Hundreds of thousands of birds have been illegally trapped and killed in a British controlled area of Cyprus, conservation charities have revealed.
Around 1.4 million songbirds, including robins and warblers, have been slaughtered to be used as ingredients for the Cypriot delicacy ambelopoulia.
A large proportion of the birds were caught at Dhekelia – a UK Sovereign Base Area in the south-east of the island.
Scientists have warned of an “ecological disaster” after data compiled by BirdLife Cyprus, the RSPB’s BirdLife International partner, revealed this autumn’s trapping was the highest for ten years and was five times higher on the British base than in the Cypriot Republic.
Experts believe birds that have nested in the UK, such as lesser whitethroats (a small, grey warbler) will have fallen victim to the trappers as they migrate for the winter.
Ambelopoulia is a dish of pickled or boiled songbirds, which although illegal, is still served in some Cypriot restaurants.
BirdLife Cyprus’s Martin Hellicar said: “The picture emerging from this autumn is one of a bird-trapping disaster unseen since we began monitoring almost 10 years ago. Bird trapping is an illegal indiscriminate practice that threatens many birds of conservation concern, especially migratory ones.”
Ambelopoulia is popular and expensive, the illegal trapping is highly lucrative and organised by criminal gangs. Trappers go to great lengths to attract the birds. Recordings of bird calls are played from loudspeakers to attract them in. The duped birds are then trapped in virtually invisible mist-nets attached to trees and bushes.
The MoD said efforts were being made to tackle illegal trapping at the bases.
A spokesman said: “The Sovereign Base Area (SBA) authorities takes the issue of illegal bird trapping extremely seriously and the SBA Police has allocated significant resources in its efforts to tackle this illegal activity. These efforts are part of the ongoing operation against trappers and is known as Operation Freedom.”