BirdLife Cyprus is an NGO active in efforts to protect birds and national habitats through conservation projects, research and lobbying decision-makers. It is a member of BirdLife International and participates in the EU’s Life programme, which is one of its main source of funds.
Hellicar said 410 different species of birds have been recorded in Cyprus, the majority of them migrating birds and many of them rare.
Because of its importance on the migratory routes, Cyprus has an important role to play in protecting the world’s bird life, he said.
Cyprus has some 30 Natura areas, and there is considerable pressure because of the small size of the island for development.
Though development is not prohibited in Natura areas, this is provided it does not have negative repercussions on the natural habitat.
“It is time to look at alternative, most balanced and sustainable development which I believe can offer more to local communities,” he said.
Hellicar also spoke about illegal bird trapping which went completely against the principle of legal hunting because it was indiscriminate and at a mass scale.
“A hunter knows he can hunt a specific breed during specific days. Illegal bird trapping is massive and indiscriminate. It catches all kinds of birds, some of which are already endangered,” he said.
He said Cyprus has made progress on this issue, particularly in the British Bases, but the problem remains because demand is continuing. “The average Cypriot should realize that by ordering it, he is contributing to ecological destruction,” he said.
Hellicar said that BirdLife worked with the state and local communities to protect nature – one such example is a scheme at Oriklini’s wetlands, which though small, is of particular importance.
Using funding from the EU’s Life programme state bodies and the local communities set up a project to protect and also observe birdlife. That bird observatory is now an important element of the island’s tourist sector, he noted.
The EU sets clear cut directives on issues such as protection of Natura zones and prohibiting bird trapping.
Recently BirdLife and the Game Service applied for funds from the Life programme to protect Cyrpus’ highly endangered vultures – the population of which numbers only about 20.
The biggest threat to vultures is poison traps for other animals, and a few years ago, vultures were brought from Crete to boost the population, again with EU funds.
Regrettably, though initially successful that population did not survive, hence the new proposal to combat illegal poisonings by using sniffer dogs. Once the problem is addressed, then a new bid will be made to bring vultures to boost the population.
“It is a last chance for the vulture. It is best to be preemptive, for example, in the Natural areas,” he said.
“It will be a difficult endeavour, to save the vulture, I hope we can make it.”