UK Cyprus Military Base Using Drones to Spot Songbird Poachers

FILE - A man watches a drone during a demonstration at the British police station inside the British military base in Dhekelia in southeast of the island of Cyprus, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA – Police at Britain’s two military bases on Cyprus say the use of a state-of-the-art drone will greatly boost their ongoing crackdown on the illicit trapping of small migratory birds.

British Bases Police Chief Constable Chris Eyre said poachers can no longer use the cover of darkness for trapping because the drone has night vision and can spot them in the dark going after the birds, which are a delicacy on the island and served openly, although it’s against the law to capture them.

He told The Associated Press that the drone’s use is governed by a legal framework to protect privacy rights.

The 25,000-euro ($30,000) machine’s cameras can read a license plate from as high as 200 meters (656 feet). At that altitude, the drone is neither visible nor audible from the ground so those on the ground don’t know they’re being watched and tracked.

Songbird trapping feeds a lucrative underground trade among some Cypriot restaurants that serve them. Conservationists say the trade is worth million and have called for constant crackdowns but governments have been reluctant to act.

A recent study by Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), said Cypriot trappers killed 2.3 million migrating birds in autumn 2016, up from 1.4 million in 2010, Agence France Presse said in a report on the use of the drones.

A police officer of SBA controls a drone during a demonstration at the British police station inside the British military base in Dhekelia in southeast of the island of Cyprus, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.(AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Size for size, Cyrus is the second-most deadly bird destination in the Mediterranean, after Malta and most of the industrial killing takes place within British military-controlled areas, especially the eastern sovereign base of Dhekelia, outside the south coast resort of Larnaca, AFP said.

After Cyprus gained independence in 1960, Britain retained sovereignty over two base areas covering some 254 square kilometres (99 square miles) of the island’s territory where it runs its own police and courts.

British authorities said the drone would mainly be used by an action team dedicated to combating illegal bird trapping due to the crystal clear imagery it can generate from great heights at a top speed of more than 80 kilometres (50 miles) per hour.

The top-of-the-range drone, which has night-vision capabilities, will enhance the police’s ability to cover areas which have proved difficult to reach in the past.

Dhekelia Garrison Divisional Commander, Chief Superintendent Jon Ward said bases police “are absolutely committed to targeting anybody involved in illegal bird trapping and we will use all legal methods in order to do this”.

He told reporters that police across British bases territory will also be using hidden cameras, a method which has proved successful in recent months in leading to the prosecution of bird trappers.

“We have seen some significant sentences handed down by the courts recently and the use of these techniques… and it will be intelligence-led to target criminals,” Ward said.

“My message to anyone thinking of engaging in illegal activity but more specifically in bird trapping is to be aware that we will be out both day and night to catch you.”

Trappers can catch thousands of birds a season, selling them at up to 40 euros ($48) for a dozen to restaurants, which serve the dish for nearly twice the price –- making it a lucrative business worth an estimated 15 million euros ($18 million) a year, the news agency said.