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Ali Notizie - The English Digest - September 1999
From the President of LIPU
Everything in life has a purpose. Have you ever wondered, "What's the point of a tree?" We immediately think of the obvious: "Why, it's branches, trunk and roots are homes to birds and lots of other creatures. True, but this is only a minute part of the infinite relationships linking plants to the rest of life, including ourselves. The fact that a one hundred year old tree will have purified the equivalent of 40 million cubic metres of air is absolutely astonishing! Then think of how its roots nurture and protect the soil from natural and artificial erosion.
But every year hundreds of acres of woodlands are destroyed by fire, and others are indiscriminately chopped down.
This is why LIPU has decided to launch a special Christmas campaign. With your help and donations we hope to replace 100,000 trees! Instead of a rather sad Christmas tree, doomed to die or, at the best, languish on the terrace or out in the garden, we will be giving a present back to nature, for the benefit of birds, mammals, butterflies and ourselves; real trees, big trees, and typical of our own latitude. Just think of the tremendous good we can do for nature and the environment. Friends of LIPU, let's all work together to leave a green mark for nature!
NEW WOODLANDS FOR BIRDS
There is less than 6 million hectares of 'real' woodland left in Italy. LIPU has decided to replant 100,000 trees and hopes to achieve this through its "A TREE FOR CHRISTMAS" campaign.
According to statistics nearly 9,000,000 hectares of Italy's area is covered in woodland (about 29% of total land area). The figures include area replanted with quick growing trees such as poplars but does not however include the hundreds of acres that go up in smoke each year. What 'real' or natural woodland there is left is a result of lots of hard work and good management, coupled with the fact that large numbers of people are now abandoning rough mountain ranges, allowing for natural regrowth in these areas.
Every Christmas cake is worth a tree
This is what our winged friends tell us. With the absence of many birds such as the Black Woodpecker and Tengmalm's Owl from our many woodland areas, any gesture or initiative that will improve both the extent and the quality of Italy's woodlands is useful.
With funds already collected from the sale of Christmas cakes we have, in recent years, been able to install thousands of nest boxes, helping in the restoration of many areas of burnt down forests. After some very good results we have decided to expand and complement our actions through this new initiative. With this year's special campaign every Christmas cake bought will help plant a new tree.
THE SEASON FOR CHALLENGE
As the hunting season reopens we once again reflect on the implementation of regulations and the protection of wildlife. Some regulations have not been given a chance to become effective as the hunting lobby is continuing and intensifying its attacks. But LIPU and BirdLife have not stood still. They have taken appropriate action against these attacks. A petition was launched in Italy and across Europe aimed at stopping substantial changes (for the worse) to the Birds Directive and to the hunting calendars in individual member states. Particularly welcome was the support from other associations, WWF, Legambiente, LAC, LAV, Italia Nostra, Federazione Pro Natura, Fondo per la Terra. They all helped to circulate LIPU's petition in a common cause which is bound to bear fruit.
Thanks to LIPU's efforts, the Constitutional Court has decided that it is illegal for special dispensation to be given to the Regions in the case of 11 species, including Brambling and Chaffinch. The battle which started last year has led to the ratification of the very important principle that regulations made at national level may not be varied by individual regions. The question of special dispensations for the regions is, unfortunately, a problem that will come up again in the drafting of regional hunting calendars and dates for the pre-season period, which would affect migrating species. Hunting in Parks is another problem to be faced. Some authorities are trying to legalise hunting of some species which, though on the hunting list, depend on protected areas for a quiet place to breed.
Since the beginning of the Balkans conflict Dalmatian Pelicans, Glossy Ibis and Pygmy Cormorants have been arriving on the coasts of neighbouring countries, fleeing from an environmental catastrophe.
Every war results in damage to the environment, but it is overshadowed during the actual conflict by the horrors suffered by the people and all the other problems which affect them. However, when the fighting stops and in the years which follow, damage to the environment can be seen in all its seriousness.
There are often disastrous consequences from the fighting itself but also from the loss of control over civilian infrastructure. An example would be a chemical works which is on fire and which has to be left to burn itself out due to the impossibility of taking any action, or the leakage, into the soil and into surface and underground water, of combustible materials from a damaged refinery. The recent conflict in Kosovo has once again demonstrated these problems, which no-one is prepared to discuss.
Through BirdLife International we have gathered some evidence. One very worrying example is the escape of oil into the Danube: the destruction of refineries at Novi Sad, Sombor and Pancevo polluted a series of canals and produced a 15km oil patch on the river and which has now arrived at the delta in Romania. Fires have destroyed part of the forest in the Fruska Gora National Park and in the Tara mountain nature reserve. Fires have affected nesting of several pairs of Golden Eagles in Kopaonik Park, and disturbance has stopped breeding of the only local colony of Griffon Vultures at Nova Varos.
As a result of the destruction of habitat, and also direct and indirect disturbance, birds react with their innate sense of self preservation to seek better conditions elsewhere. There have been more frequent arrivals in neighbouring countries, including Italy, of individual birds of some species which until recently were considered rare or infrequent visitors. It is obviously difficult to prove scientifically a direct correlation, but it is a fact that since the first conflict in Croatia, then in Bosnia, and more recently in Kosovo the arrivals from the Balkans area have increased. These include species such as Spoonbills, Dalmatian Pelicans, Pygmy Cormorants and Glossy Ibis. These refugees have found suitable habitats in Italy (better than a few decades ago, at least from the point of view of protection) which have allowed them to settle down, breed and so develop new colonies. This is probably the case with Spoonbills in the Po Delta and new breeding attempts by Glossy Ibis in several Italian wetlands.
From a certain point of view, these attempts by birds to establish "refugee camps" in Italy as a result of the war in the east will enrich wildlife in the west. But that is a rather meagre pleasure for naturalists who are profoundly disturbed by what has caused their flight to Italy in the first place.
Among the "fugitives" from Eastern Europe, the Glossy Ibis is worthy of special attention. The only true European ibis, up to a few years ago this elegant bird was decidedly rare and was listed as a species in danger and in decline almost everywhere. However in Italy there seems to have been a change in its fortunes since the beginning of the Balkan conflict.
Since about the first half of the 1990's, a slow but apparently constant increase in the number of both migrants and summering birds has been recorded. Breeding was first recorded along the Sesia and then last year three or four small colonies were found in other parts of the country, in Piedmont, Sardinia and Tuscany, with attempts being made in other regions. The Glossy Ibis can now be observed quite regularly in the Po Delta and on coastal lagoons in the south and on the islands.
PARADISE FOR BIRDS
- Why do we need a survey of Important Areas for Bird Conservation?
In Italy, during the last decades of this century, there has been a marked increase in the rate of destruction of the natural environment and the species inhabiting it. The programme for the conservation of Important Bird Areas, promoted and co-ordinated by BirdLife International, is a major contribution towards the development of a conservation strategy for species and the environment, using birds as environmental indicators.
- How are IBA identified?
All European partners of BirdLife International have been involved in the collection of data. Standardisation in the collection of data across Europe allows the status of conservation of bird species to be compared. The 192 IBA identified by LIPU in Italy are important for the conservation of at least 183 species, of which 143 are breeding and 5 are globally at risk: Corncrake, Ferruginous Duck, Audouin's Gull, Little Bustard and Lesser Kestrel. In addition, of 40 regularly migrating species, 27 are listed as being in danger of extinction.
- What are the priorities for bird conservation in Italy?
Due to its geographical shape and position, Italy is an important area for migration and to a lesser extent for breeding. The network of Italian IBA contains all the Italian populations of 24 species and if we include those species where more than 50% of the Italian population breeds within IBA, that number rises to 41.
- Which are the most threatened habitats?
Rough pasture, which is very little protected, especially in Sardinia, Puglia, Sicily and Lazio, where farming methods have been changed to increase production, but to the detriment of the maintenance of biological diversity. Coastal areas, which are amongst the areas so densely populated and exploited by man that very little has escaped his destructive activities. Wetlands, areas with the greatest biological diversity in Italy in spite of continuing to suffer damage from man's activities.
- What are the major problems for conservation of IBA in Italy?
Certainly fragmentation and loss of habitat which have been a consequence of the pressure from man's activities, such as an increase in infrastructure, industrialisation and urbanisation in agricultural areas.
- What can be done to guarantee the conservation of IBA in Italy?
- Increase the number of protected areas and establish a network of protected sites so as to avoid the problems of excessive fragmentation.
- Provide the IBA with adequate management structures.
- Promote the rehabilitation of areas currently subject to disturbance.
- Increase surveillance as well as education and awareness campaigns in priority areas.
From Birds to Biodiversity
The conservation of some species of birds depends on their specific habitat and ecosystem, and it is particularly important to protect these areas. In some instances it is possible to select sites that hold substantial numbers of the species under threat or in decline, the so-called SPEC (Species of European Concern). Such areas, identified on the basis of the number and quality of the birds they hold, are defined as IBA (Important Bird Areas). The IBA are selected in such a way that, in their entirety, they may form a network that covers the geographical distribution of the threatened species (the SPEC) and guarantees their survival, even if areas outside the IBA are lost through, for example, man's activities.
The function of the IBA Project is, therefore, to identify and protect a network of those areas which are essential for the long-term survival of bird populations. But to protect the IBA means also protecting all forms of wildlife, animal and plant: birds have always shown themselves to be important indicators of the level of biodiversity in an area.
The new IBA List
The IBA Project in Italy has resulted in the identification of 192 sites with a total area of over 4.5 million hectares, 15.46% of the area of the country. Before this recent update 140 areas (3.5 million hectares) had been listed. The results of this important census appear in a new book, Important Areas for Conservation of Birds in Italy, which will be published by LIPU in the autumn and, as with the 1989 edition, will become a milestone in the protection of the environment in Italy.
The importance of Italy
The analysis of the data shows how Italy plays a crucial role in bird conservation, not only at the European level but also in the world. Within the IBA network in Italy there are at least 183 species, of which 143 are breeding, including 5 which are globally at risk. Since 1989 LIPU has been putting pressure on the Regional and National Governments in Italy to encourage the designation of IBA sites as ZPS ( Zones for Special Protection) in accordance with Directive CEE 409/79 on the Conservation of Wild Birds. In the last five years LIPU's work has resulted in the proportion of IBA being given ZPS status going up from 18% to 50%. LIPU's task, to begin the new millennium, will be to protect all Italian IBA.
A LADY IN BLACK
Salto del Gitano, Monfrague, Spain.
The air shimmers in the intense heat, obscuring the opposite side of the valley behind a cloak of mist. I have been here an hour now, waiting for one of the most fascinating creatures in Europe.
Griffon Vultures fill the sky and I follow their movements rather enviously: almost effortlessly, with just small adjustments of their wings, they stay aloft for hours. But then a flash of black catches my eye: it can't be a Griffon, the slimmer shape and more active flight are not at all like a vulture. Yes, it's a Black Stork. With elegant wing beats it glides down onto its nest, situated rather unusually on a rocky outcrop overlooking the valley. Up to a few years ago this was one of very few places in western Europe where it was possible to observe breeding Black Storks.
If the White Stork is the noisy lover of houses and plenty of company its darker cousin is a solitary inhabitant of woods and hills. Each pair requires between 50 and 150 square kilometres (corresponding to a medium sized national park in Italy) of mixed forest, wetlands and low altitude rivers, with large mature trees in which to build their nest.
Over the last century the Black Stork has become increasingly rare in Europe, disappearing completely in Belgium, Denmark and Sweden, but maintaining stronger nuclei in eastern Europe, thanks to the better availability of suitable habitat which in western Europe has been largely replaced by intensive agriculture.
Since the 1980's the situation has improved and the species has increased in eastern Europe where Belarus and Latvia, with about 1,300 pairs each, are the major areas. The exact numbers are not known in Poland and Russia but there must be over 1000. In recent years the population has increased substantially in France, Germany and Spain, but in some areas, Portugal, Lithuania, Croatia, Albania and Greece, the tendency to decrease has not been stopped. The total population in Europe must be between 6,500 and 19,000 pairs.
In recent years, unexpectedly, the Black Stork has made occasional appearances in Italy. In the early 1990's some individuals were seen at the LIPU Stork Centre at Racconigi and some injured and exhausted birds were cared for there. Then in 1994 a breeding pair was observed in the Regional park of Monte Fenera in Piemonte. In 1997, at the other end of the peninsula, another breeding site was discovered in Calabria.
In recent years White Storks have bred in Piemonte and in some parts of southern Italy. It is to be hoped that the return of the Black Stork, certainly an indication of the decrease in illegal shooting in Italy, particularly at the Straits of Messina, is also a testimony to a change in attitude by the population towards the environment in general. But only the retention of suitable mature habitats will guarantee the presence of the species in Italy.
A YEAR AT THE STRAIT
Along with the Bosphorus and Gibraltar, the Strait of Messina is one of the three Mediterranean "bridges" which are used every spring by migrating birds on their journey from Africa to their breeding areas in Europe. Here, the most numerous is the Honey Buzzard, this year we counted 10,762, but we also observed rare species such as Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Egyptian Vultures and White and Black Storks, giving a total bird count for 1999 of 11,025.
In Calabria migrating birds can arrive at points along a 60km stretch of coast between Capo dell'Armi in the south and Palmi in the north. Exhausted by their long flight, they often glide in at low level towards the coast where some 1,000 poachers are waiting, ready to shoot them, in spite of the fact that they are a protected species and the hunting season has been closed for at least two months.
The most sought after prey is the Honey Buzzard, locally called the Adorno, the adorned one. In Calabrian tradition hunting Honey Buzzards has ancient historical and cultural roots: symbolically it represents an act of revenge against a power that one is powerless to resist. In the collective imagination the Adorno was considered an enemy "come from the sea": just as an invader brought outrage, violence and loss of honour, the Adorno carried out the same kind of violence on bees, a symbol of purity, as they were thought to be able to reproduce without mating.
With the passage of centuries hunting the Adorno lost its original significance and became linked to other customs such as the popular festivals when the hunters who had killed the most birds were honoured. Poetry and hunting stories were recounted, "mayors" were appointed, and those who had not succeeded in killing at least one Honey Buzzard had to endure various "punishments" by a panel of "judges". In recent, "modernised" society, these traditions have been lost. Illegal shooting now represents a challenge to the State and is just one factor in a whole range of illegal activities. In fact, the frequent secret use of firearms, the presence of members of the 'ndrangheta (Calabrian Mafia) within the poaching groups and their repeated attacks on camp volunteers indicate a criminality and serious social problems that go well beyond the mere breaking of laws which have been made to protect wildlife.
The surveillance camp
The first anti-poaching camp was in spring 1983. Since then other Italian and foreign organisations have supported LIPU. In recent years volunteers have reported to the Forest Guards several poachers who were shooting from their houses. Their investigations also resulted in the confiscation of tape-recorder decoys for quail and the discovery at the home of a professional bird catcher of about 30 Goldfinches and 10 Serins, as well as numerous traps and nets. LIPU's aim is to ensure that the anti-poaching unit of the State Forest Guards will be provided with the necessary financial resources to fight illegal hunting and illegal traffic in wildlife throughout Italy.
Thanks to the commitment of volunteers, Forest Guards, Carabinieri, Guardia di Finanza and the Police the illegal shooting of small birds such as Quail, Turtle Doves, Hoopoes etc. has almost disappeared. The shooting of raptors and storks has been reduced significantly and is now mainly done from the roofs and terraces of houses in the urban areas.
Over the years hundreds of poachers have been charged and their guns and other property confiscated. It is important for the law enforcement authorities to be deployed every year in Calabria. There are still about a thousand active illegal hunters and others are ever ready to take up their guns once again if the police forces are less vigilant.
NEWS FROM LIPU
THE LESSER KESTREL PROJECT
The census of breeding Lesser Kestrels continues in the Apulo-Lucano area. There are about 2000 pairs, indicating that the species is in a relatively healthy state. Their feeding areas are now at various stages of being protected, some have been for several years while others have been brought into the National Park system only in recent months. It will be some time before the protection measures take full effect but in the meantime LIPU is continuing its work of public awareness and taking direct protection measures. As a result the first occupation of an artificial nest has been reported. It is a wooden nest box attached to the roof of a private house in Sateramo in Colle. Nest boxes have been installed for several years in the main towns where there are colonies of Lesser Kestrels, with the intention of providing them with alternative nest sites to those which have been lost due to the numerous rebuilding projects in historic town centres.
The affair concerning the LIPU delegate of Palermo, Mauro Mannino, reported by a poacher for slander, has been concluded as we thought it would be. He has been completely acquitted. We congratulate Mauro and his lawyer, Ermanno Zancia, an enthusiastic environmentalist, for having shown once more that honesty pays and one should not be afraid to risk oneself in the defence of nature. To Signor Battista D'Anci, for his mad passion to raid raptor nests and trade with unscrupulous taxidermists, we give our dispassionate advice to take care of his own public image so that these unfounded accusations may stop for ever.
NEWS FROM LIPU UK
It's a damp September day and the garden is quiet so there is nothing there to tell you about. We have just returned from our annual pilgrimage to the Pyrénées, this time sailing to Bilbao and driving through Spain to arrive at our base just on the French side of the mountains.
It did not take long before we saw our first raptor - a Red Kite and soon after, a spiralling flock of Griffon Vultures. The same bird that LIPU is reintroducing to the wild in Sicily, I hope to have news of that project for the next newsletter.
Refusing to act our age we did some climbing and were talked into attempting the "Brèche de Roland" which is about 9300 feet above sea level. It was hard work but we were rewarded at the top with superb views of a couple of Wallcreepers - a bird we'd not seen before. Before anyone is tempted to add my name to the mountaineers Hall of Fame I have to confess that we did drive to the car park at 7000 feet before setting out!
The British Birdwatching Fair 1999
LIPU UK again had a stand at the British Birdwatching Fair this year and it was very successful. The fair seems to break its own record year after year and attendance this year seemed to be even better than in 1998.
My thanks to our members who helped on the stand for the three days of the fair. We had many people stop and talk, asking about the work of LIPU and wishing us well. We raised over £600 and, most importantly of all, we enrolled 42 new members. To those and the other new additions to our strength we offer the warmest welcome.
The stand had a TV continually showing an edited version of the Birdman programme which caused a lot of passers by to stop and look. After three days I think we all know the script by heart!
We also had the tried and tested peg board game, a version of tombola much loved by the children. We enjoyed it and at least one of the young visitors did - she came back and pressed a note into my hand...
Telescopes for the Messina Straits
Robert Gifford who wrote the account of his visit to the Calabrian Anti Poaching camp (and see page 5) tells me that the surveillance team did not have enough telescopes. I have located one used scope at a good price and am looking for another to send out. If anyone has or knows of a reasonably priced telescope which would be suitable please let me know. I am hoping that a well known Italian manufacturer, might be able to help with tripods.
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I am delighted to have received the following account of the ringing work done in Italy for many years by LIPU members, Paul Newton and John Glazebrook and their ringing group.
Southern Italy with Friends.
Annually since 1993 a team of British bird ringers consisting of Paul Newton, Michael Wright, John Glazebrook and Rodney West, have been travelling to southern Italy, an area called the Plain of Volturno (Caserta) about 50 kilometres Northwest of Naples. The purpose is to assist with a bird ringing project run by the ringing group GRUPPO INANELLAMENTO LIMICOLI (G.I.L.), to ring waders in the spring and passerines in the autumn. The ringing group is led by Sergio Scebba and Giancarlo Moschetti, who along with the other group members we have come to know well.
The spring camp is centred on an area of lagoons that has been specially created by hunters for the shooting of wildfowl during the winter months. In early spring the walls of the lagoons are broken to allow the water to seep out into the borrow dykes. As the water level drops it creates a perfect feeding habitat for the waders to use as they migrate from Africa to their breeding grounds in the North. The area is surrounded by small scale agriculture where families grow tomatoes and other vegetables. Water buffalo graze the rough grasses around the lagoons (they provide the milk for the local cheese, mozzarella di bufala. Superb!).
The disappearance of nearly all of the moist area along the sub-Tyrrhenian coastline has forced birds on migration to concentrate on small areas for feeding and resting. Therefore, these lagoons being very rich in Crustacea (Gammarus), attract hundreds of Curlew Sandpipers (Calidris ferruginea) and Little Stints (Calidris minuta), along with many other species as they proceed northward. It is possible to see over one thousand waders here during this period, including the odd Terek sandpiper, Broad billed sandpiper and more regular Marsh sandpiper. Other species of interest include Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, 100's of Black Tern, White-winged Black Tern, Collared Pratincole and Red-footed Falcon.
In their first two years the G.I.L were restricted on their catches by the sheer numbers of birds. So they advertised for assistance from foreign ringers and so it was that we, (along with several other British and European ringers) went out to help. The camp runs for a month, so that by spreading out the volunteers they were able to put up more nets and increase the catching area, which resulted in over 900 Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers ringed in 1993.
All birds caught are aged and full biometrics taken. This has allowed several studies to be made. One of the studies being carried out by G. Moschetti is to assess the amount of fat deposit stored for migration by waders. Another study on Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) by S. Scebba is on migration patterns and weight change at the stopover site. A paper on Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) is in preparation.
All the catching is done at night, with nets erected at dusk and a tape lure is used to attract the birds to the netted area.
Over the years several thousand waders have been ringed with individual birds from Ringing Schemes in England, Germany, Hungary, Sweden, Norway and Poland being controlled.
The autumn camp also runs for a month and is situated directly on the coast, with a view to catching, primarily, song thrush and skylark as they migrate south. The nets are set in the scrubby areas just behind the sand dunes. The main catching period being around dusk and dawn using tape lures, but the nets are left open all day to catch other species that are moving through the area.
Regular rounds of the nets have to made, not only for the safety of the birds but also as a deterrent to the thieves who like to help themselves to nets! Although most people we come across have a genuine interest in what we are doing.
In all about 2000 birds are caught in the month including many song thrush and skylark. Interesting species caught amongst others being Bluethroat, Firecrest, Wryneck, Moustached Warbler, Black Redstart, Cirl Bunting, Corn Bunting, Long-eared Owl, Barn Owl and Water Rail.
During both camps a small sum is paid towards our keep, and we have the occasional sight seeing trip when time and transport allows. We are very well looked after, (pasta, cheese and wine) and long may it last.
In the rest of this issue
I have the space in this issue to respond further to requests for information about where the LIPU reserves (oasi) are situated. As well as the back cover on which I hope to feature a couple of reserves each issue, the next two pages are a reference to all the current centres and reserves which LIPU operate.
I hope you find it interesting, the order of the reserves follows that of the LIPU web site and I have tried to keep the map as clear as possible although it does remind me of Custer's Last Stand!
Contributions to keep the appeal of this newsletter as broadly based and interesting as possible should please be sent to me at the address below.
Note: The last three pages of the Ali Notizie consisted of details copied from this web site. Click here to follow the thread.