BirdLife Cyprus is asking for assurances from the Game Service that an EU-mandated programme to limit hunting of the threatened turtle dove this autumn will be effectively monitored.

It fears that an agreement to reduce turtle dove hunting this autumn by 50 per cent may not be properly implemented, as it relies completely on what the hunters declare.

The population of the turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur) has decreased by 79 per cent in the last 30 years in Europe, making it one of the most threatened migratory bird species in the world.

The main reasons for this decline are intensive agriculture and hunting. In the EU, autumn hunting of the species is permitted in ten member states: Austria, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Malta, Portugal and Romania.

In view of the urgent situation, in 2018 the EU Commission developed an International Action Plan outlining various conservation measures that need to be taken by all member states – including a hunting moratorium to allow the population to recover.

Unfortunately, various member states including Cyprus, oppose this, arguing that measures should be taken to address intensive agriculture first, and not to “punish” hunters for the species’ decline.

At the same time, the EU is developing a tool, the so-called Adaptive Harvest Management Model (AHM model), which will determine, based on scientific parameters, what could be a sustainable level of hunting for this species.

BirdLife Cyprus and BirdLife International have argued for a hunting moratorium for a minimum four-year period throughout Europe, to allow the population to continue. There was some progress when in early July at a meeting on autumn hunting with the EU Commission, the Western Flyway (Spain, France and other neighboring countries) agreed on a temporary hunting moratorium.

But for the Central Eastern Flyway (Italy, Balkan countries, Greece – this flyway includes Cyprus) member states were not in favour of a temporary hunting ban but accepted a 50 per cent reduction in the harvest levels for this autumn.

BirdLife Cyprus notes that for Cyprus, this means that around 17,000 turtle doves could be hunted this coming autumn.

The harvest level will be monitored through an application developed by the Game and Fauna Service, where each hunter must declare how many turtle doves they have hunted on each outing. When this number reaches 17,000, then turtle dove hunting will be stopped for the season.

Similar approaches for the recording of hunting levels for turtle doves have been applied in Malta and Spain, however the evidence is that few hunters participated or the declared bags were much lower than the real ones, the NGO said.

“For this reason, and because Cyprus has not yet set a hunting quota for turtle doves, we have reservations regarding the correct implementation of this measure, as the harvest levels will depend entirely on what is declared by the hunters,” it said.

The Game and Fauna Service, the competent authority for the protection and conservation of wild birds, has the responsibility to show that this proposed monitoring and control mechanism for the turtle dove hunting is reliable and effective, it added.

This is one of the main preconditions that the Commission has put on the table for the member states, stressing that if this is not met then a zero-harvest scenario will be considered for the Central-Eastern flyway from next year.

“Saving an emblematic species such as the turtle dove requires coordinated and collective action at an international level in order to prevent its extinction. Together with our BirdLife partners in Greece, Malta, Turkey and Israel, we have started a campaign to raise awareness, carry out research and undertake lobbying actions for the species,” the NGO concluded.