The problem with illegal bird trapping on Cyprus has been well documented with a long term involvement in this issue by RSPB, BirdLife Cyprus and the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS). In the last few years there has been further profile raising by Chris Packham and recent 'Conservation hero of the Year' Ruth Peacey.

I have blogged previously about the use of covert cameras by RSPB Investigations and Sovereign Base Area (SBA) police which started in autumn 2016 to catch bird trappers – see here and here.

During 2016, 19 men were caught on camera at seven locations within the Eastern Sovereign Base Area (ESBA) in south east Cyprus and all, eventually, pleaded guilty. The final five from Operation Image were sentenced in court on Wednesday this week, and the two main culprits, a father and son, received really strong sentences. One received a 3200 Euro fine plus 20 months imprisonment, suspended for three years – so any offending in the next three years will result in a lengthy jail sentence. The other received an eye-watering 6600 Euro fine.

A cloud of feathers as a trapper cuts the throat of a blackcap - see the video footage here

The remaining three trappers, who had far less involvement, still received substantial fines between 800 and 1700 Euros. What was also very encouraging was that all five men received an exclusion order preventing them from entering parts of the ESBA for 12 months. This is a new initiative and a good example of the work being done by the SBA authorities to bring more pressure on the trapping community.

This was the first location where we installed the covert cameras in 2016, and I remember one of the SBA police officers telling me that he had been trying to catch these men for over ten years. So a few days later, when we revealed what was recorded on the first run from our covert camera, he was rather pleased to say the least. Because this process was new to everybody and setting other filming sites was more time-consuming than anticipated, we ended up running the camera at this first location for just over a week and filming trapping on seven days. The cumulative effect of all this evidence was instrumental in the punishments handed out at court.

One of the 19 trappers caught on covert camera during 2016 and later prosecuted

The fact that all 19 individuals were identified and successfully prosecuted is testament to the good work by the SBA police and prosecutors. The results of all the cases are detailed in the table below.

                  Details of court outcomes for all 19 trappers caught in 2016

As mentioned in my previous blog, catching trappers in autumn 2017 was, not surprisingly, rather more challenging. However, two men have already pleaded guilty and been fined a total of 1800 Euros. A more significant case involving another three individuals is yet to come to court. The bird trapping problem in the ESBA and large parts of Cyprus continues to be driven by the demand from the restaurant trade. Meaningful enforcement action by the Cypriot authorities on this issue has been almost non-existent in the last few years and far more needs to be done.

Whilst the SBA authorities are clearly committed to improving the deterrent impact of the enforcement work, the long-term goal has to be removal the many patches of non-native acacia in the ESBA. In late 2014, removal of these acacia plots began but ground to a halt in 2016 following large scale protests from the local trapping community. Completion of this work is badly needed to secure a permanent reduction on trapping levels within the ESBA. The RSPB has recently undertaken an assessment of how much of the trapping acacia still exists within the core range area and have made a number of recommendations to the SBA authorities.

In the next couple of months we will get the results of the annual BirdLife Cyprus trapping survey: hopefully this will show a significant reduction in trapping within the ESBA. Watch this space...