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Monday, 30 September, 2002, 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK
Cyprus bird trappers up in arms
Blackcap (Photo: RSPB)
Fine nets are used to catch tiny blackcaps

Thousands of Greek Cypriot villagers have handed in their voting cards in protest at government attempts to stop a lucrative trade in trapping and selling small birds.


The custom is for diners to eat them whole, leaving only the beak behind

Cyprus is a candidate for European Union membership, and EU legislation says that bird trapping is illegal.

But the villagers say its prohibition will deprive them of their livelihoods and mark the end of a traditional activity that goes back to medieval times.

Conservationists say as many as two million birds every year are caught in fine nets suspended from poles or on sticks covered with glue known as lime sticks.

The tiny birds - which are considered a great delicacy in Cyprus - are then sold to local restaurants where the custom is for diners to eat them whole, leaving only the beak behind.

Crackdown


If the numbers are correct and if every bird sells for 1, we are talking about millions of pounds

Interior Minister Andreas Panayiotou
Now, with Cyprus a candidate for EU membership, the government says it is time to crack down on the practice and enforce existing legislation.

Interior Minister Andreas Panayiotou has little time for the bird trappers' laments over the loss of this particular traditional pastime.

"There is no doubt of course that they have a considerable income hunting these birds. If the numbers are correct - that we are talking about millions - if every bird sells for 1, we are talking about millions of pounds," he says.

Large flocks of birds fly over Cyprus every year during their biannual migration.

Conservationists insist the trapping has to stop.

They say the methods being used are indiscriminate and threaten the survival of endangered species - in particular, the tiny blackcap, which sells for up to 5 each.

Protests

Mr Panayiotou is adamant that the trappers will have to back down.

"There are a lot of birds that they can hunt - but using shotguns. Lime sticks, tape recordings of birds - all these methods are prohibited - not only by the EU but by our law as well," he says.

"But they can hunt these using the proper shotguns for which the government issues licences. This is clear - there is no way to go back."

Despite the government's attitude, the issue does not look like going away, with bird trappers planning a series of protests in the months ahead.

That could be embarrassing to the authorities as they try to show Brussels how successful they have been in preparing for European membership.

See also:

11 Apr 02 | Wales
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