British (SBA) position
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Text of letter from the SBA Administration to Proact

[with comments - in red - based on local and personal research and information]

From: Mr G G Barlow
Administrative Secretary
Sovereign Base Areas Administration
British Forces Post Office 53


12 November 2001

Dear Mr Conlin

I have been informed that you are considering a campaign against mist netting in Cyprus. < ..... > I understand that you may not be fully aware of what is going on in the Sovereign Base Areas in respect of this problem. Perhaps it would help if I could outline the situation as I see it. I would then be happy to answer any further questions you might have.

The two Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia between them comprise about 99 square miles of the island of Cyprus. Constitutionally they are sovereign British territory, retained for military purposes only, although at present only about 20% of the SBAs is under direct MOD control. The SBA Administration (of which I am part) is, in effect, the government of the territory, but we cooperate very closely with the Cypriot authorities in administering the areas and many functions are delegated to them. The maintenance of law and order is, however, very much a UK responsibility and the SBAA maintains a small civil police service (just over 200 strong) as well as a court and a prison. SBA law is intended to be essentially the same as the law in the Republic of Cyprus. In all the areas related to wildlife crime I believe it is at present identical. This means that all the implementing legislation relating to the Berne Convention already exists (and is enforced) under SBA law.

The SBA Police have placed fairly heavy emphasis on wildlife crime enforcement operations for many years. Nevertheless, the Administration has been under pressure from the conservation lobby in the last couple of years to do more to counter the mist netting trade. Mist netting (and liming) occurs in many locations throughout Cyprus. In the SBAs it is a significant problem in the Eastern SBA and, in particular, at Cape Pyla, including on a military range area. Large scale police and army operations were undertaken in the late 90s to clear acacia trees and mist netting paraphernalia from the range area.

[This was because the military were worried that the odd shot or mortared trapper might not be good PR. It also showed that the SBA Administration can be effective - if it puts its mind to it.]

These were largely successful but did lead to the dispersal of mist netting activity to other parts of Cape Pyla, where it has again become fairly intensive.

So, what have we done about it? First, we have recognised that mist netting is a significant problem and we are determined to combat it. We also believe, however, that we should cooperate with the Cypriot authorities and try to minimise local opposition to stricter enforcement. We have, therefore, over the last 12 months:

- hosted two coordination meetings with senior officials from all the Cypriot departments with an interest in the problem;

- invited wardens from the Republic's Game Service to participate in joint operations with the SBA Police;

[Despite this claim, the SBAs declined numerous approaches by the Game Fund (the Game Fund is the correct name of the organisation, suggesting that Mr. Barlow is less than wholly familiar with it!) to co-operate on raids during the Autumn migration. Until, that is, the BBC came out to film it. The SBA then launched a high-profile raid, using 40 SBA police and on this occasion did co-operate with the Game Fund (unfortunately, probably 39 of the 40 police had tipped off their friends and relatives that the raid would take place, and the trappers all stayed home that day!). The SBAs have constantly promised to increase their co-operation with the local wildlife service, but in practice they are dragging their heels.]

- warned local people that mist netters will be sought and prosecuted, through meetings with community leaders, leaflet campaigns and adverts in the press

[telling 'mafiosi' heavies that they really must stop a practice that is netting them (literally) up to US$120,000 each per year, or Mr Barlow will be very cross, has not had much effect. The SBA has brought just nine prosecutions this year, despite having confiscated some 500 nets. The nets cost around 7 Cyprus pounds each and are replaced the day after they've been confiscated. It is only regular patrols, prosecutions, and heavy penalties that will have any effect.]

- significantly increased the weight and frequency of SBAP anti-mist netting operations and changed the pattern of patrolling in order to secure a much larger number of arrests (as opposed to just seizure of mist nets), including by deploying over 40 officers for major sweeps

[see above: 9 arrests is a pathetic figure to boast about (the Republic has prosecuted over 50 people). 40 officers are deployed for the cameras when a favourable photo-opportunity is anticipated.]

- obtained warrants to enter private property in order to search for mist netting equipment;

[good, but how often is this done, and has the owner been tipped off first ?]

- changed our approach to prosecutions in order to obtain much heavier fines against mist netters convicted in the SBA Court (typical fines are now around 700 Cyprus pounds for a first offence, compared to less than 100 Cyprus pounds in the past);

[good - much to be encouraged. This is better than the 20 Cyprus pounds an SBA court fined a farmer who admitted poisoning two buzzards earlier this year.]

- cooperated with the RSPB Investigations Unit in developing our approach to enforcement; and

[talking, always better than action!]

- designated wildlife liaison officers in both SBAP divisions and sought to develop links with the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in the UK, which led to an advisory visit by PC Paul Henery of the Northumbria Police.

[A start. But the wildlife crime is taking place in Cyprus, not Northumbria, where the conditions are significantly different.]

As a result of these activities we have significantly reduced the level of mist netting activity in the ESBA this year

[this is not the impression of those on the island who - unlike Mr. Barlow we suspect - have been out in the field and seen for themselves]

and we are confident that we will make further progress next year too. But we cannot halt mist netting on our own

[no-one is asking him to. We, and those concerned with the problem on the island, are asking for him to co-operate EFFECTIVELY with the Republic authorities]

Hunting down mist netters in an area of the size of the ESBA is a labour intensive and, frankly, inefficient approach to enforcement.

[Not so at all. Much of it is concentrated in a relatively small area of Cape Pyla, where the key is regular, systematic, and conscientious patrolling. This is not happening.]

Most of the mist netting process is actually carried out in the Republic - in particular through the import and sale of mist nets and the sale of birds in restaurants.

[True, but let each party attend to the problems on their territory and not try to point a finger at the other.]

Until the Republic is in a position to crack down on these elements

[50 prosecutions in the Republic versus 9 in the SBAs, for example]

of the trade - and I am well aware of the domestic political problems they face in doing so

[the SBAs seem far more worried about their relationship with the locals, and the possible reaction if they take strong measures, than does the Game Fund. Hence the comment by trappers that: "Why does the Game Fund hassle us in the Republic while the SBAs leave us alone ?" !!]

- we will not be able to completely eradicate mist netting in the SBAs.

I hope the above information is helpful. I would be very happy to answer any questions you might have or to meet you if at some stage you visit Cyprus. Given your involvement in campaigning activities in other parts of Europe I imagine you will know Graham Elliott, Head of RSPB Investigations and I would urge you to get in touch with him in order to get his assessment of our efforts, particularly in comparison to those that take place in the Republic, with whom we are sometimes unfavourably (and unfairly) compared.

Finally, you may be aware that the UK has now applied to extend the Berne Convention to the SBAs.

[At last - what took so long ? Cyprus signed the convention in 1981 - in force 1988; the United Kingdom in 1979/1982 respectively]

As I mentioned above, the implementing legislation has been in force here for many years, but I am very pleased that we will now come formally under the convention.

Yours sincerely

G G Barlow

Copyright Proact 2001