GAME wardens have expressed concerns over their personal safety in relation with proposed legislation on hunting that substantially raises spot fines for offenders.
In a letter to the House environment committee, the wardens’ unions said that even with the current much lower spot penalties, Game Fund personnel face serious safety issues, which include personal attacks and destruction of their property.
“The fact that these spot fines are imposed in open, oftentimes remote and isolated areas, should not be disregarded,” the letter from SEK and PEO said.
It stressed the Fund’s lack in personnel, which made it difficult to adequately staff patrols thus ensuring security of personnel.
“Based on this, we state that we are worried about personnel safety problems that will arise in the event of a further increase of spot fines,” the unions said.
They urged MPs to consider the matter carefully before making their final decisions.
According to the proposed law, under certain circumstances, game wardens would be authorized to fine offenders up to €20,000.
Conservation groups warn that hefty spot fines would not solve the problem of bird trapping.
Terra Cypria basically confirmed what the wardens themselves worry about: that they probably wouldn’t dare arrest offenders knowing they were compelled to issue a steep fine.
On the other hand, Terra Cypria said, if parliament reduces the fine, to a point that would render it ineffective, the Republic would be faced with a clear violation of the European Bird Directive.
Terra Cypria said the European Commission had never asked for the imposition of spot fines.
“It simply listened to what the Republic said and expects to see results so that illegal trapping of migratory birds is eradicated,” the group said.
Poaching, especially bird trapping, is a multi-million euro business in Cyprus, which is considered a hotspot.
BirdLife Cyprus estimates that around two million birds are illegally trapped every year in Cyprus, including threatened and endangered species.
Caught on limesticks or mist nets, the birds, locally known as ambelopoulia, end up served as delicacies. Others are killed and thrown away as collateral damage.
It is no surprise then when game wardens are attacked or have their vehicles torched or small bombs placed at their homes for intimidation.
The main trapping areas are Ayios Theodoros in the Larnaca district and Ayios Nicolaos and Cape Pyla inside the Eastern Sovereign Base Area (Dhekelia British military base) and Avgorou and Liopetri in the Republic.
On Thursday, about 300 British soldiers were confronted and surrounded by hundreds of Xylofagou residents after they tried to cut down acacia trees at Cape Pyla, frequented by wild birds that are illegally trapped and sold as a local delicacy.
The locals claimed they were doing it because the soldiers were destroying the ‘forest’ despite it being well known the acacias were planted to facilitate trapping.
“These trees were illegally planted by trappers and continue to be watered illegally with the sole purpose of attracting and trapping birds, mainly with the use of mist nets,” BirdLife said.
It added that trappers had illegally installed irrigation systems to water the acacias to help them grow fast and develop rich foliage, making them more attractive to birds.