Rise in wildlife crime in Cyprus

90,000 more songbirds were trapped and killed in 2023 compared to 2022.

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A pair of Blackcaps, male and female, perched on a mossy log and facing each other
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A 2024 report reveals that sadly, around 435,000 migrating songbirds, including Blackcaps, Lesser Whitethroats and Garden Warblers were illegally caught and killed in Cyprus in the autumn of 2023. 

This is fuelled by organised crime. Using hidden nets, and limesticks (sticks covered in an adhesive material that birds then stick to), songbirds are lured into traps and killed, so they can be eaten as part of the traditional ‘ambelopoulia’ dish. 

The Autumn Trapping report, published in March 2024, shows that the numbers of songbirds killed on the survey area on the island has increase by staggering amounts – from 345,000 in 2022 to 435,000 in 2023. The report was put together by BirdLife Cyprus and supported by the RSPB and the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS)  

An international partnership of organisations from the UK and Cyprus is working with both governments to tackle this problem. However, efforts to target trappers need to be maintained in order to make a difference. 

Why is Cyprus important?

Cyprus is an important migration route for many birds, as they migrate between their breeding grounds in Europe to their over-wintering grounds in Africa. Familiar songbirds, such as Blackcaps, Robins and Garden Warblers use the islands as a stepping-stone on their journeys. 

What’s happening?

It’s all about food and organised crime. Songbirds are trapped and killed illegally, before being sold on the black market to restaurants in the Republic of Cyprus for the delicacy of ‘ambelopoulia’ – a controversial delicacy of pickled or grilled songbirds. Criminal gangs use electronic decoys to lure birds into mist nests between acacia bushes, or use sticky limesticks to catch birds as they move around the vegetation. 

3 blackcaps are pictured stuck in a net hanging in the Cyprus countryside .

What work is taking place?

20 years ago an international partnership began to tackle this issue. At this time, more than a million birds were caught every year. Law enforcement authorities in Cyprus, particularly the Sovereign Base Area Police, have worked with BirdLife Cyprus, CABs and the RSPB, which has seen a massive decrease in the numbers of birds being killed. 

The partnership estimates that 4.69km of mist nests were active in the area last autumn, an increase of 6% compared to the previous year. While this is still a decrease of 88% since 2002, the pressure still needs to be increased. This year’s increase is due to a concerning rise in the number of mist nets found in the Sovereign Base Area. 

Mark Thomas, head of RSPB investigations said:

“For two decades our international partnership has shown that we can work together to tackle this criminal activity through direct action on the ground backed up by enforcement action. However, this autumn shows that more still needs to be done, particularly in the Republic of Cyprus.   “We cannot allow the progress we have made to be undone and the shocking levels of songbird killings to return to the abhorrent levels we once saw. In the British Sovereign Base Areas, they need to maintain police resources to keep the low levels of bird trapping achieved in recent years. In the Republic of Cyprus, we need to see a renewed commitment from the Government to tackling the organised trappers who continue making huge profits for little risk. By working together we can make this a thing of the past.”

To find out more about how the RSPB is working with BirdLife Cyprus and both the British and Cypriot governments to protect songbirds on the island, visit:

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