Illegal songbird trapping on the rise again in Cyprus


A new report on illegal songbird trapping in Cyprus has revealed that the number of birds killed continues to increase, with a staggering 435,000 caught in autumn 2023.

Published on Tuesday [6 March 2024] by BirdLife Cyprus and supported by the RSPB and the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), the Autumn 2023 Trapping Report shows that the number of songbirds killed in the survey area on the island has increased by an estimated 90,000 to 435,000 in autumn 2023, up from 345,000 in 2022.

Every autumn songbirds are illegally trapped and killed in Cyprus, before being sold via the black market to restaurants and the local and expensive delicacy of ambelopoulia or for home consumption. This huge operation, often linked to organised crime, involves gangs using electronic decoys to lure birds into mist nets placed between acacia bushes and within orchards, or using sticky limesticks to catch birds as they move around the vegetation.

Masses of Blackcaps are killed in Cyprus every autumn (Guy Shorrock).


Tackling illegal songbird trapping

Before the international partnership began to assist authorities in tackling this issue 20 years ago, more than 2 million birds were caught every year, with an estimated figure of 10 million birds being trapped in the 1990s. To tackle this illegal activity, law-enforcement authorities in Cyprus, particularly the Sovereign Base Area Police, have worked with BirdLife Cyprus, CABS and the RSPB. This has seen a massive reduction in the number of traps being detected and birds being killed.

The partnership estimates that 4.69 km of mistnet rides were active within the survey area last autumn, implying an increase across the island of 6% compared to the previous year. While this is still a decrease of 88% since 2002, showing that enforcement and partnership working can be effective, the pressure needs to be increased by the authorities. This year's increase is due to a concerning rise (41%) in the number of mistnets found in the Sovereign Base Area.

The report also notes the welcome reinstatement of the Cyprus Police Anti-Poaching Unit in 2023 that had been abolished in 2019, a key measure the partnership had called for. However, the report notes that the level of enforcement work undertaken last autumn against the bird trappers was very disappointing. It adds that, going forwards, this unit needs to tackle the large-scale, serious and organised trappers still operating with impunity.


Facin challenged

Martin Hellicar, director of BirdLife Cyprus said: "Despite the very good progress made in recent years, this autumn was a reminder that this can be quickly reversed if enforcement resources are not maintained, as witnessed within the British Sovereign Base Areas.

"Within the Republic of Cyprus, despite the decrease in bird-trapping levels, we recorded an increase in organised trapping. This is very concerning, and we expect the re-instated Cyprus Police Anti-Poaching Unit to take a more active role in tackling organised trappers, in collaboration with the Game and Fauna Service.

"Moreover, BirdLife Cyprus has been growing its outreach and awareness raising campaign, aiming to achieve a change in the hearts and minds of the local culture, from eating to protecting and appreciating them. 

"This is an even greater challenge to overcome, but we are committed to continuing and confident that eventually we will see a positive behavioural change in favour of bird conservation."

'Ambelopoulia' on plate (BirdLife Cyprus).