NICOSIA, March 24 (Xinhua) -- Bird trapping, a centuries-old pastime of Cypriots which has been strongly criticized by the European Union and environmentalists across the world, decreased considerably during the autumn trapping season, an environmental organization said in a statement on Sunday.
The emailed statement by BirdLife Cyprus said that data in its latest report for the autumn of 2018, based on monitoring of areas where trapping is being practiced, showed that bird trapping with mist nets dropped by 90 percent compared with 2002.
"This positive all-time low is mainly due to the progress achieved within the (British) Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area (SBA) over the last two years, one of the main trapping hotspots of the island in past years," the statement said.
Authorities in the areas of Cyprus comprising the British bases on the island, which are technically considered to be British soil, have taken drastic measures in recent years to fight bird trapping, including placing monitoring cameras in the woods to watch trappers' activity.
"By increasing police patrols, introducing deterrent sentencing for trappers, enabling covert surveillance work and continuing operations targeting trapping habitat, the SBA Police in particular has been playing a key role in the dramatic reduction of trapping levels over the last two years," it said.
But the statement noted that while the big picture is one of welcome success and relief for Europe's migrant birds, bird killing with mist nets in the areas controlled by Cyprus Republic has increased.
"An estimated 335,000 birds were still trapped across Cyprus last autumn," the statement said.
Depending on the size of birds, a conservative estimate puts their value at about 1.6 million euros.
While bird trapping in the past was practiced with sticky lime sticks as a means of supplementing the poor diet of farmers and village people, it has grown into a multi-million euro business in the last two decades.
Trappers started using mist nets catching hundreds of birds on a single net during their migration from September to November.
Authorities had estimated that nets totaling 21 kilometers of bird routes were active three years ago in the main trapping areas along the southern coasts of the island, when an estimated 2.5 million birds were trapped, with a value of about 15 million euros.
The high stakes in bird trapping have attracted the attention of criminals as authorities believe that organized crime is exploiting the trapping of birds.
Under pressure from the European Commission, Cyprus has introduced measures to combat bird trapping, including fines of hundreds of euros for each bird found in the possession of trappers and prohibiting preparing bird dishes in restaurants.
However, trappers still risk fine and prison sentences because of the high income from bird trapping.
"While BirdLife Cyprus acknowledges the efforts by the competent authorities in the Republic, including the issuing of high, deterrent on-the-spot fines, this year's increase in trapping levels in the Republic...reminds us that the trapping problem is not yet solved," BirdLife said.
Another environmentalist organization, Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), said in a statement that 29 of its volunteers had collected close to 2,600 lime sticks and 53 mist nets from traditional bird trapping areas.(1 euro currently equals to 1.13 U.S. dollars)