Cyprus Allows Spring Dove Shoot in Violation of EU Law

BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 9, 2007 (ENS) - Hunters in Cyprus took aim at European turtle doves today as they flew across the island nation from Africa on their way to breeding grounds in Europe. Hunting of these migratory birds was allowed for two days by the Cyprus government in a decision that infuriated European conservationists.

The Cyprus government announced Friday that it would allow hunting of the declining species in certain coastal areas today and on Sunday May 6. Conservationists called the decision "indefensible" under the European law.

"It will be a case of targeting a threatened bird species at the most vulnerable stage of its life-cycle," said Executive Manager of BirdLife Cyprus Martin Hellicar, from the organization's headquarters in Nicosia.

"These threatened doves will be hit as they pass through Cyprus at the tail-end of their long migration from Africa to their breeding grounds in mainland Europe, said Hellicar.

Cypriot officials claim that the country’s thousands of hunters have too little chance to kill these birds in the autumn shooting season. Yet, between 19,000 and 30,000 turtle doves are being killed in Cyprus in August and September, according to government figures.

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A European turtle dove, Streptopelia turtur, on a wire in Belgium (Photo by Charly Farinelle courtesy Aves Belgium)
Spring hunting is prohibited by an EU law known as the Birds Directive in order to protect wild birds during their migration from Africa to Europe. The turtle doves migrate 3,000 miles each way.

"The EU Birds Directive bans shooting during migration towards nesting areas in order to ensure birds can successfully produce young to replenish their numbers," Hellicar said.

International Director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Alistair Gammell, said, "The EU must leave the Cypriot government in no doubt that playing fast and loose with EU laws and the future of this species is unacceptable. Too many of these birds are already being slaughtered every year and surely, now, we are living in an age when such barbaric practices should be consigned to history."

The European turtle dove is listed by the IUCN-World Conservation Union on the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List. The species is protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

The small dove has dark black and chestnut upper parts with a white belly and pink breast. The flight is characterized by flickering wing beats interspersed by short glides. The scientific name turtur comes from its soft 'turr turr' call.

The turtle dove is declining in many parts of Europe, although it is still common and widespread in the lowlands of central and southern Europe.

As a long-distance migrant, the turtle dove faces threats from hunting. It is heavily shot in France and on the Iberian peninsula. Tens of thousands of birds are also shot in their wintering areas, mainly in Senegal, and many more are killed on migration through Morocco.

BirdLife International in Brussels has informed the European Commission about the situation in Cyprus and intends to request "immediate and firm" action by Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

"This step by Cyprus represents a serious and unacceptable infringement of European law, and BirdLife International will ask national governments and EU decision makers to express their protest to the Cypriot government," said Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager at BirdLife in Brussels.

"This decision represents a very serious step backwards for both bird conservation and hunting in Cyprus. We are not opposed to legal, sustainable hunting - but this is not what we are faced with here." said Hellicar.

Malta, another EU country which permits spring hunting, is currently the subject of legal action from the European Commission. Kreiser says Cyprus might also face a European Court case.