environment Committee.

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