Ali (Wings) - The English Digest - December 2006

Editorial December 2006

Ali - another new look (but to see this you'll need to download the pdf file)

Thank you all for the positive feedback after the change of format of the last Ali. I was feeling quite content until trustee, Carol Debney, brought her expertise as Deputy Editor of Birdwatching magazine to the table and asked why the cover had fallen off!

Swift to respond, I hope you like the result and I’d like to tell you about the cover. The picture is of Cala Fico in the LIPU reserve of Carloforte on the small island of San Pietro, off the coast of Sardinia. Shirley and I spent a short holiday there in June and took the opportunity to look around the reserve with the warden, Luciano Durante. The small hut in the centre of the picture is the hostel provided by LIPU-UK a couple of years ago and much appreciated by the volunteers working with the protection camps each year.

The area is beautiful with clear blue water and sheer rocky cliffs; the arrival of the Eleanora’s Falcons was well under way and we could have watched their superb agility in the air all day.

Birdwatching apart I’d recommend a visit to the island and we’ll be going back next September to see the falcons as the young birds prepare to leave the cliff face and set off for the long flight to Madagascar where they’ll spend their first winter.

That’s not the only reason, though, we’ll be going back to meet the friends we made in the Hotel Paola, friends who made us so welcome and who made the best sea food meals I have have ever enjoyed. Lovely people, a beautiful island, excellent food and wonderful birds - what more could you ask? Hotel Paola is about 3 km from Carloforte town, is peaceful and friendly and can be seen at http://www.carloforte.net/hotelpaola/ and contacted at hotelpaoloa@tiscali.it

* * *

DECREES AND PARKS, HUNTERS AND DUCKS

It is disappointing that the decree on the conservation of Zones of Special Protection has not been turned into law, and expired in October. When will we start to think about nature in terms of the “common good”?

by Giuliano Tallone, LIPU President

In the last issue of Ali we applauded Ministers Pecoraro Scanio (Environment) and Di Castro (Agriculture) who together led the approval of the Decree on the Conservation of Zones of Special Protection. This decree, like all others, had to be transformed into law within sixty days, or else it would expire. As we said three months ago, this process could not be taken for granted, and indeed, during its passage through the two chambers, the decree was “shot down” despite the active support of LIPU, other environmental and animal-welfare associations, and the Ministry of the Environment. The decree expired in the middle of October. This worrying episode, which highlights contradictions within the centre-left on environmental policy, has created a paradoxical legal confusion for Nature 2000 sites: some regions have already passed regional laws and decisions based on this decree, and several associations are threatening to appeal.

Beyond all the political, legislative and procedural aspects, the core question is this: the Zones of Special Protection – the “ZPS”, which we have written so much about in previous issues of Ali – are they protected areas, or are they not? And if they are protected, should hunting be forbidden within them, or should it not? And what are the essential “conservation measures” which ought to be guaranteed within these areas?

Two directives clarify the aims of Nature Network 2000 sites in an unequivocal way: to guarantee the long-term survival of species and habitats that are currently at risk, through the establishment of a “coherent network” of areas. As far as birds are concerned, the European Court of Justice has decided that in the absence of better studies, ZPS must be identified from IBA - our own Important Bird Areas. Within the ZPS, people can carry out any kind of activity as long as it doesn’t interfere with community objectives: including, in principle, hunting. And here is the nub of the problem: in the Italian protected areas - all of them - hunting is forbidden. Can one therefore conclude that the ZPS are logically not protected areas? The point is to find out what we mean by the “definition” of a protected area: according to Italian law, the ZPS, as defined by the directives, are not protected areas. However if we broaden the perspective a little and look up the international reference definitions – those of the IUCN (World Conservation Union) - of which LIPU has been a member for many years – the ZPS could be classified as protected areas since they are classified by their aims, and not by the rules that apply within them: they are protected areas in practice because they serve to protect flora and fauna, and not because of the particular way that they do it. The European Union accepts that there are many possible ways of implementing this: laws, regulations, agreements with landowners, inter-body agreements, management plans, economic incentives. This approach is, as we can see, very different from the Italian one, and one that we are not used to. There is more to “measures of conservation” than just the control of hunting – which is regulated in other ways, such as hunting law 157 of 1992. For example, large wind turbines, mines, the dumping of refuse, urban and industrial expansion should all obviously be banned from community sites. In addition we also need to consider sports and recreational activities, such as off-roading or rock-climbing – where this can interfere with birds of prey that nest on rock faces – all of which should be kept carefully under control. Concerning agriculture, we should encourage organic farming within the ZPS, and decrease the discharge of nitrates (as established by another directive). It is also important to give producers in these areas the means of implementing the new common agricultural policy, on agritourism and especially on environmental restoration (re-forestation, creation of wetlands, the recreation of hedges and windbreaks), by proper incentives as part of new rural-development plans. New forms of management could, for instance, be a partnership between the regions – responsible for the implementation of Nature 2000 – and those responsible for the management of large agriculture/forestry areas, such as the agrarian universities or large private landowners, sharing common objectives of conservation, and trying together to achieve them. In conclusion, the core issue is that laws should be the means of realising the will of the people. The obsession with over-regulation which is typically Italian – more than 150,000 laws are currently active in our country compared with only 5,000 in the United Kingdom or France – can not divert us from the real objectives that we want to pursue: in our case, the long-term conservation of species of birds, of their populations, and respect for single individual herons, storks, ducks, sparrows, robins, great tits.

In the course of recent events we have sadly witnessed a big failure on the part of Government and Parliament to establish mutually-agreeable, logical rules; a failure caused by the heavy lobbying of the “usual suspects” (in particular the hunting associations), a lack of interest in these issues by the great majority of MPs (who tend to represent individual corporations) and the principle of “the worse the better”. When, in Italy – and in our Parliament – will they put into practice the principle of the best for the common good, and stop granting the retrogressive demands of the few?

* * *

THOSE BIRD-FRIENDLY AREAS

Born from an inspiration in 1981, today they are more than 15,000 all over the World. Protecting large natural areas, they safeguard birds. They are Important Bird Areas (IBA), now a global project

by Claudio Celada

What is the link between Mindo in Equador, Balandougou in Guinea, Kozyany in Byelorussia, Biviere and Piana di Gela in Italy? They are all IBA, or Important Bird Areas, the most important sites for bird conservation. The IBA project by BirdLife International is one of the most fascinating stories among environmental NGOs. This project started from the idea of identifying the most important areas for bird conservation; and if this were done by BirdLife International, an organisation that has an excellent reputation on the subject, the project could become the first step towards the effective conservation of those areas. Believing is all that was needed. From the first list made by Birdlife International (then ICBP – International Council for Bird Preservation) in 1981 for the 9 EU Member States of that time, IBA have come a long way. The project now extends world-wide: when completed, it will include 15,000 IBA around the world. Identification of IBA is now complete in Europe, Africa, Asia, Middle East, and reaching completion in the Americas, the Pacific, and the Antarctic. The marine IBA will have to be assessed separately. The longest established part of the project is also the most striking one: the variety of solutions that BirdLife International partners across the world have put in place to guarantee a future to hundreds of threatened species.

A World-wide project

Let’s have a look at what is happening in IBA around the World, starting from remote Antarctica. At the moment, co-operation between the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) and BirdLife International is underway to compile the checklist for IBA. The project involves some nearby archipelagos, such as the Southern Shetlands. One hundred and fifty areas have already been identified simply on the basis of distribution of species breeding in the Antarctic. Needless to say, among these species there are five penguins (Emperor, Adelie, Chinstrap, Macaroni, and Gentoo) and some Procellariidae (for example Storm Petrels) that play an essential role in the definition of the list. The British Government is funding, through the “Darwin Initiative”, the identification of IBA in the Fiji Islands, in the Pacific. This initiative also involves the education of local conservationists, and the introduction of some first-hand actions to safeguard numerous threatened species, especially those linked with forests. As far as Asia is concerned, as well as a list for the whole Continent, an excellent list for the Indian subcontinent has been produced. In the Middle East, the Lebanese partner (Society for the Protection of Nature) has organised humanitarian aids for villages around the Kfar Zabad IBA, where 120 families have found refuge after losing their houses to the war. LIPU has sent aid, too. In Africa, BirdLife International has underlined the importance of involvement of local communities. An important example is offered by the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest IBA in Kenya, where Nature Kenya (BirdLife International local partner) is leading a project involving the management of a state forest by local people. The project has improved the environmental quality of the forest, and it has created favourable economic conditions for numerous families, also thanks to bee and butterfly cultivation. In Canada the “Lesser Slave Lake” IBA, a stopover site for many waterfowl, is characterised by the historic presence of a prestigious bird observatory. Nature Canada, in collaboration with the Province of Alberta, has drawn up a detailed plan for the management and use of this area, which is bringing fame to this remote location. The BirdLife International Congress in Argentina in 2008 will see a lot more focus on IBA.

An advanced example

Brabbia Wetland is situated between Lake Comabbio and Lake Varese. The area, managed by the Varese province and LIPU, is a regional nature reserve, LIPU nature reserve, ZPS (Zone of Special Protection), SIC (Site of Community Interest), and it is part of the IBA 014. There is an on-going long-term heated debate on the management of water levels in the two lakes. This managerial characteristic has strong economic implications, but also repercussions on birds and their habitat. In order to face this problem, the Varese Province, Fondazione Cariplo (a bank), and LIPU have joined forces to fund an “Instruction manual for the application of the shared models of water levels”. This manual, which will also be based on a pre-emptive data collection, should provide detailed rules on the regulation of the two dams, taking into account precipitation, the effect of oscillations of water levels on the vegetation, the supply of nutrients and on fish and bird reproduction. The project should be completed in June 2007. This study will constitute an important component of the future management plan of this ZPS and SIC.

The Sixth Continent

The ornithological criteria used to identify IBA were originally meant to apply to terrestrial environments. These criteria were also used when seabird colonies, situated along coastal land, were considered. However, the need to extend IBA to pelagic zones was soon felt. An example of the importance of these areas is given by the ecology of the numerous species of Albatross, which spend most of their time in open oceanic waters. The problem becomes also apparent for species like the Cory’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea), Mediterranean Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), Storm Petrel (Hydrobates pelagicusi), and Audouin’s Gull (Larus audouinii) present in our seas. In addition to pelagic zones, it is necessary to map the principal migration marine routes, especially considering the proposals for offshore wind turbines. BirdLife International is hence working on identifying marine IBA, as prescribed by the Birds Directive, involving the EC Member States.

Italian Paradises

Italy struggles to respect EU Directives. Officially, progress is being made (around 60% of IBA are protected as ZPS), but from the conservation and management perspective of these areas the situation varies widely. In the last issue of ALI we welcomed the National Bill N 251, concerning conservation measures of ZPS, as a step forward. Unfortunately the Bill was not converted into Law by Parliament, and therefore it is now no longer valid. This reopens legal battles concerning hunting, and puts Italy at serious risk of European fines. However, not everything is lost, as many IBA are protected by the law: 14 LIPU reserves, for example, are situated inside IBA. Unfortunately, environmental damage is everywhere: for example, in Calabria (South of Italy) a proposition for a new big tourist village in the Neto River ZPS raises concerns, while in Puglia (South-East) the Monti della Dauna IBA succumbs to hundreds of wind turbines. After pushing for definition of numerous ZPS, and contributing significantly to the Guidelines for the management of sites inside Rete Natura 2000 (Nature Network 2000) in Italy, LIPU is now directly involved in complex managerial solutions. Obstacles often seem insuperable, and the Italian IBA, the 172 most loved sites in the country, are threatened by “environmental erosion”, a phenomenon which includes destruction, and fragmentation of habitats, and the destruction of their characteristics. Fortunately, positive signals are also present. There are, for example, many laws protecting the environment and IBA; the first tangible signs of this are visible, starting from a sign advertising the Circeo National Park as an IBA, for the Eurobirdwatch Day 2006. For the first time a National Park “declares” to be also an IBA. Each IBA exists in relation to the others, it contributes to an enormous world-wide net, which will soon cover the whole planet, earth, seas, and the Antarctic ice-cap, with the aim of conserving all bird species. If each of us understands the importance of this 15,000-site network, gets involved, and promotes them, then the future will look brighter. This is why it is important that all LIPU members are conscious of the global extent of the IBA project.

The IBA in the European Union

What role do IBA play in the conservation of EU bird species? First of all, a fundamental one for the existence of Rete Natura 2000, the site network included in the Birds Directive, and the Habitat Directive. The European Union uses IBA as a scientific reference to check each Member State’s compliance with ZPS designation to conserve bird species. IBA have to be designated by EU Member States as Zones of Special Protection. This strong institutional characterisation comes from the close long-term co-operation between the European Commission and BirdLife International. It is important to remember how two specific European Tribunal Sentences decreed the principle that for all IBA, because of their importance for bird conservation, it is compulsory to “ …adopt all necessary measures to prevent […] pollution or degeneration of the habitat, as well as detrimental disturbance with negative consequences on the avifauna”. Practically and legally, IBA are already protected by the EC Birds Directive.

* * *

INTERVIEW

We spoke to Alejandro Sánchez of SEO -BirdLife Spain, and heard the story of an IBA success: the Santoña marshes, an ecosystem in Cantabria rescued from degradation and urbanisation, an important place for resting and overwintering birds migrating across Europe and Africa.

What are the most important ornithological characteristics of the Santoña “marismas” or marshes?

These marshes provide the main resting area for Spoonbills and an important area for overwintering ducks, waders, different types of divers and other species of aquatic birds.

When did the SEO start working to save it from destruction?

Immediately after our first IBA survey was published in 1989. At the end of the 1980s Santoña was seriously threatened by urbanisation and buildings, roads and fish farming: the tidal flats and marshes, which provided food for birds and other animals, were almost completely destroyed by sewage pollution. The case was taken to the European Court of Justice, which after a long process, issued an important judgement in 1996: for the first time in Europe an Important Bird Area was recognised as a Special Protection Zone. This was when the Santoña marshes started to recover.

How does Santoña appear today to visitors?

The wild birds have returned in great numbers and today the SEO is developing several activities here, amongst which are research into and monitoring of birds, projects to restore habitats, volunteer camps and environmental education activities. From being regarded as the enemy by the local population, we have become “the friends of the community”. We are collaborating with the Santoña Reserve, which was created in 1992, and with the local council in Santoña through the management of an information centre. Even the Spanish Environment Minister came to the Reserve two years ago to celebrate Eurobirdwatch, which in Spanish is called “Dias de las Aves”, or “Bird Day”. A tremendous result for an IBA that had been on the brink of destruction.

What conservation objectives does SEO have for the country as a whole?

In a country that boasts 391 IBAs, equal to a third of the land area, the challenge will be to develop other plans for the conservation of biodiversity. At the moment almost 60% of these areas are part of the Nature Network 2000, but funds to manage these sites, in particular the Special Protection Zones, are not sufficient. We are therefore looking for resources and meanwhile we are asking the national Government to arrange model management plans, subdivided by habitat, which would be easily applicable to each region.

What is the role of volunteers in protecting the IBA?

These volunteers are so important that we consider them to be a priority, because they are our eyes and ears in the field. It is only with their help that we can cope with the problems of conservation in the most incisive way.

What do you think of the actions of the European Partnership for BirdLife International?

The work they are developing at the European level is very important to me. If “unity gives strength”, we can all only benefit from this alliance to stop the serious decline in biodiversity in Europe and in the world.

* * *

AN IMPORTANT APPOINTMENT

BirdLife International, the organisation responsible for the 42 European associations and supporters of the BirdLife network, including LIPU, held its European Partnership Meeting in Ljubljana, Slovenia, last October.

During the meeting Claudio Celada, Nature Conservation Director of LIPU-BirdLife Italy, was elected as a member of the European Committee, which oversees the progress of the network’s strategic programme and the European budget, and contributes to the drawing up of the global strategy of BirdLife International. Claudio Celada was elected together with other European representatives from SVS-BirdLife Switzerland, BirdLife Finland, BirdLife Holland, NABU-BirdLife Germany, and Danish Ornithological Society BirdLife Denmark, and joins a representative of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). The European BirdLife associations represent almost 2 million members and six thousand managed reserves, with a total of 300,000 hectares. LIPU will add to the opportunities of protecting and enhancing these wonderful assets when it joins the European Committee.

The European meeting in Ljubljana was concerned with very relevant topics: climate change, which represents a very serious threat to biodiversity and birds; bird flu, a topic on which BirdLife is making excellent contributions; the monitoring of IBA - Important Bird Areas, a pivotal topic for the whole network because it is concerned with protecting and giving legal protection to the most important resting and breeding areas for wild birds.

* * *

LIPU - THE FUTURE 2006 - 10

The conservation of biodiversity is the principal objective that LIPU sets out in its own strategic document for 2006, laying down guidelines for action over the next five years

by Elena D’Andrea.

To have a strategic document is important for any organisation but even more so for one which, like us, has a national role. LIPU is made up not only of members, volunteers in branches, on reserves and in recuperation centres, but also of employees working for the organisation in environmental education and engaged in local and national initiatives. The new Strategic Document “LIPU 2006-2010: a crucial five years for the preservation of biodiversity’’, aims to set out the ways in which our organisation can best contribute to the improvement of our world.

So that we can direct our energies towards a single aim our council, with the collaboration of a great many others has drawn up the new document. As I promised in the previous edition of Ali we are going to begin by putting it before you, the membership, so that you may follow what LIPU is doing and make your own valuable contribution. Let’s look first at the structure. After a brief introduction and mission statement it is made up of 7 sections.

1 Nature conservation and the environmental politics

2 Environmental education

3 Voluntary work

4 Communication

5 Fund raising

6 The network of LIPU reserves

7 Wildlife rescue

The first two of these are fundamental. They set out our aims and the remaining five are the means by which these may be achieved.

The proposition that best sums up LIPU’s mission is that to save birds and biodiversity is a difficult but vital task. It is so difficult because we are in the midst of a profound man-made environmental crisis. It is a crisis which is deepening so rapidly that the next few decades will be decisive in determining whether there will still be space for wilderness, animals and plants, and the habitats on which they depend, or whether we will be forced to live in a world in which nature is marginalised and biodiversity impoverished.

The United Nations has already responded to the crisis by setting the objective of “reducing the loss of biodiversity by 2001”. Since Italy and her birds are at risk, LIPU was called upon to say how we could contribute towards that aim.

Another aspect of our mission is its complexity. So many different factors, both national and global, affect the conservation of birds and their habitats. In the setting of political, social, economic and cultural priorities little consideration is given to matters biological.

LIPU must understand the language of economics and social trends, as well as the processes of decision making, in order to facilitate dialogue between interest groups —a far from easy task.

In the race against time to halt the destruction of the environment LIPU must concentrate its limited resources on those activities which are the most effective. Our strategic documents must identify the objectives and priorities for the successful completion of our mission. We shall discuss this in the next edition of Ali.

The LIPU Strategic Document opens with definitions of the association’s vision and mission. The first sets out our philosophy and ideals. The second translates this into a “final aim’’ setting out objectives and a strategy.

Vision

The LIPU vision is a world rich in biodiversity in which man lives in harmony with nature in a manner both equitable and sustainable. We protect birds because of their great biological, ecological and cultural significance.

We believe that biodiversity is a precious and fundamental good to be preserved, not only on account of ecological principles, but for its own intrinsic value in bringing spiritual, aesthetic and economic benefits to all our lives. We are convinced that the preservation of birds, biodiversity and the environment cannot be neglected by a society based upon individual and collective responsibility and the values of respect, legality and participation.

Mission

‘For birds and for people’

The LIPU mission is to preserve birds, their habitats and their diversity and to build a culture of respect for the environment, in which animals and all living things are valued and resources are sustained. `

* * *

THE ALARM SOUNDS FOR SMALL MIGRANTS

Helping the migrants which winter in Africa amid ever more intensive agriculture, the encroachment of the deserts and climate change

by Marco Lambertini

Here we are again. Another crisis facing migrant birds. Above all for the smallest, which never cease to astound us with their incredible round trip of over 10 thousand kilometres “aboard” a body of 10 grams and two little wings. This is the real, true miracle of the migration which takes birds such as nightingales, leaf warblers, cuckoos, redstarts, swallows and martins from their breeding areas in Europe to their winter quarters in sub-Saharan Africa…and back again, twice a year, every year.

In the 1970s the main concern for these small migrants centred on the sight of the waiting hunters, the nets and traps, the lime of the bird catchers. Then came intensive agriculture, which had destroyed broad swathes of farming country and turning it into enormous monocultures sprayed with pesticides. Hunting and agriculture remain serious problems but there have been some notable successes in this direction: stricter laws in many countries (including Italy) have brought about a collapse in the numbers of hunters and consequently, of their impact. The reform of the EU’s Agricultural Policy brings hope of healthier farming practices more respectful towards the environment.

Nevertheless, a recent study by BirdLife, comparing the state of conservation of populations of migratory birds with similar non-migratory species casts light on a new threat even more serious and difficult to deal with. Let us take as examples the Subalpine warbler and the Whitethroat (small African migrants) and the Sardinian warbler (a very similar resident species in that it does not migrate though it may move short distances); or maybe the even smaller Bonelli’s warbler and the Wood warbler, both African migrants as opposed to the Chiffchaff which is resident; or, yet again, the migrant Rock thrush as against the similar Blue Rock thrush which is resident: a further comparison might be between the migratory Ortolan bunting and the resident Yellowhammer. In all these cases and many others, while the resident species are seen to have stable or slightly declining populations, the analogous migratory species show a much more marked decline.

From these data it is evident that the migratory species are showing the effects of a major decline in comparison with species that remain in Europe and Italy throughout the year. All of which leads us to suspect that something particularly unhealthy is happening in the winter quarters in Africa. It is here that the network of African members of BirdLife is concentrating its attention in order to understand what is happening to the habitats which play host to the migrants which the two continents share between them. Are savannah environments being put under monocultures? Is there an abnormal use of pesticides? Is the desert spreading? Are there changes to the climate, which change the life cycle of the insects and plants on which the migrants feed? Perhaps the answer lies partly in all these threats, but it seems that the principal cause is most closely linked to the loss of habitat through climate change with the consequential rapid desertification of areas of the Sahel which are so important to so many wintering species of Euro-African migrants. What must be done? BirdLife is at present considering how to mobilise its network in Europe and Africa in a co-ordinated effort to reverse this worrying decline. First of all, we must identify the exact causes of the decline. Then we must locate the environments most heavily affected and work to protect them. After that we must make use of international conventions such as the CCD (the Convention against Desertification) and the CMS (the Convention on Migrant Species) as well as international targets such as those mentioned in the Strategies for Biodiversity in the European Union and in the Millennium Development Goals, which has the target of blocking the loss of biodiversity within the next ten years. There must be local action to lobby governments in order to protect species and their habitats and then to increase pressure on the governments of the more industrially developed countries to reduce emissions of CO2. BirdLife believes that this is possible thanks to the network of very active and committed national organisations present in all the countries of the EU just as there are in many African states. But it needs to support the African associations to allow them to become more effective and to obtain concrete results, stimulating the growth in those countries of greatest importance for migrating birds but where Birdlife is not yet an active presence as for example throughout a large area of the Sahel.

What is there to be done against the “monster” of climate change, against the “greenhouse effect” and the warming of the planet? The necessary countermeasures range from international politics and national laws to how we each behave. All are equally important. Even if they help to change our habit of leaving the lights on in the house or leaving machines switched on this will contribute to bringing back thousands of hectares more of the deserts for the Swallows, Nightingales and so many other birds which each autumn take refuge in Africa to escape the cold of the European winter.

* * *

LET'S SAVE THE COMMON BIRDS

Swallows, goldfinches and other common rural species are in decline. LIPU is taking part in MITO2000, a European monitoring and conservation project which aims to help reverse this trend.

by Andrea Mazza

The decline of typical farmland birds has been confirmed by the first results from MITO200, a project for monitoring common species, carried out by CISO (the Italian Centre for Ornithological Studies) in Italy, and by FaunaViva at the European level. The first data, referring to the period 2000-2005, show that nearly a third of the 72 common species of birds which nest in Italy, mainly farmland and woodland species, are in decline. The fall in numbers of these typical countryside species is on average 10 percent: birds which were once very common, such as Swallow, Goldfinch, Skylark, House Martin and Sparrow, are becoming increasingly rare. The crisis has already hit 40 percent of the species that habitually visit and breed in this important and delicate habitat. Woodland birds are also in decline, including Green Woodpecker and Goldcrest by 10.7 and 15.3 percent respectively, while the numbers of Tree Pipit, Wren, Chiffchaff and Jay have fallen by between 4 and 7 percent. Among the other species in decline, we find Sardinian Warbler (6.5 percent) and Wryneck (9 percent). This is worrying data: deserving of serious thought, and requiring action.

Starting this year, LIPU too will participate in this important and many-facetted project, the monitoring of common species. “MITO2000 – explains Claudio Celada, Director of Conservation, LIPU – can make an important contribution to nature conservation, in particular the conservation of farmland bird species, those most badly hit by population decline due to intensive farming, the use of chemicals, and the neglect of marginal areas such as mountains”. How do we expect MITO2000 to provide helpful results? The data from this project can contribute towards the “Bird Farmland Index”, a biodiversity index which aims to assess the state of health of the agricultural bird population, and which therefore reflects the quality of the environment in general. The use of this index was made compulsory by the European Commission in the Plan for Rural Development (PSR), drawn up in Italy by the Regions as part of the Common Agricultural Policy, and aimed at promoting agricultural practices that both help the environment and increase biodiversity. Funds given to farmers through the PSR should help achieve this end: an assessment of the sustainability of plans for rural development, which can also be achieved through the funding of Nature Network 2000. Celada continues, “We hope that the monitoring of common species carried out by MITO2000 will help prevent the decline in farmland species, which has so far seemed dangerously unstoppable”.

MITO2000 is a project of observation and monitoring of common birds nesting in Italy. Set up in 2000, it was promoted by the Ministry of the Environment and organised by CISO (Italian Centre for Ornithological Studies) together with FaunaViva. Starting in the second half of 2006, LIPU - BirdLife Italy will also be contributing to this census. During the first six years of study, 274 species were listed, of which 236 were breeding species. Of these, 103 were adjudged “common” species, and 72 of these (28 farmland, 23 forest and 21 other habitats) provided enough data to allow us to make estimates and track changing trends in the nesting population over the following few years. This project, which involves 200 surveyors in Italy, forms part of a European programme for the monitoring of common birds, called Euromonitoring or Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring. There are 25 countries taking part throughout Europe, including Italy.

INTERVIEW

We talk to Lorenzo Fornasari, President of FaunaViva and national co-ordinator of the MITO2000 project

What is the aim of this project, and what are the specifically national characteristics of the first results?

The data are useful in helping us to understand the particular responsibility our country has for the conservation of common species and habitats within the national boundary. But there is more to it than this. During monitoring we have also gathered data on a number of rare species for which Italy holds a good percentage of the whole European population. Bad management in the areas where these species live and nest can have negative repercussions on the whole European population.

Can you give us some examples of these rarer species?

The Corsican Citril Finch, present in Corsica, Sardinia and the Island of Elba, and Marmora’s Warbler, which visits Sardinia and part of the Tyrrhenian coast. There are however other species such as Blackbird and Blackcap, that although common in Italy are much less common in the rest of Europe. We ha ve a strong duty of care towards these species as well.

What direction will this project take over the next few years?

It is our intention to continue to collect species data and to pass the results on to the decision makers, hoping that they will act with respect for, and help to sustain the environment.

LIPU will also join the project this year. What is the reason for this partnership?

Thanks to this important agreement we will reproduce in Italy the same partnership established at a European level between the European Bird Census Council and BirdLife International - that is a partnership between a technical body which gathers and processes the information, and a pressure group which tries to make the best use of the results for the benefit of conservation. The relationship between LIPU on the one hand and CISO and FaunaViva on the other, will greatly increase our ability to promote this project at a national and international level, and publicise its content and not least of all its results.

* * *

FROM THE WORLD OF LIPU

Environmental Crimewatch is born

The minister, Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, is as good as his word. As promised at the LIPU meeting held at Ischia last May, what may be called the “National Environmental Crimewatch” has been set up. Two dedicated judges in the front line of the struggle against the Ecomafia, Donato Ceglie and Maurizio Santoloci have been named as consultants to the organisation and the environmental associations, including LIPU, have been invited to take part in its work. The NEC will have to set out the ways and means of collaboration between the National and local police in order to reinforce investigative and preventative actions against environmental crimes and promoting a proper enforcement of the laws. It will, moreover, have to set out proposals for the inclusion of environmental crimes within the penal code thus creating a more effective investigative code of practice with which to pursue more serious illegal activity. This particularly includes those forms of poaching of and illegal trade in wild life which because of the methods employed, the numbers of people involved, the enormous volume of items traded and the sums of money involved, constitute one of the prime causes of the impoverishment of our biodiversity.

A Wolf in Rome: a story with a happy ending

A wild wolf was the victim of illegal poaching but was restored to health at the LIPU Wild Animal Recuperation Centre near the Bioparc in Rome. After a few days treatment there the wolf was transferred to a recuperation centre, managed by the State Forest Guards, in Abruzzo. After a short period there being monitored it will be freed once again into the wild.

The adult male wolf had become entangled in a snare set by a poacher for wild pigs. Seriously injured, it had managed to stagger about for several days but then infection had set in. Fortunately it was found by members of the public and handed over to the Forest Guards who gave it first aid and then took it into the Recuperation Centre. It appears that it was not the first time this animal had been such a victim, as there were scars on its body, evidence of previous entanglements in poachers’ snares. After careful surgery the wolf gradually recovered and was sufficiently well to be released.

The veterinary surgeon said that the wolf was in a serious condition on arrival, suffering from a deep wound in the upper leg caused by a steel trap. A spokesperson for Animal Rights said that more and more animals are being victims of poaching activities. Elena D’Andrea, Director General of LIPU, explained that they were proud of the wolf’s recovery, which confirmed the importance of the LIPU Centre in Rome as a point of reference for medical aid and the eventual release of wild animals. The Centre cares for some 5000 animals every year, of which more than 30% are victims of poaching activities.

* * *

MAINARDI'S CORNER

Are some birds mafiosi?

Danilo Mainardi, Honorary President of LIPU

All know of the so-called “protection rackets”, so often reported in the Press. The mafiosi of the bird world however are the nest parasites, the Great Spotted Cuckoos, with Magpies as their victims. The discovery was made by ornithologists in a study in the high Spanish plains of Hoya de Guadix. The relationship between parasite and host is described as one of continuous warfare, with the parasite exploiting the host and the latter trying to protect itself; an evolutionary process towards something of an equilibrium. In the case of this feathered mafia the eggs and the nestlings are accepted because the Cuckoos resort to threats: if you do not take my egg, I will destroy your brood. And this is precisely what happens to the Magpies that resist the threats. Those that submit and pay the price enjoy a degree of protection and no further damage. There is much speculation as to what the Cuckoos gain from the nest destruction. Other than that it operates a selection favouring the offspring of submissive individuals, it appears that they gain an immediate advantage in that the Magpies which have been “punished” will produce another brood, offering another more favourable opportunity. And this is the interesting point, because there is perhaps an analogy with the real mafia not only on the level of behaviour, but of determinism. Magpies, birds with excellent memory, would learn the lesson quickly, because an improved capability for learning would result from this disquieting phenomenon.

* * *

THE LIPU-UK ANNUAL DRAW 2006

Thanks to all who supported another successful Draw which raised over £2000 for conservation.

The lucky prize winners are:

Congratulations to those lucky winners and to those who made it possible - better luck next year.

* * *

The line drawings in this issue are used with the kind permission of the RSPB.

* * *

Translators of this issue were:

Barbara Avery, Joanna Bazen, Daria Dadam, Caterina Paone, John Walder and Brian Horkley - my thanks to them all.