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Ministry of Defence Criticised Over “Ineffective” Enforcement of Bird Hunting on Cyprus Bases

CABS volunteers freeing a bird from a net in the British ESBA in CyprusCABS volunteers freeing a bird from a net in the British ESBA in CyprusWildlife campaigners have criticised the Ministry of Defence for turning a blind eye to the killing of hundreds of thousands of migratory songbirds (warblers, thrushes, blackcaps, but also owls) in their Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) on Cyprus.

Despite assurances that the British military has taken action to prevent illegal hunting, the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) discovered more than 116 active trapping sites in Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) alone this autumn.

The ongoing dispute between CABS, a conservation organisation operating anti-poaching patrols in five Mediterranean countries, and the military bases, has led to Prime Minister Teresa May requesting that the Ministry of Defence defend their actions. In an open letter to CABS’ supporters, who sent thousands of protest letters to the Prime Minister, the Joint Forces Command of the MoD stressed that the SBA administration is well aware of the situation on Cyprus and that its Police have seized numerous trapping paraphernalia and arrested 62 poachers in the last two years. It also confirmed that their operations have met with strong resistance from the local community and have resulted in attacks on, and threats to, police officers employed by the base. CABS insists that, despite the MoD’s attempts at enforcement, the situation in the SBA is now worse than ever, with hundreds of thousands of birds being trapped in illegal nets on the bases each year. Heinz Schwarze, Chairman of the Committee Against Bird Slaughter, said: “The statement from the MoD suggesting that seizures and arrests have ‘impacted on bird trapping activity’ unfortunately does not reflect the reality on the ground. What we observe is that the trappers are still pursuing their illegal activities with impunity. Police officers and even soldiers are being blackmailed, frightened and subjugated by criminal trapping gangs.” Mr Schwarze added: “We are well aware of the dangers involved in opposing criminal trappers but these can never be a reason for reluctance to expose and enforce the law.”

According to CABS, the SBA Police´s policy of adopting a ‘laissez faire’ approach in the past has created a sense of impunity within the trapper communities, which has turned the eastern base into a "hell for birds”.

CABS has published data proving that an operation recently conducted by the SBA police to remove acacia bushes used by the poachers only affected three out of more than 100 known trappings sites. The whole operation – which cost the British taxpayer about 400,000 Euros - had absolutely no effect on illegal trapping. In an open letter to the Ministry the organisation appealed directly to the Joint Forces Command: “As long as you continue to follow this soft policy, stepping back when they [poachers] block roads, asking them where to eradicate acacias and allowing trappers to self-police the territory with night patrols, guards, scouts and deter people with abuse, verbal aggression and threats, the law-breakers will always have the upper hand”. CABS added that it is more than willing to logistically and strategically assist the SBA administration in tackling bird trapping more effectively in the coming trapping seasons, as it does with law enforcement agencies in other countries.

Photos of bird trapping in the Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) on Cyprus are available from CABS. For more information, photographs and interviews, contact: Axel Hirschfeld +49228665521, or cabs.italia@komitee.de

Notes to the Editor: