Ali Notizie - The English Digest - September 2002

SEPTEMBER 2002 - from the Editor

My last editorial was a cry from the heart and much has happened, both good and bad since the June edition of the Ali Notizie.

After a determined battle, which was always a rearguard action by LIPU, the Italian government has changed the law and has now delegated the powers to the regional authorities to change the local laws on hunting – both the length of the season and the list of species which can be legally hunted. This is a major setback but it recalls for me something said many years ago by my boss when everything around us was going wrong, “Nobody said it was going to be easy.”

Hunting was the issue which created LIPU and it simply won’t lie down and go away, it has to be fought with every legal and democratic method and most important of all – we must get through to the children. In this LIPU is having success and the education efforts at local level by volunteers and staff such as Kicca Nera , shown on the last Hoopoe, are bringing results but changing attitudes is a slow process.

The number of hunters in Italy is still huge, about three quarters of a million, but that is a third of what it was twenty years ago and the average age of these people is rising as the youngsters turn away from the killing. The conservation message being accepted and with social changes which encourage young boys to take to computers or play stations instead of shotguns the long term future is encouraging.

I recently met the staff in Parma and enjoyed a day visiting reserves at Santa Luce and Massaciuccoli as well as the recovery centre at Livorno which we helped with medicines and instruments last year. The hunting season had started and we saw many of the low life in their camouflaged trousers both in the cafes and around the edges of the reserve at Massaciuccoli. Andrea, the warden, told of finding the carcases of 6 bitterns in the reed beds last winter – and these were only the ones he found.

Despite all this, we left Italy feeling quite hopeful and with a deep confidence that one day it will be safer for the birds and other wildlife in Italy. It’s worth remembering that the RSPB has been fighting for the birds of our own country for over a hundred years and their real successes have come in the last few decades, LIPU is now where they were in the 1920s!

It was always going to be a long battle, setbacks were always to be expected but I am not disheartened and I look forward to successes in the future, it’s just that, “Nobody said it was going to be easy.”

News from Italy

OPERATION PANETTONI

by Elena D'Andrea

This year sees our eighth annual panettoni event. On 30 November and 1 December LIPU members and supporters will go out once again into the piazzas with their panettoni, traditional Italian Christmas cakes. The aim is two-fold, to spread the message of respect and protection of nature and to collect funds for a practical project.

From 1995 to 1998 the funds were used to popularise the use of nestboxes. In the following two years they were used to plant thousands of trees in carefully selected areas. The 2001 campaign enabled the setting up of the Biodiversity Observatory in Italy. The observatory has two fundamental aims, to study and then to take appropriate action where environmental emergencies develop.

In its first year it has concentrated on the Italian coastline, so important for nature in general and for birds in particular. LIPU will publish its report in the next few months. Our practical work in the field, funded by the panettoni operation, is the campaign we call "The Last Beach", where we aim to protect 40 km of coast in Basilicata, until now spared being covered in concrete, but under threat of being enveloped in speculative building projects.

Money raised by the 2002 Panettoni campaign will go to a project that, in today's Italy, is a very high priority, the protection of the most important areas for birds. These have been identified by the IBA Project, which this year has reached an important stage, the request for designation as Zones of Special Protection for all those sites that so far have not been defended. These Zones, together with Sites of Community Importance, form the Nature Network 2000, the "rescue network" created by the EU to protect the most important areas for biodiversity. In Italy this network is seriously under threat. Increasingly, too often, we are seeing damaging projects, in clear violation of community legislation.

LIPU is already engaged in reporting them and showing its opposition to such violations, but the sheer extent of the problem demands a complex approach. That is why funds from Panettoni 2002 are being directed to this particular cause. Christmas cakes, therefore, will be instrumental in investigating, with the second report of the Biodiversity Observatory to be published in 2003, violations of most precious natural areas. The document will be presented to the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Italian government.

But it will not end there. The funds will also help to continue the fight in defence of one of the most important and threatened areas in Italy. It is the Gargano, in Puglia, already a Zone of Special Protection and the last bulwark for the Little Bustard, and for years the subject of massive construction projects and agricultural changes. Our legal challenges have somewhat slowed down the works of destruction but we have to maintain the pressure and renew our efforts if we want to achieve lasting results. All those who buy panettoni will be playing their part in the important work to protect these natural paradises for birds.

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NEW FRONT IN THE HUNTING CAMPAIGN

Stand by us

The LIPU campaign to halt the proposed new hunting law goes forward: we need the help of all our members

by Danilo Selvaggi

Perhaps when you are reading these lines, the new laws on hunting will already have been approved. Or perhaps not, perhaps the opposition of LIPU and all environmental groups through the Italian Deputies will result in victory again, as happened in July. In fact, rather than a new law, it is a case of an amendment to the old, the historic 157 of 1992. A small but nevertheless substantial modification, given that 19 bis, the article concerned, gives to the regions the power, which hitherto belonged wholly to central government, to decide on matters of what may be hunted, and thus on the whole of wildlife protection. To this law we are implacably opposed, and we will continue to do so in all the places and with all the means that democracy can offer. We are not against the regions as such, that would be going too far! But the protection of wildlife is a far wider issue, impossible to contain within narrow regional limits.

Birds migrate and pay no attention to lines on a political map. In journeys of thousands of kilometres they pass over mountains, traversing the skies above seas and deserts alike. A poetry of nature, like a text from an undeciphered language. There are European directives in place to protect wild birds, backed up by international conventions.

Our own Italian Constitution affirms that the State retains sole power in matters of the environment, in the protection of nature and of ecosystems. Instead of which, here comes the new law, in our view unconstitutional and scientifically incorrect. Thanks to it, the regions will be able to decide which species are protected and which no longer. To appoint the hour for a new slaughter, of sparrows and finches as may be, or for a jolly shooting party to go after jays.

What sort of outlook?

Here then, it seems to us, is the key to the debate, its packet of litmus paper: the terrifying divergence between the scale of environmental problems and the pettiness, if not the outright falsity of the solutions proposed. The gap between the nature of the illness and the nature of the cure.

What to do, for example about climate change, what for desertification? And what exactly about the matter of agriculture? The new hunting law seems to offer a highly idiosyncratic solution: open up the guns on sparrows and starlings, those great scourges of Italian agriculture! As well might one say that a great flood could be held at bay with an umbrella, a simple umbrella, if perhaps a bit bigger than usual. An umbrella and a shotgun: is this really how we see the future?

An ongoing struggle

In one way or another then, the next months will be difficult, and for this we will need the help of all our members. That is why we sent out an appeal in July: there are severe battles ahead to oppose this law which would bring us, in a short space, from a past we had thought defeated to a future we would not wish to live in. With hunting in parks, for example. Imagine the situation: a group, a family out for the day, with binoculars, cameras, lunch in the rucksack and the wish to hear only the music of birdsong. Then all of a sudden comes the muffled sound of a shot, the spatter of cold pellets falling to earth a few metres away, in an incomprehensively violated silence. The legalisation of hunting in parks will be one of the themes of the new outline law on the environment, along with questions of refuse, electrical pollution, the evaluation of environmental impacts and more. It is a law that will change the face of Italy's environment. And then will come the deluge, the big engineering projects, the bridge across the Straits, the doubling of motorways.

Forests come before civilisations, wrote Chateaubriand, and deserts follow them. We shall continue the struggle, we, LIPU, its people and its members, whoever loves the environment, because respect for nature is no mere comfortable phrase, even though we may be surrounded by desert. We shall fight as never before, not to find ourselves in the desert once more, believing we are standing in a forest. In the desert, with an umbrella. A vast and completely useless umbrella.

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TOURISM: FOR AND AGAINST

A precious economic resource, but also a potential danger for our natural and cultural heritage, tourism seeks a new equilibrium.

by Mauro Canziani and Giovanna Dimitolo

Throughout the post war period tourism has undergone a swift and major development. To give some idea, according to World Tourism Organisation estimates, the number of individual air journeys went from 69 million per annum in 1960 to 564 million in 1995, and will reach 1.6 billion by 2020. These figures make tourism the world's biggest industry.

Within the European peoples, so to speak, with regard to the development of tourism, Italy occupies a noteworthy position. In 1997, tourism accounted for 6.7% of our GDP, and employed around two million people. But from the seventies onward, along with the recognition of its positive contribution to the economy, has come the realisation of the potential negative impact of such a major phenomenon on vulnerable areas of the environment, on the artistic and cultural heritage and the equability and sustainability of local development.

There are many critical issues connected to the expansion of tourism, whether at global or local levels. One only has to note the management of transport, of refuse, of energy consumption, the conservation of natural and cultural resources, of relations with local communities, and environments, all strongly linked to and affected by tourist developments. Tourist activity can form a genuine resource in terms of the quality of life and the local economy, but only if the environmental effects do not compromise the quality of that which people are coming to see.

Sustainable tourism is the response to the demand to join the conservation of natural spaces with a management appropriate to resources and the planning of social and economic development, capable of responding to the needs of the present without compromising that of the future to meet its own. (Notre avenir a tous, Edition du fleuve, 1989).

This is consistent with the recommendations of Agenda 21, adopted during the Rio Summit, and with the Fifth Community Action Programme for Sustainable Development. In contrast to other sectors, tourism has a direct influence on growth in Italy. The application of principles for sustainable tourism can only obtain concrete results if the majority of the population see the benefits for themselves.

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BIRDS OF THE NIGHT

by Guido Premuda

For centuries owls have been labelled with the popular belief that they are omens of ill fortune. Some of their characteristics have contributed to the growth of the superstition. They are active at night; their great forward facing eyes; their ability to fly silently; the fact that they are often seen around cemeteries, which are excellent hunting grounds and with many nest holes; and their particular call notes.

The Little Owl lives on the plains and in the hills. It nests in the roofs of farmhouses, in ruins and old buildings. The Barn Owl also prefers the plains to the mountains. This species is much in decline in Italy, mainly due to the destruction of traditional agricultural habitat and the overuse of pesticides and other chemicals. Feeding exclusively on small mammals, Barn Owls often fall victim to poisons put down to control pests. Coming across one out hunting at night is rather magical: flying in complete silence, white, wavering low down, almost dancing, it really does seem ghostlike.

The Tawny Owl is lord of the woods, where it can find nest holes in the trees. It is adapted to country and town, where there are plenty of pigeons and mice.

In mature Alpine forests lives Tengmalm's Owl, where it makes a habit of occupying abandoned Black Woodpecker nest holes. Long-eared Owls use the huge abandoned nests of Crows and Magpies, and still today, often fall victim to the absurd and barbarous practice of shooting at the nests, in an attempt to control the crow population.

Finally, there is the Eagle Owl, with its 70 centimetres length and 1.70 metres wingspan it really is King of the Owls. It is powerful enough to catch even quite large prey, such as young goats, but in Italy it usually feeds on rats and hedgehogs. It inhabits great rock cliffs, well away from human settlement.

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FARMING

The Common Agricultural Policy: towards reform

Birdlife International supports the European Community’s proposals for the reform of the CAP.

Over the last few years your birding experience in the countryside may not have been as satisfying as it once was. If after going out looking you have come back with nothing but the sight of empty skies it might not be because of your lack of skill in observation. You are simply one of the many who have come up against the main problem in today’s European countryside, the massive loss of once common birds, plants, mammals and insects.

So what is the cause of this environmental catastrophe? The changes in agricultural practices encouraged by the policies of the European Community such as the CAP. Over the last 30-40 years farmers have been forced to intensify their methods of cultivation simply to survive. In effect, this has meant the use of chemical products and machinery in a crusade for the removal of everything – insects, weeds, wetlands, hedges and trees – which does not contribute directly to food production.

The result is in front of our eyes: enormous, square fields meticulously cleaned of weeds, insects and other animals, dreary lines of fruit trees, gigantic cattle sheds. Intensive agriculture produces habitats that are nothing but wildlife deserts. With virtually no nesting sites and very little food for the young, birds that depend on agricultural environments have diminished dramatically in the last 20 years. The change from hay to silage fodder has had a serious effect on the Corncrake.

The move from spring to autumn sown cereals has contributed to the decline of the Skylark while the drainage of wetlands has damaged species such as the Lapwing. In the light of these agricultural changes, should we be surprised at the disappearance of the birds? How long would we survive without shelter or food?

Uncontrolled Productivity

For once, however, we know what lies at the root of these problems and we are in a position to do something to sort them out. The CAP, in force through-out Europe, has, through the control of the markets and the flow of money towards the countryside, contributed in a subtle way to the destruction of wildlife. Some of these changes would have happened in any case with the development of technology and the changes in consumer demand. The CAP, however, has distributed generous sums of public money to encourage production, putting pressure on farmers to produce more and more, obliging them to adopt techniques that leave no space for wildlife. They have other effects on the environment such as the pollution of the watercourses and the erosion of the soil. This is a system that benefits the large-scale producers: the result being that 80% of the funds go to a mere 20% of European farmers.

The proof that the CAP is one of the principal forces which are changing the countryside is to be found in a comparison with the wildlife of the countries of central and eastern Europe where farmers have not had the “benefit” of the production subsidies of the CAP. In these areas, species such as the White Stork, the Corncrake, the Great Bustard and the Red-backed Shrike are still common whereas they have virtually disappeared from many areas of Western Europe. The message coming from this is very clear. This policy must change. If it does not change we shall see wildlife systematically exterminated even from those countries just as soon as they join the European Union (and the first are due to do so in 2004).

It is for this reason that Birdlife has launched a European campaign for the reform of the CAP and why it needs your help. It is our taxes that fund the CAP and for that reason we should have a say in how the money is spent. For years with our taxes we have been paying for machines, fuels and chemical products as well as the reclamation of wetlands and the irrigation of crops. Without realising it, our money has been used to change our environment and the way in which our food is produced.

The overproduction of food

This use of subsidies has also brought about the overproduction of food. The EU now has warehouses and cold stores full of thousands of tons of powdered milk, meat, butter and grain for which the consumer has no use. Surpluses that cannot be stored such as those of tomatoes, fruit and vegetables are destroyed. But while Europe’s freezers are bursting with unsold food and we are paying for the electricity to keep it, we continue paying the incentives to farmers to produce yet more. And all this of course at the expense of the environment

How long must we continue to pay for an empty countryside which is no longer in a position to give people what they really want – safe food, wild animals and the preservation of our countryside and culture? If you think as we do that agriculture should benefit from public funds, but in a more diverse and balanced way, you will have a way of making your voice heard.

A beneficial reform

The European Commission has just come out with a proposal that is beginning to face up to the problem. First of all by ending production subsidies but helping farmers to maintain their own income and by encouraging methods of cultivation more in keeping with the needs of birds and other wildlife. Part of the money should help the farmers in the transition to organic farming, or in the improvement of the conditions of life for domestic animals.

This proposal, which Birdlife fully supports, has been rejected by some Ministries of Agriculture despite the need for radical change that has been evident for decades. This is happening because there are important interests connected with the CAP, which accounts for half the Community budget – around 40 thousand million Euros per year. Those countries and farmers who derive a benefit from the present system have considerable political influence and are blocking the reforms that would bring about a more equitable distribution of the money. We however, as contributors and consumers, should have the right to say how our money should be spent in future. By making your voice heard now by the politicians and decision makers, we can hope to see before too long the good agricultural practices that will bring back the birds and other wildlife to our countryside. So, the next time that you go out to take your binoculars along the hedges, the chances of you seeing your favourite birds will be decidedly higher.

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NEWS FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY

Calabria – Storks have returned

This spring a pair of White Storks successfully bred in Calabria, after an absence of six years. The nest was constructed on an electricity pylon in open countryside in the valley of the River Crati. Storks prefer agricultural habitats, where there is a good chance of finding food. The fields are, as in former times, surrounded by scattered trees, hedges and overgrown, uncultivated areas. There is not a serious problem of poaching here and local people have welcomed the return of these splendid birds. The pair managed to raise four young and they flew the nest towards the end of July.

The Last Beach

Funds provided by last year's Operation Panettoni have made it possible to finance the first year of our Biodiversity Observatory. We will publish a report on the state of the Italian coastline. We are also launching a campaign, called "The Last Beach", aimed at protecting the last 40km of unspoilt coast in Basilicata, an area of prime naturalistic value. "We say no to concrete, no to a polluted sea. We say yes to nature protection and a new model for development". That is the message that was given last July when LIPU activists and the Committee for the Defence of the Lucana Coastline came into the beach at Scanzano Jonico (Matera) in boats and canoes, to meet bathers and holidaymakers. To improve local architecture, involve the local population, protect a still threatened nature, promote development that is sustainable for the environment and useful to the local economy. These are the objectives of the campaign that is opposed to the construction of megavillages and tourist ports on one of the last sandy beaches to have so far escaped being concreted over.

Anti-poaching Operation in Naples

On 21 July the LIPU Hunting Rangers from Naples, with Carabinieri, completed an anti-poaching operation in an unlicensed street market. They confiscated hundreds of birds of protected species, such as Goldfinches, Serins, Chaffinches and Linnets, and several nets. Three people were charged with illegally trading in wildlife. The birds were ringed and subsequently released at the Virgiliano Park in Naples during a festival.

Vigilance in Livorno

This summer Volunteer Environmental Rangers from LIPU Livorno investigated underwater fishing at night and discovered a number of illegal activities. It is one of the worst types of poaching, resulting in serious damage to fish, shellfish and crustaceans, and even affecting the survival of legal professional fishing activities. However, it has hitherto been almost ignored by environmental organisations.

Kestrels in Parma

Kestrels had not been seen in Parma for fifty years, but in 2000 they returned to nest in one of the many holes in the walls of the Pilotta. It is an old building in the city centre, housing various museums, the Farnese Theatre and the Palatina Library. Four young were raised that year and there would probably have been as many the following. Then they disappeared again, as a result of the supervisors of public buildings, in Bologna, having the holes blocked up. But LIPU Parma, with the Verdi di Parma, managed to get agreement that the holes would be reopened. A local construction company brought in a crane and did the work for nothing. Now everyone is looking upwards, hoping once again to see kestrels nesting in the historic centre of Parma.

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RESERVES AND CENTRES

Palude Brabbia - a Fragment of history

by Andrea Viganò

In the Province of Varese there is a quite special environment that has managed to retain forms of life dating back to distant times in the world's history.

It totals more than four hundred hectares of natural landscape between lakes Varese and Comabbio, almost in the shelter of the Alps. There are small ponds and dense reed beds, attractive flooded woodlands, ducks and herons, insects and carnivorous plants, rare and threatened species, all within a real naturalistic jewel, the Palude Brabbia.

Since 1993 there has been increasingly close co-operation between the Province and LIPU in the management of this Ramsar protected area. Nowadays the Palude Brabbia is an extensive wilderness of reeds, protected at the edges by clumps of alders and bushy willows, interspersed with pools whose regular shapes indicate their man-made origins. They are old peat diggings, largely dating from the late nineteenth century. Many of the plants are relics from the last post-glacial period. LIPU has also discovered more than 170 species of birds, 26 mammals, 7 amphibians and 8 reptiles.

The richness of the habitat is reflected in the numbers of birds present, the reed beds being full of Great Reed Warblers, Reed Warblers, Marsh Warblers and Savi's Warblers. The pools are home to masses of Garganey, Teal, Shoveler and Gadwall, both during migration and the breeding season. Marsh Harriers are common and there is a heronry with about a hundred Grey Heron, Purple Heron and Night Heron nests.

In collaboration with the Province of Varese, LIPU has introduced several features to allow members, birdwatchers, school children and tourists to delve into this basket of biodiversity. There are explanatory panels; footpaths and bridges allow access into the thick reed beds; observation hides have been built at the pool edges. In addition there are LIPU representatives who are available to give interesting guided visits.

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NEWS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Eastern Europe: for IBAs

BirdLife International, with the support of the Nando Peretti Foundation, has set up a fund to finance urgent operations to protect IBAs in central and Eastern Europe, where there is a high level of biodiversity. The aim is to enable BirdLife partners to lobby for laws connected to the environment, prepare them to react quickly to threats at individual sites and to involve the local population.

Four projects are already off the ground. In Romania a network of surveillance groups has been set up for 18 IBAs. In Slovakia improvements have been made at one of the most important wetlands in the country, and which was in urgent need of maintenance work. In Turkey they have initiated a programme of environmental education in schools in the Kisimak Delta. In the Ukraine there is a campaign to ensure that the conservation of biodiversity in taken into consideration in future management plans in the valley of the River Prip'yat.

Asia: education and eco-tourism

Recently the North East Asia Crane Site Network has organised two workshops for workers at the most important sites for Cranes, on environmental education and on eco-tourism. Crane watching is already a very popular activity, and becoming increasingly so, benefiting local economy and providing opportunities for environmental education.

It is because there are so many visitors to breeding areas that they must be managed very carefully so that the tide of visitors does not damage the sites or interfere with the birds. The Crane Network is managed by the Wildbird Society in Japan (a BirdLife Partner) and supported by the Japanese Ministry for the Environment. Its aim is to encourage international co-operation for the protection of Cranes and wetlands: 8 important sites in Russia, Mongolia, China, North Korea, South Korea and Japan have joined the network since 1997 and 10 more are in the process of doing so.

Kenya: Sokoke Forest

The Arabuko Sokoke Forest, in Kenya, is the scene of a great success for BirdLife International. They have conducted a long-term programme to preserve the area intact and its wildlife, with benefits for the local population. The project, lasting 6 years and financed by the EU, has contributed to the establishment of a management system for the forest, supported at all levels of Kenyan society, from the central government to ordinary villagers. It will ensure the protection of this extremely important area for many years to come. Arabuko Forest has been classified as the second most important forest in the whole of the continent of Africa as regards the conservation of threatened bird species. It is the last surviving remnant of the forest ecosystem that formerly extended all the way from Somalia to Mozambique.

Spain: the Villafafila Reserve

After three years of pressure and public awareness campaigns, the SEO, the Spanish BirdLife International Partner, has tasted victory. An area of extremely high ornithological value situated at Villafafila, in the Region of Castilla and Leon, has been saved from an irrigation project that would have covered some 4,500 hectares. Villafafila is important for bird species of the steppes, and here is found the largest population of Great Bustard in the world, about 2000.

The SEO has not only been successful in getting the project withdrawn but has also obtained approval of plans for the development of the rural area, including a special programme co-ordinating the needs of agriculture and the environment. The next stage is to establish Villafafila officially as a Nature Reserve and get approval for a management plan for the area.

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Translation by Peter Rafferty, John Walder and Brian Horkley

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News from the UK

THE BRITISH BIRD WATCHING FAIR

LIPU-UK was at the British Bird watching fair, as usual, this year and it was good to be able to meet so many of our members who called at the stand. We were able to chat to many, many visitors and explain the work we do and the reasons for our existence and we enrolled fourteen new members – welcome to you all!

This event goes from strength to strength raising more money each year for conservation projects around the world.

This year the fair focused on the wonderful lowland rainforests of Sumatra. Time is running out for these rainforests, which are among the most biodiverse on Earth. At the beginning of the 20th century they covered more than 182000 square kilometres of Sumatra. Today, only 21700 square kilometres remain and these could be gone by 2005.

The main cause of the destruction of Sumatra’s lowland rain-forests is logging for the pulp and paper industry. The rate of logging has increased eight-fold over the last 11 years, and Sumatra now has the two largest pulp and paper mills in the world. The scorched earth left behind by the loggers is quickly seized by the palm oil industry for oil palm plantations, which currently cover more than 25000 square kilometres.

BirdLife International’s project to save the last lowland forests in Sumatra must be one of the most urgent and deserving causes today.

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It is time to acknowledge, with gratitude, the financial help given us by Carl Zeiss (UK). This company sponsors the conservation charities like us by paying for 75% of the basic cost of our space in the marquee. We have always been able to cover our costs, and show a modest surplus, by running a little tombola game, but without the help of Zeiss we would struggle to make ends meet. Thank you, Carl Zeiss (UK) for your support over the years.

A VISIT TO ITALY

I was able to visit Italy late in September to meet the staff in Parma and, having enjoyed our usual holiday in the Pyrenees at the start of the month, the list of birds seen this month has been quite good!

I was taken to visit LIPU reserves at Santa Luce and Massaciuccoli and CRUMA, the recovery centre for water birds at Livorno and this was very much a trip of contrasts. On the one hand the obvious dedication and energy of the LIPU workers and volunteers, on the other the “hard” men strutting around in their camouflaged trousers and lining up with their shotguns just outside the reserve boundaries.

After the last edition of the Ali Notizie I had some letters lamenting the amount of bad news and I determined this time to spread a little happiness. That’s not very easy at the moment, but we just have to look at our friends in Italy for real inspiration. They are not happy with the way things are but are not down-hearted, just grimly determined to stick at the task and hope things will get better.

At Santa Luce reserve there is no hunting and the warden welcomes over 2000 visitors in a year, and that is a lot in Italy, - most being schoolchildren who have the chance to see wildlife and nature as it should be seen, through binoculars not a gun-sight.

We met Paola Consani, the warden who works so hard and were happy to present her with a telescope for use by the reserve’s visitors. The scope was a kind gift from member Eddie Fonge of Northants and Paola says she will put it to very good use and, “Grazie, LIPU-UK.”

The Recovery Centre for Waterbirds at Livorno was busy when we arrived, the vet was operating and the manager, Daniele Marzi, was receiving new patients. Although the centre specialises in aquatic birds they turn away nothing that needs treatment and the boxes and cages with injured victims were standing in a row, almost all suffering from gunshot injuries.

From Hoopoe to Blackcap were awaiting treatment while we saw a Little Bittern in an aviary whose recovery was almost complete and approaching time for release. The overall success rate to release the birds back to the wild is about 50% here and that is well above the normal average. As we left a young boy, perhaps 11 or 12 years old, was bringing in another box – another young Italian who cares enough to do something.

Lago Massaciuccoli is a large lake near Pisa with a wonderful reed bed which comprises the protected area, managed by Andrea Fontanelli of LIPU. Sadly the protection for the birds extends only to the edge of the reeds.

The lake, therefore, receives visitors of all sorts, while we were there an Italian television celebrity passed us on the board walk and seemed very interested in watching the bird life, she was politely accosted by Ugo who used all his charm to persuade her to become a LIPU member!

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GALLINULE AND DUCK PROJECTS

The two re-introduction projects of Purple Gallinule in Sicily and White-headed Duck in Apuglia are going ahead well. After the fund raising held last October further action is now possible, in addition to that already planned and financed by various organisations including LIPU-UK

The Purple Gallinule project is being undertaken with the support of the National Institute of Wild Fauna (INFS) which has drawn up a feasibility plan and guarantees technical and scientific support, the centre at Valencia which has given freely birds for release, the island of Sicily which finances part of the operation and other bodies including the Province and University of Catania.

The White-headed Duck re-introduction project is partnered by the Gargano National Park and is centred on the splendid wetland reserves of Daunia Risi and Lago Salso.

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TAIL FEATHERS

And finally, despite wanting to end on a high note I was going to print a copy of an appeal by the RSPB pleading for support over the question of Malta’s entry to the European Union.

I’m devastated to learn that we are already too late. Malta has negotiated its entry terms and seems to have won all the concessions. The Maltese will continue their spring hunting and the trapping which is prohibited by the European Birds Directive and it appears that all they have promised in return is to hold an enquiry in 2008.

I quote from the Times of Malta:

Parliamentary Secretary for environment George Pullicino said Malta was the only country - of the 15 member states and all the candidate countries - to be granted a concession which allows hunting of turtle dove and quail in spring.

"The agreement on hunting and trapping strikes a balance between those who want to keep practising this tradition and the protection of birds. However, I want to stress that law enforcement will remain a priority and there is no room for illegal hunting."

One of the most worrying aspects of this lack of backbone by the European Fudge Factory is the message it sends to the other countries, Italy included. Will they soon be saying that what is good for Malta should also be good for them?

I am sorry to end on such a depressing note, I’ll try hard to do better next time and if the tone of this page has been too much for you, please don’t write to me. Much better to address a letter to:

Rt Hon Peter Hain MP,

Minister for Europe,

Foreign and Commonwealth Office,

King Charles Street,

London

SW1A 2AH

demanding that he insists on full application of the EC Birds Directive, with no exceptions for Malta.

All the line drawings in the Ali Notizie are used with the kind permission of the RSPB.