PUBLISHED: 15:11, Tue, Mar 6, 2018 | UPDATED: 15:25, Tue, Mar 6, 2018
Delicate birds – including Britain’s national icon, the robin – were netted and had their necks wrung by poachers operating on the UK’s sovereign base in Cyprus.
Ruthless trappers cause carnage in the dense scrublands around the base by putting up nets to catch birds migrating to Africa in autumn – and then selling their plucked corpses on the black market as expensive delicacies in a trade worth millions of euros.
Conservationists revealed today how they are taking the fight to the poaching gangs, dramatically reducing their bags and also seeing them get heavy sentences in court.
Covert operations mounted by investigators from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Sovereign Base Area Police have reduced the number of songbirds slaughtered illegally by 70 per cent.
Traditional bird trapping on Cyprus was outlawed 40 years ago but has since spawned a lucrative racket with criminal gangs selling the fragile corpses for a dish known as ambelopoulia.
For birds such as blackcaps, robins, nightingales, golden orioles and masked shrikes, the demand for their flesh sees them trapped in fine nets, having their necks wrung before being plucked and fried for a dish that sells for up to £75 a plate.
As ambelopoulia is banned on Cyprus, holidaymakers to island have little idea that law-breaking tavernas are serving up the dish for locals.
Increased patrols on the Sovereign Base and efforts to deter the trappers saw their bag of 880,000 birds in 2016 decrease dramatically last year.