Limesticks are generally considered to be a ‘southern European problem’, but reports from the UK suggest that that their use – which is strictly illegal – is more widespread and may actually be increasing.
Limesticks are a simple but particularly cruel and indiscriminate method of trapping birds. ‘Twigs’ are covered with a sticky ‘lime’ or ‘glue’ (in Cyprus trappers traditionally used a concentrate made from boiled Syrian plums) and are placed wherever birds can be tempted to perch. This could be in natural vegetation like bushes or trees, or sometimes limesticks are pushed into the ends of bamboo poles.
Hundreds of limesticks may be placed in a single garden. In Spain it’s estimated that trappers catch more than 2 million birds every year using limesticks in more than 2,000 trapping sites – building huge ‘garden’ installations called “Barraccas” in Catalonia or “Paranys” in Valencia.
In Cyprus over a million birds are illegally caught on limesticks each year (including declining and protected species) and served up in local restaurants as a snack known as ambelopoulia: the use of both limesticks and mist nets has been illegal in Cyprus since 1974 (see BirdLife Cyprus May 2014).
Limesticks are so effective because when a bird lands its legs bend causing two flexor tendons to tighten which ‘lock’ the toes around a perch. This involuntary reflex (designed to stop perched birds falling while they sleep) means that the bird in effect presses down hard into the ‘lime’ as soon as it makes contact with it. Birds become stuck immediately. As they flutter to free themselves their wings, head, and even beak will often become stuck too. Birds caught on limesticks are unable to get free and hang helplessly – often for hours – until the trapper comes and literally rips them off the stick and crushes them to death.
Article 9 of the European Birds Directive (2009/147/EC, formerly 79/409/EEC), states that trapping methods that are non-selective or are used for large-scale capture or killing of birds are prohibited in European Member States. This includes limesticks, and their manufacture, sale, ownership, and use is therefore illegal across the EU.
- For an excellent article on illegal trapping see Jonathan Franzen’s “Songbirds, poached and eaten”
Let’s help tackle the illegal use of limesticks
It is illegal to manufacture, sell, own, or use limesticks anywhere in Europe. To be clear, there are no ‘scientific’ or ‘ringing’ programmes that would ever use such a cruel and indiscriminate trapping method: the use of a limestick in the UK will ALWAYS be illegal and will ALWAYS be a wildlife crime.
It is always illegal to use limesticks – no exceptions. On finding a limestick please obtain evidence by photographing or videoing it.
The usual advice is to leave it in place for the police, but the natural reaction is to want to render it harmless: providing this can be done without breaking any other law and if leaving it in place may cause a crime to be committed then to make a limestick safe remove it, roll/cover it in dirt or soil to stop anything else being caught on it, then destroy it. Do not simply remove and then discard or throw away a limestick, as animals may still get trapped on it.
In more detail:
- Make a note of the date and time and take photographs or video of the scene using a mobile phone or camera etc (or make as accurate a sketch as possible).
- Note the location as accurately as possible, preferably using a grid reference (free smartphone apps are widely available).
- Do not interfere with the dead victim of a limestick. Leave the body exactly as you found it so that the evidence can be fully recorded.
- If you see someone using or setting a limestick illegally – and if it is safe to do so – take as many photographs as you can. Recording the offender’s face is important of course, but their clothing, the bags they’re carrying, the equipment they’re using are all important too. Do NOT try to get too close – taking some long-distance images is better than having a camera smashed or being attacked and hurt.
Limesticks should always be reported to a Police Wildlife Crime Officer by calling 101 (unless offenders are still on the scene in which case call 999 and stress that evidence could be lost without prompt attendance) or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
The RSPB should also be informed, though they have no powers of arrest and can not respond while a crime is taking place in the same way as the police.
Cruelty to wildlife may also be reported to:
- England and Wales – RSPCA Cruelty line 0300 1234 999
- Scotland – Scottish SPCA Animal Helpline 03000 999 999
- Northern Ireland – USPCA Animal Information Line 028 3025 1000, caller ID required
If you find a live bird trapped on a limestick please bear in mind that if you are not properly trained and/or don’t have the right equipment to hand then any attempt to release it will almost certainly result in further harm being caused. As upsetting as it may be to see a bird in obvious distress, please leave freeing birds from limesticks (or other traps) to properly trained personnel.
Page updated June 2014. Thanks to PC Josh Marshall for advice and to Committee Against Bird Slaughter for use of their images.
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