Every autumn, the UK Sovereign Base Area of Dhekelia on the island of Cyprus witnesses the greatest and most concentrated illegal trapping of migrant birds across the whole of Cyprus. Rows of mist nets are strung between planted invasive Australian acacia trees, illegally irrigated by water from boreholes delivered through a huge network of pipes.

Working together, the RSPB and BirdLife Cyprus reported that an estimated 800,000 birds were killed on the Dhekelia Base in autumn 2016 alone. It’s a number that has risen dramatically over the last decade, providing an ever-increasing supply of birds for a banned local dish - ambelopoulia (a plate of cooked pickled songbirds).

This is industrial-scale organised crime on a British Territory. It is not a traditional, low impact way of life as its perpetrators like to project, and has been forbidden by the law in Cyprus since 1974.

A pile of dead blackcaps, a bird often heard in UK gardens, which have been trapped and killed. Blackcaps are the main target of the trappers on Cyprus (Image: Guy Shorrock, RSPB)

A pile of dead blackcaps, a bird often heard in UK gardens, which have been trapped and killed. Blackcaps are the main target of the trappers on Cyprus (Image: Guy Shorrock, RSPB)

The Army Base authorities have started to take action. In 2014 they began a programme of acacia removal and recently, following specialist surveillance support from RSPB Investigations, have pursued convictions against the trappers resulting in increased financial penalties. In July and August the Authorities also took steps to disrupt the irrigation infrastructure.

But the acacia removal ground to a halt in autumn 2016 after the local trapping community blockaded the site, and prevented further clearance. The MoD is contending with organised crime worth over €15 million per year across Cyprus, and it shows. But this illegal activity on British Territory feeds the market for ambelopoulia, lines the criminals’ pockets and bolsters their power. And the reality is that it will not cease until these groves of invasive acacia trees – now mist-net laden death traps for the songbirds – are gone completely.

Stop this slaughter continuing

Our songbirds are about to start their autumn migration, and millions will be trapped and killed as they try to cross the Mediterranean. Hundreds of thousands of those birds will die on British territory in Cyprus. As much as we should and would not tolerate such activities here in the UK, nor should we there.

Please write to your MP (find out their contact details or send a message directly), asking them to press Defence Minister Mark Lancaster to urgently resume acacia clearances in the UK Sovereign Base Area on Cyprus. Keep your message courteous - the Base authorities are working in a very challenging context, and we want to support them to persist with the good work they had started.

Here are some other points you might want to include:

  1. Every autumn, an estimated 800,000 songbirds are trapped and killed on the UK Sovereign Base Area of Dhekelia on the island of Cyprus. Many are rare or declining species, slaughtered whilst seeking rest stops on their migration route.

  2. The trappers using the UK Sovereign Base Area have planted swathes of Australian acacia trees, watered by kilometres of irrigation piping, to support hundreds of mist nets that catch these birds at an industrial scale. This organised criminal activity fuels a growing black market for a banned dish of pickled songbirds and is valued at over €15 million per year across the Republic of Cyprus.

  3. The Ministry of Defence and the Sovereign Base Authorities have taken praiseworthy steps to remove some areas of acacia and irrigation, and to pursue convictions despite difficult conditions and personal risk to those involved in enforcing the law. However, acacia clearance stopped in autumn 2016 after trappers blockaded the soldiers clearing the acacia and has not restarted – this looks like a victory for the criminals.

  4. As a Sovereign Base Area in another country, this issue needs to be handled sensitively, but it is also an issue with a clear solution. The UK Government says that it wants to show global leadership on protecting the natural environment, and this is one area where we should and can do this. We must meet our responsibilities on UK territory and stop the illegal slaughter of wild birds by organised criminals, as required by law.

Please let us know at campaigns@rspb.org.uk if you've emailed your MP, and any replies you receive - it will help us to track the impact of the campaign on the MoD.

This golden oriole, also caught in an illegally set mist net, was rescued. Thousands more are not so lucky. Image: Guy Shorrock (RSPB)

This golden oriole, caught in an illegally set mist net, was rescued. Thousands more are not so lucky. Image: Guy Shorrock (RSPB)




  • Hi Cemal K, it's great to hear you've already banned hunting on your land. I'm  afraid there is little we can do to divert birds away from the trapping areas, where the criminals use high volume recordings of the birds' calls to attract them. But it is important that there are safe havens, like your land, for migrating birds – this is what we want the SBA Dhekelia to become too.

    Please consider adding your voice in Cyprus too :). You can help to reinforce that the practice is unacceptable (and of course illegal). You can find out more about work in Cyprus on Birdlife Cyprus' website (https://birdlifecyprus.org/) - look under the “Science and Conservation” tab.

  • This is stupid and crazy what people are doing there. I have 12 acres of land on the north side of Cyprus by Aslankoy and I have already band people from hunting on my land. Is there any way I can attrach these bird to my safe haven???