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Thursday, 8 February, 2001, 12:44 GMT
Songbird trade threatens rare species

The endangered chaffinch is being targeted by trappers
By BBC South's John Valters

Thousands of wild songbirds are being trapped in the British countryside and sold on in Europe, according to the latest RSPCA campaign.

Many of the birds are exported to Malta and sold in pet shops and street markets.

Trappers target mainly finches, such as the common greenfinch and the goldfinch, but also rare birds like the linnet and the endangered bullfinch.

The illegal trade in birds is said to be as profitable as drug smuggling and trappers use a variety of methods to catch birds, including cage traps, nets and bird lime - a glue like substance.


Many of the birds end up in Malta
Ursula Stannard has first hand experience of the cruelty behind the trade.

She was walking her dog in a Kent orchard when she came across nets and cages set to trap birds.

She captured the evidence on video camera - filming herself releasing birds from the net.

She also filmed cages containing live decoy birds used to lure other birds into the nets.

Senseless cruelty

On another occasion she arrived too late to save young goldfinches caught in the nets. Unable to free themselves they died in the heat of the sun.

She told BBC South: "I was horrified. The fact that anyone would do this to wildlife is abhorrent. If you see these nets it needs reporting.


The fact that anyone would do this to wildlife is abhorrent

Ursula Stannard
"These people need stopping. It's wanton destruction of our wildlife and the only way to stop it is to catch these people and stop them from doing it."

It is perfectly legal to keep, breed and sell most British songbirds provided they have been bred in captivity and ringed.

But there is a European-wide demand for songbirds that cannot be met by those bred legally in captivity.

So trappers and dealers take wild birds and force rings on their legs to disguise them as captive bred.

Many of these birds end up in Malta, where nearly every family has a caged song bird or a bird room.

Mr Noel Holland, of the Malta Cage Bird Association, told the BBC: "We should not get the blame as a nation - it's the people who supply them and the people who import them because these people know they're wild birds.

They get them for a couple of pounds while we spend 25 for a similar bird."


Don Taylor: British bird enthusiast
There is a legal way to produce British songbirds for sale.

In Britain there are around 1,500 serious enthusiasts who breed and exhibit British species at shows.

Don Taylor, from Portsmouth, who has been breeding British birds for 27 years, is quick to condemn the taking of wild birds.

"I haven't got much time for people who take birds from the wild - that's the honest truth.

"I believe in breeding all my own so I can put my own winner on the show bench. That's more of a challenge," he said.

BBC Southern Eye - Birds Traffickers can be seen at 1930 GMT on Thursday on BBC Two in the BBC South region.

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