Mi­grant song­bird sur­vival hangs on wing and prayer

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

GOT to ad­mit that I’m fizzing at the mo­ment, not least be­cause I was watch­ing some song­birds re­cently as they gath­ered to fly south for the win­ter, and then re­mem­bered it’s not just the weather and long dis­tance they need to ne­go­ti­ate.

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 800,000 birds were killed on the Dheke­lia Base in the au­tumn of 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.

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 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 net laden death traps for the song­birds – go com­pletely.

Our song­birds are about to start their au­tumn mi­gra­tion, in­clud­ing those from Greater Manch­ester, and mil­lions will be trapped and killed.

Please write to your MP ask­ing them to press De­fence Min­is­ter Mark Lan­caster to ur­gently re­sume aca­cia clear­ances in the UK Sov­er­eign Base Area on Cyprus.

Here are some points you might in­clude:

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

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.

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. How­ever, aca­cia clear­ance stopped in au­tumn 2016 after trap­pers block­aded the sol­diers clear­ing the aca­cia.

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 can do this. We must meet our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties on UK ter­ri­tory and stop the il­le­gal slaugh­ter of wild birds.

Golden Ori­ole trapped in a mist net on Cyprus

The Laugh­ing Bad­ger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop

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