"Indefensible" Cyprus Spring Shooting Permit Shocks Conservationists Across Europe

Turtle Dove (Photo: Mike Pennington)

Today's shock decision by the Cyprus government to permit shooting of Turtle Doves this spring poses an unacceptable threat to a declining species and is indefensible under the EU Birds Directive, say conservationists throughout Europe. The Cyprus government's decision will allow for European Turtle Dove - a species declining across Europe - to be shot in certain coastal areas on Sunday May 6th and Wednesday May 9th.

"It will be a case of targeting a threatened bird species at the most vulnerable stage of its life-cycle," said Executive Manager of BirdLife Cyprus, Martin Hellicar. "These threatened doves will be hit as they pass through Cyprus at the tail-end of their long migration from Africa to their breeding grounds in mainland Europe. The EU Birds Directive bans shooting during migration towards nesting areas in order to ensure birds can successfully produce young to replenish their numbers," said Hellicar.

Spring hunting is prohibited by EU law - the Birds Directive - in order to protect wild birds during their migration from Africa to breeding grounds in Europe*.

BirdLife International in Brussels have informed the European Commission about this step and is to ask Commissioner Dimas for immediate and firm reaction, asking the Cypriot government to revoke this decision.

"This step by Cyprus represents a serious and unacceptable infringement of European law, and BirdLife International will ask national governments and EU decision makers to express their protest to the Cypriot government." said Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager at BirdLife in Brussels. "This decision represents a very serious step backwards for both bird conservation and hunting in Cyprus. We are not opposed to legal, sustainable hunting - but this is not what we are faced with here." said Hellicar.

Malta, another EU country which permits spring hunting, is currently the subject of legal action from the European Commission. Cyprus would have to expect a European Court case - with similar EU-wide embarrassment - if the country does not revoke its decision, conservationists have warned.

*Cyprus will be trying to derogate from the Birds Directive to justify permitting the out-of-season dove shoot. But the use of such an exemption will not stand up to the obligatory scrutiny from Brussels, as none of the conditions for the granting of a derogation are met. The Birds Directive clearly states that a hunting derogation can only be granted if there is "no other satisfactory solution". To satisfy this condition, shooting in spring would have to be the only way local hunters could bag reasonable numbers of Turtle Doves. In fact, government figures show between 19,000 and 30,000 Turtle Doves are shot in Cyprus during the existing, autumn, shooting season.

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Written by: BirdLife International