Ali (Wings) - The English Digest - December 2007

Editorial December 2007

Green taxes - Humbug!

I have been meaning to write on this subject for some months but the "season of goodwill" is almost upon us as I write this so I'll procrastinate no longer and raise my voice in protest at the latest attempt of this government to raise taxes in a particularly devious manner.

We see references to "green taxation" at every turn and it seems to be the government's wish that we embrace such robbery as somehow being a good and virtuous tax that we should willingly pay. Of course, a fuel tax will not reduce air travel; after all we already have punitive levels of tax on petrol and we don't see fewer cars on the roads than in the days of the "five bob gallon" do we?

However, my real complaint is that the enormous sums to be raised have not, to my knowledge, been committed to anything which will directly reduce the effects of mankind polluting the planet. It seems to me that the only commitment to real change comes from the NGOs and you will have read in the past of my admiration for the World Land Trust and now my thoughts are relevant to conservation of atmosphere, habitat, birds and biodiversity.

If all the money raised by these proposals were given to WLT and others following similar aims then we would see real "green taxation" but I doubt that this will ever happen. My wife, Shirley, and I tax ourselves every time we fly and we hand that money over to WLT each year at the Birdfair, I tell you this not seeking credit but in the hope that some may copy our idea. As our erstwhile Chancellor said at the end of each of his budget speeches, "I commend it to the house.".

NEW COUNCIL - SAME ENTHUSIASM

Giuliano Tallone, LIPU President

The Governing Council of LIPU has recently been re-elected with nine new faces joining eleven members from the previous board. Once again, therefore, we are set to renew our involvement with the dual challenges of climate change and the protection of biodiversity. I'd like to take this opportunity at the outset to review one of the year's most important events for the sake of all the members who actively participated in the elections for the new Governing Council. You will recall that in December 2006 we issued an open invitation to all members to get involved. In response some people came forward as candidates, others wrote requesting further details and many more members filled out their ballot papers. Consequently twenty people have been elected to guide the association over the coming four years, with significant changes relative to the membership of the previous council. Eleven members were re-elected whilst nine new councillors will be involved in making the strategic decisions that affect LIPU as an organisation. On 15 September we held our first plenary meeting to elect the standing sub-committees and attribute portfolios. To my own surprise and satisfaction I was re-elected President for a further term in a move which I take to be a vote of confidence in the strategy that the Council as a whole has pursued over the previous four years. In this context I think it only right to note that my re-election took place subsequent to my speech in which I laid out a vision for the association as I considered it vital that the Council had a clear sense of my future plans as members must trust in both the person and the programme when looking to the future. Foremost amongst the issues with which I feel we need to continue engaging are both climate change and biodiversity.

In this respect one of our aims has already been realised: in the past few weeks the Minister for the Environment, Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, has finally made the long awaited announcement of the Nature 2000 Network decree. Finally we can confidently announce with great satisfaction that the natural areas of most environmental importance in Italy have an assured protected status, conserving the habitat of birds, flora and fauna. Thanks are due to a whole range of institutions and bodies who have been prepared to enter into dialogue, a dialogue which was heartfelt and at times awkward, to secure this vital result: primarily to the Ministry for the Environment for proposing the decree but also to the farming groups, industrialists and energy companies who accepted the invitation to discuss the future of our environmental heritage. Thanks also go to all the other groups within the wider environmental lobby, each of which with their particular brief, has worked to the shared end of identifying an equitable and sustainable relation between ourselves and our place in the world.

Finally thanks are also due to all the staff at LIPU who have worked tirelessly over the last months and years, and to you, the membership, and all the volunteers who have involved themselves in the day-to-day activities of the association. When such a key objective is achieved we need to stop and register the success and congratulate ourselves prior to returning to the challenges that still face us. Our success in meeting these challenges is wholly dependent upon the continued involvement of our membership. Foremost amongst these is the need to continue strengthening awareness of the importance of environmental issues amongst the wider public and the need to defend and value our landscape and natural habitats. In particular we will be launching a large-scale Nature Discovery project in Spring 2008 involving a series of initiatives - events, courses, field trips and other activities - to increase interaction with our wide variety of natural environments as well as our wildlife and birdlife. For the two great challenges that stand before us are to address climate change and protect nature. We must work collectively to tackle both issues. Yet we also face a third, less obvious but no less important, challenge: to find peace and rediscover sources of happiness that we risk losing. To this end, I think you will all agree, we have a duty to conserve the environment both now and in the future.

CLIMATE HITS THE HEADLINES

The mass media are now interested in climate change. Political attention is growing too. Although the signs are positive, there is still much to do

The environment is back in the limelight. Following years of lack of interest by the mass media, an awareness of climate change caused by global warning has now become part of our daily lives. This is a complex topic, requiring guidance - guidance that needs to rest on solid, rational, scientific grounds. Italy needs her politicians and scientists to come together to help face this challenge. Otherwise there is a very real danger of making a bad situation worse. Meanwhile, last September the Minister for Environmental Protection organised a National Conference on Climate Change in Rome. This was a very welcome positive signal.

Adaptation and Mitigation

Climate change strategies rest on two main pillars: mitigation - how to reduce gas emissions, and adaptation - how to adjust to changed conditions of life. These two strategies apply to all policy sectors, including the conservation of nature and of birds.

Climate Change and the Crisis of Biodiversity

It is now beyond any doubt that mankind is exploiting natural resources at a rate that cannot be sustained. We are squandering our inheritance of water, clean air, fertile soil and biodiversity. These natural resources can no longer regenerate themselves sufficiently fast to match our consumption, and every day we consume enormous quantities of combustible fossil fuels, always releasing emissions into the atmosphere.

And yet we are dealing with the twin problems of conserving biodiversity and global warming as if they were two unrelated phenomena, having nothing in common. Even the Kyoto Protocol, the major agreement for addressing the problems of climate change, does not touch on the problem of biodiversity. It is as if tropical forests have no effect on climate. We know that ecosystems perform very important functions for us: they clean polluted water, produce oxygen, provide us with nutrients, and furnish many active ingredients used in medicine. All these services, free and indispensable to all living things, can only be provided properly by an ecosystem in good health. Only a healthy ecosystem is capable of resisting environmental stress. We can be sure that an ecosystem is sick when it starts to lose species - in other words its biodiversity decreases.

Positive Signs.

It is time that climate change and the conservation of biodiversity were considered together. Positive signals have now started to arrive from the global institutions. During the last G8 summit Environment Ministers created the so-called Potsdam initiative, acknowledging the need for integrated logic in facing these twin problems. The United Nations meeting in Bali, this December, will consider the use of market instruments to prevent deforestation in countries with abundant tropical forest, while avoiding economic harm. The United States, in collaboration with two NGOs, has recently launched a programme to cancel part of the Costa Rican public debt, in return for investment in forest conservation. Gradually the principle is being developed that better developed countries should contribute to the protection of tropical forests.

The proposal of LIPU to the Conference

We must review plans for the conservation of biodiversity in general, and of birds in particular, to make sure that they are still effective in the face of the environmental changes produced by climate change. This was the core message delivered by LIPU to the session dedicated to biodiversity and forests. In particular, it is necessary to act and guarantee that our system of protected areas and the Natura 2000 network in Italy will conserve biodiversity even as the climate changes. Since many species will be forced to modify their geographical distribution, this task is not at all simple. It is important to strengthen both the current network of protected areas and the connections between them. LIPU also emphasised that Italy should create a serious monitoring system for animal populations, in particular for birds; without such a system it will be impossible to see how we should plan future conservation and support the adaptation of animal populations to changed environmental conditions. This system should become part of a proper national program for biodiversity, which Italy still lacks.

Is the planet really getting warmer?

The evidence for global warming is now irrefutable, just as it is clear that man-made emissions play a decisive role. These are the conclusions of the most significant authority in this field, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The judgement of the Director General of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) Achim Steiner, who LIPU met in Rome after the conference, is short and to the point: "the debate on global warming is finished - it is time to turn talk into action".

Why should LIPU get involved with climate change?

What space will be left for birds in 50 years time? Should we really resign ourselves to losing many of these species and for good? Is the miracle of migration really at risk? It is likely that climate change will play a fundamental role, but are there any ways to mitigate the impact on birds and to adapt our conservation strategies? LIPU and BirdLife need to work methodically to find out and there are already shining examples within BirdLife. Take the survey of African IBA (Important Bird Areas), conducted on a continental scale. This is assessing whether the current system of areas can guarantee the future conservation of African birds, bearing in mind both environmental changes already in progress and those yet to come. Take also the recent European meeting of BirdLife International in Latvia last November, in which LIPU participated, placing much emphasis on the problem of climate change.

It is not just a matter of looking for the right technical solutions. There is also a cultural side: in an ever more rapidly changing world we will work to ensure space for birds, space for wildlife and a healthy ecosystem.

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SPECIAL DECREE

The Natura 2000 Network: At Last! A Decree from the Minister of the Environment sets out measures for the protection of birds and Italian biodiversity.

A difficult task, which has taken years and been impeded in every way right up to the looked-for end: the Natura 2000 networking programme will finally be given concrete protection. Minister for the Environment Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio has now given the awaited decree for the protection of the Italian sites of the great European system for the conservation of birds, sites, habitats, flora, fauna; indeed the whole extraordinary panoply of biodiversity that Europe is heir to. The sites that make up the network, that is to say the Special Protection Areas (SPAs) as per the Birds Directive, and the Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), as per the Habitats Directive, will at last be able to be safeguarded in the appropriate manner. The process of arrival at such an outcome started over twenty five years ago, with LIPU playing a fundamental and ongoing role, and had seen a reining back even in the last few months, with the European Commission having been constrained to open weighty proceedings against Italy for its poor application of the Birds Directive. Among the points brought up by the Commission is that of Natura 2000 itself, and in particular the lack of provision in Italian legislation for "ornithological criteria" which would assure adequate protection and ecological coherence for the network. That is to say: for too many years Italy has fallen short in the conservation of SPAs and SACs, and the time to remedy it has come. Thus the Italian government was nudged first into issuing, in August 2006, a legal ruling, and thereafter to specify a set of legal criteria which would lead to the issuing of a specific ministerial ruling. So it has come to pass, and today at last the provisions are reality.

Two hundred measures for nature

Titled "Natura 2000 Networking Programme", and signed on October 17 2007, the statute is composed of seven articles which detail a series of minimum requirements for its conservation. These measures are to be received and put into practice by the Italian Regions and autonomous provinces, which may integrate and strengthen them, that is to say, to modify by the addition of protective measures, but not to reduce their effectiveness. The other 200 measures contained in the statute are concerned with various issues, from hunting to agriculture, from forest management to the regulation of the construction of installations and the development of activities that might cause disturbance to birds (in the case of SPAs). Of paramount importance, moreover, is a whole series of activities to promote and give incentives, such as clamping down on poaching and illegal quarrying, the restoration of natural habitats such as meadows and wetlands, and providing information to alert local residents to the benefits of the Network to their area.

The Natura network and Countdown 2010: the great challenge

From the date of issue of the decree, the Regions will have a few months to become used to the new regulations and to ensure their effective application. A new phase however must be initiated at this point, which is not merely one of attentive monitoring, but of a continued and deepening involvement with the various protagonists on the ground, the stakeholders, so that the correct application of the regulations can be assured. This, in effect, is one of the key objectives of Natura 2000: to spread an understanding of the importance of nature conservation, in such a way that the great challenge of Countdown 2010, which is to reduce and finally halt the loss of biodiversity, will be understood by and taken up by all.

Chronology of the long journey

1979 Issuing of the Birds Directive, which among other things calls for the institution of Special Protection Areas, the first official step towards the Natura 2000 network.

1989 LIPU publishes the first inventory of Italian IBAs, with legal and scientific backing, as the European Court will decide, for the designation of SPAs, and with a date of 2000 set for their confirmation.

1992 Issuing of the Habitat Directive, which formally sanctions the constitution of the Natura 2000 network.

1993 The EC initiates infringement proceedings against Italy for designating an insufficient number of SPAs.

1996 The National Committee for Protected Areas includes the Natura 2000 sites in its system.

1997-2003 Various legal provisions are made, which as a result of a number of problems, do not succeed in supplying sufficient guarantees for the protection of the network.

2004 LIPU produces, in conjunction with the Minister for the Environment, a manual for the management of IBAs and SPAs.

2006 The European Commission opens infringement proceedings against Italy for inadequate conservation of Special Protection Areas. The government issues a bill, number 251/06, which is not however converted into law.

2007 In activating a ruling in the 2007 Finance Act, the Minister for the Environment puts the Natura 2000 Network into law.

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FOCUS ON POACHING

Anti-poaching: we need new resources and respect for laws. There are too few people and insufficient means for the control of the territory but from now on LIPU will control the application of regulations.

Numbers associated with the anti-poaching campaign illustrate a pitiful picture. According to the 2005 official statistics in Italy there are 792,032 hunters with only 3,702 officials to check their activity in the Provinces. It is obvious that the numbers of hunting officials is too low effectively to control the territory, even if there are two articles of the law 157/92 which should deter poaching. One of these articles (art 32) allows the officials to suspend the hunting licence of poachers found illegally killing birds, those that hunt outside the allocated season, or hunt protected species. The other article (art 33) concerns the reporting of anti-poaching activities; every Region has to send a report by May each year to the Ministry of Agricultural Policies regarding the number of people and means allocated to anti-poaching campaigns, number of controls, and any special measure that the Police Chief of each Province has decided to take. The Minister of Agricultural Policy must then give these reports to the Parliament.

Are these two articles (32 and 33) applied? Making sure this happens is LIPU's next goal. Except for a few cases where anti-poaching campaigns are organised and can count on an adequate number of people and means, the situation is Italy is worrying. Police forces in some Provinces are under strength, unmotivated, and they lack appropriate means. The majority of interventions take place after investigations have been conducted by volunteers working for environmental associations, such as LIPU. In short, there is a lack of a professional approach to anti-poaching activities, especially to prevent illegal hunting that has an economic, cultural or recreational basis, all of which have increased in number in recent times. LIPU has been, since its beginning, against these forms of poaching. Let's review the activities of its volunteer Guards in 2007. The LIPU Guards in Livorno, coordinated by Giorgio Paesani, with the help of the local province police, seized a Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus) from a previously convicted poacher. In the South, a brilliant operation of the Anti-poaching Nucleus of the Forest Guards, together with LIPU, took place in two restaurants in Reggio Calabria, where they were serving protected species of dormice. Sixteen animals had been captured with snare traps located on trees in the Locride valley, and subsequently cooked and frozen. In Cosenza, LIPU Guards organised by Gianluca Congi and Mario Martire, together with the Carabinieri of San Giovanni in Fiore coordinated by Chief Maresciallo Carmine Levato, caught a poacher in the act of trapping goldfinches and chaffinches. Illegal animal trading is, however, still thriving, and not at all weakened by seizures and occasional investigations. The phenomenon is often underestimated by the authorities charged with poaching control and suppression, which create a sort of rank of offences, despite the European Union having invited its members to consider crimes against biodiversity as important as any other. A solution would be to upgrade the worst offences to crimes, in order to use more specific and effective investigation and control techniques. Will we succeed? LIPU has sent a proposal to the Minister of the Environment, who has accepted it, although the exact formulation of the regulation still needs to be defined so that anti-poaching workers can effectively apply it in the field.

Seizures in Naples

The Provincial Police Investigation Nucleus and the LIPU Guards, coordinated by Fabio Procaccini, under the delegation of the Naples Police Chief, searched the house of three taxidermists and seized over 200 mounted animals, bird nets, and traps. Meanwhile, in the city centre police searched another house that had a Kestrel, some goldfinches and greenfinches on its balcony. The Forestry officials also discovered in the basement a tank with a one metre long Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus) in it. All of these animals were seized.

Verona

A blitz in Verona lead to the seizure of live decoys and hundreds of protected birds that were ringed and held in cages illegally. Seizure of skylarks, fieldfares and other thrushes, all coming from illegal captures, resulted from searching houses of three other hunters. LIPU informed the local magistrates, who allowed the Forestry officials to conduct four more searches of breeding establishments; they found 900 birds including blackbirds, skylarks, fieldfares, all illegally ringed, and tens of other illegally caged birds, together with nets. Those breeders were charged with having nets, and the use of illegal and fake markings. Their licence to breed birds was revoked.

LIPU in Brescia Province.

For the twenty second year running LIPU has been present in the Brescia Province to contest the poaching of migrating passerines, which in the name of an old local barbaric custom are trapped and killed with snare traps, which cause a slow and painful death. The birds remain hanging until the hunters strangle them, and then serve them in local restaurants that offer these dishes of illegally hunted birds. Over the years the LIPU Nucleus, coordinated by Inspector Piergiorgio Candela, has brought charges against 500 poachers, and removed half a million traps and nets. These operations have often been conducted in difficult and dangerous conditions, facing aggressive poachers using guns (Piergiorgio Candela himself was shot in an arm). There have been acts of intimidation typical of the Mafia, such as cutting of car tyres and other vandalism, together with physical violence towards the agents. Despite all this, volunteers continue their fight urged on by recent positive results.

Two actions in Emilia Romagna

Forest Guards, Police from the provinces of Parma, Bologna and Reggio Emilia, and the LIPU Guards coordinated by Mario Pedrelli from the Parma division conducted a search at the 67th International Ornithological Fair in Reggio Emilia. Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Siskins, Hoopoes, Rock Thrushes, and Crossbills, a total of 90 birds, were seized and then freed by local children. Forest Guards also searched a breeding establishment for songbirds used as live decoys to attract other individuals during hunting operations in Forli. The owner was charged with illegally having gunpowder and ammunition, illegal mounted species, of building illegal houses, and an unauthorised waste system. The officials seized 547 skylarks and 23 nets.

RESERVES AND CENTRES

Ugo Faralli

We have just opened a new centre for the care and rehabilitation of wild birds, an up to date establishment under LIPU management. This new Wild Bird Rehabilitation Centre is out in the countryside but close to Trento. After years of promises, meetings and delays the new centre was finally opened last June. It has been built by the Forest and Wildlife Service of the Province of Trento and handed over to LIPU to manage on a special three year contract. At the opening ceremony, in addition to many LIPU members, were the President of the Province of Trento, Lorenzo Dellai, as well as representatives of the local authority and the builders. The building itself is a modern structure of over 4500 square metres, with facilities for the care and rehabilitation of all species of birds. One very valuable feature of its management is the fact that there is close collaboration with a veterinary practice in Trento.

The teaching area, which will be open to visitors three days a week, houses several aviaries for those birds that cannot be released again, as well as space for environmental education, a library and a meeting room. That part of the building assigned to treatment and rehabilitation has two spaces for hospitalisation, an office, food preparation room, four aviaries for primary rehab and two flight tunnels of 12 and 24 metres. Previously treatment had to take place in very restricted temporary accommodation; it was later provided in collaboration with the Centre for Alpine Ecology which made staff and facilities available. More recently, particularly since 2004, they had used a building belonging to the Forest Guards at Candrai, on the slopes of Mount Bondone.

The work of this Wild Bird Rehabilitation Centre entails being available throughout the whole of the Province, every day, for the care and treatment of any injured wild birds brought in and in need of help. Every year on average about 350 birds are brought in. For LIPU members it has been a great success and a great responsibility.

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EUROBIRDWATCH

Eurobirdwatch is growing. Over 1,000 events and 2 million birds observed in 31 countries. In Italy rare and threatened species sighted.

It is a movement that is growing by public agreement and in ornithological interest. We are talking of Eurobirdwatch 2007, the event dedicated to migration and to bird protection, in 31 countries, organised by BirdLife International and which took place last 6th & 7th October. There were more than 2 million migrating birds in Europe framed in binoculars, 41,000 participants, 1,120 organised events, from Spain to Azerbaijan, from Malta to Sweden. In Italy more than a thousand people saw the sky crossed southwards by something like 150,000 birds, to return to warm countries in the south where they pass the winter. It is a movement intended to underline "the importance of the measures taken to save species threatened with extinction and protection of habitat, in wet areas, coasts, woods and plains, where birds nest, winter, or rest during migration," declares Fritz Hirt of Swiss BirdLife, co-ordinator of Eurobirdwatch 2007.

Most interesting sightings in Italy: 36 sightings of Spoonbill (species in decline classified as SPEC 2 at the Variconi Oasis (CE), at the Salt Lake (FG), at the Montepulciano Nature Reserve (SI) , and at Lentini Lake (CT). New specimens of Ferruginous Duck, an endangered species, always seen at the Lentini Lake; five specimens of Caspian Tern, one at the South Lake of Venice and the other four at the Lentini Lake; three specimens of Pigmy Cormorant, one at Lago Salso and two at the South Lake of Venice, two of Razorbill, a rare seabird species from northern Europe, sighted at Procida island, two Black Kite, a rarity for the time of year; a Slavonian Grebe on the South Lake of Venice, and finally, a Paradoxornis, an exotic species which can be seen only at the Brabbia Marsh Nature Reserve.

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STRATEGIES

Speaking, doing, learning.... living nature and acting to protect it. This is the objective of LIPU through its environmental education.

Much research shows how the direct experience of nature is the most important factor in the awakening and development of those values that underpin its protection. Simply asking anyone involved in the protection of the environment (one of the multitude of LIPU members) shows how some personal tale, generally a childhood memory of special moments spent in the open air, has changed for ever that person's outlook on the world. Today, however, we are living in a society where millions of young people grow up in urban areas devoid of contact with the natural world. For these children and young people Nature is something foreign to their daily life to be considered with indifference or even distaste. An entire chapter of "LIPU's Strategic Document 2006 - 2010: five crucial years for the conservation of biodiversity" is dedicated to environmental education, a programme of activity which, starting from a first contact with the natural world, aims at generating a passion for the environment and a change in our personal behaviour. And so, this direct contact with nature is the first base: an experience in the field is something that no technology, no lessons in class or book can ever replace. LIPU provides, through its Oases, Reserves and the great number of voluntary activities something concrete: these experiences in the field will be transformed into the bases for the protection of nature. The younger generations must be tracked throughout the whole of their education via projects in environmental education, from play school up to higher education, so that people have a real and complete understanding of environmental themes. Developing a regard for and a knowledge of nature is, however, not enough. From this must follow action, something that can't be said to come spontaneously. Learning and gaining knowledge in the best way comes through doing and not just through observing or listening. This is the interactive approach: observing, making hypotheses, working in groups and solving problems... These are the abilities which must be developed through the activities of environmental education and which may then be transferred subsequently to the work place, to the classroom or in the discovery of all that which lies "outside" ourselves. LIPU's educational programmes are based on solid scientific principles, using precise information that is constantly updated. Nature is already of itself a great laboratory. LIPU builds on those things which people already know, at whatever level in order to involve them in the understanding of natural processes. Asking questions and listening to the answers about the natural world encourages our desire to protect it. And in doing this we involve everybody, not only the new generations, but also young adults, the old and people of all abilities.

Our guiding principles are:

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Anti-Hunting Blitz

A brilliant anti-hunting operation has been brought to notice, thanks to the enterprise of the chief of the volunteer anti-hunting rangers of the LIPU Venice Section, Marco Tonin. Last August, following anonymous information, the volunteers kept tracks and suspect movements under observation in an area near Jesolo, and took documentary photographic evidence of an illegal camp for capturing wild birds, rigged with nets and cages with live decoys. At this point, the operation was sprung, allowing the hunter to be caught red handed. The man was reported to the authorities and the equipment used in hunting was confiscated. The birds used as decoys were placed in a LIPU recuperation centre.

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Flamingos in trouble

Menotti Passarella

In November 2006, more than 20 Greater Flamingos were found dead in the Po Delta, NE Italy, because of lead shot poisoning, 16 of them were collected and several lead pellets were present in their gizzards. Chemical and pathological analyses confirmed the suspected lead shot poisoning. The average lead concentration in tissue was 13 times higher than the threshold in aquatic birds. This case confirms the importance forbidding lead pellets in shotgun shells in Italian wetlands. Nevertheless, local regional government did not agree to stop using lead pellets in the protected wetlands, so more cases of dead Flamingos (more than 20) were registered in the same area exactly one year later. Flamingos started to visit the Po Delta in the early 1990s and started to breed early this century. They "discovered" a "new food resource" of seeds and other food put in the inner lagoons by the owners for duck-hunting purposes.

Birds are poisoned when they ingest lead shot found in the wetlands. Because birds swallow their food whole they swallow small pebbles, called grit, which grind the food in the gizzard. Aquatic birds, particularly ducks, geese, and swans (and now, Flamingos), use the sensitive tissues in their bills to detect particles of food and grit in the mud at the bottoms of lakes and wetlands - but waterfowl are unable to distinguish lead shot from pebbles, and may also ingest the toxic lead pellets. More info and pictures in this new blog: - "The silent killing of Flamingos at the doors of Venice" http://dontkillflamingos.blogspot.com/

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News from LIPU-UK

The big issue

Carol Debney

By signing up as members of LIPU-UK we are stating our concern about the protection of birds and the environment in Italy. Many of us are also likely to be members of the RSPB, the BTO or BirdLife International, and keen birdwatchers and conservationists in the UK. As individuals we may be powerless to act on a national and international scale but our membership and support enables these organisations to act on our behalf. At this level they are involved in very big issues indeed.

But conservation is also about smaller things - little issues - which may be our personal responsibility. I've got two examples that I'd like to tell you about.

In my day job as garden editor of Bird Watching magazine, I write about wildlife gardening, how to attract birds and other creatures, and generally make gardens a safe haven for wildlife. In the UK gardens are an immensely important wildlife habitat covering more land than all our nature reserves put together. But they are increasingly under threat from the popularity for "ease of maintenance" gardening by use of decking, or gravel to cover what was once lawns, shrubberies and flower beds. Builders and developers also cast covetous eyes on large gardens and many a family house or bungalow has been demolished to provide small modern houses with no gardens to speak of.

My modern town house is built on land which belonged to the railway and was derelict until ten years ago. The garden is small but I'm responsible for part of a long border on one side of the communal car park. It's planted with shrubs including buddleia and lavender and the retaining wall is ivy covered. The suggestion has been made that the border should be cleared of plants, and gravelled for "ease of maintenance". End of butterflies on the buddleia, useful winter berries on the ivy, seed-heads on the lavender and protective cover for the gang of House Sparrows and small birds that use this bit of garden.

Gardens are particularly important habitat for House Sparrows and a recent survey by the BTO suggests that loss of gardens may be a factor in the decline of this species. So, I hope my neighbours will understand that my small patch is for the birds - and me - to enjoy and the plants will continue to bloom for the foreseeable future.

A much bigger issue faced an Italian friend of mine last September. Fabrizio Borghesi is an ornithologist who lives in Ravenna. He is president of the Ardeola Birding Association, a local bird club with 44 members.This is small compared with many UK bird clubs but very important in Italy where birdwatching is a growing interest. It's a very active club that encourages birdwatching (and to quote him "biowatching") around Ferrara and Ravenna and especially in the Po Delta Park.

Last September, a stretch of riverine woodland, known as Bosco San Romualdo, was destroyed by workmen for the Technical Services of the Romagnoli River. This woodland is very close to the Po Delta Park and a designated Special Protection Area. An Ardeola member saw the destruction - by this time 80% of the woodland had been destroyed - and telephoned Fabrizio, who took action. He told me:

"Immediately, I called the Forestry, the local WWF, the President of the local territory administration and some local politicians. Then I e-mailed the local newspapers. Ardeola members also sent e-mails to local web-newspapers.The main local paper reported the destruction and in the following days all local politicians reproved the act."

Nevertheless, as Fabrizio told me, such destruction is not unusual: "The technical services said the destruction was a mistake but unfortunately, the destruction of river woodland is the normality. Often they don't worry if a wood is protected. Last year a workman was arrested while the cutting of another protected area was starting!"

It's a sad state of affairs when protected areas can be wantonly destroyed. But, as we know from UK experience, if land is required for another purpose SSSI status or other designations will not necessarily protect it. But at least in the UK we usually have prior notification so that we can gather our forces to protest.

Bosco San Romualdo was habitat for many special species, including Penduline Tits and roosting Pygmy Cormorants. The woodland may never recover and so far there are no known plans to reinstate it.

Fabrizio, like the rest of us, would like to see habitats properly protected, and I'll let him have the last word - well almost!. "We have lots of birds here, rare birds too - birdwatching is amazing! But too many other activities are allowed in the IBAs and SPAs so habitat is difficult to preserve although the SPAs were established under EU regulations.

"Requests for economic activities are too frequently granted by local regulators. 'Protection' in words, 'sustainable development' in the electoral campaign of every party, but exploitation in the facts. In many protected areas intense hunting is still allowed and not much controlled.

"This contrasts with eco-tourism in autumn, which is a great season to watch birds and enjoy nature. And such tourism may help to convince administrators that nature is good and a valuable asset to the region."

I've visited the Po Delta Park many times and enjoyed the birds, the friendship of enthusiastic local birdwatchers, the history, food, wine and everything else this wonderful region has to offer. Long may it remain but that will depend on the dedication of active conservationists and their willingness to face both big and small issues whenever they occur. For more information about Bosco San Romualdo go to: www.ardeola.it and follow the link.

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MEMBERSHIP MATTERS

Nothing matters more to the success of LIPU and our work in the UK branch than a steadily increasing membership and I have to say that at the moment all is not what we would like. We are a little bit like a swan - appearing serene and unconcerned, but, beneath the water line, having to paddle very hard just to stay still.

We have tried many ways to put our message across - a message that should bring in members all saying, "What can I do to help?". In recent years we have advertised, we have had campaigns in targeted publications, we have a stand every year at the Birdfair and I have spoken to many bird groups to spread the word. Despite all of this our membership last year declined slightly and that trend has not yet stopped.

Clearly we are a minority group in that many people will not see the appeal of supporting LIPU when there is still conservation work to be done in our own country - but there must be many more who would say, as so many do at the Birdfair each year, "I had no idea that you existed."

So, I turn to you with a plea. Do you know someone who could help, someone with the sympathy for birds which we all have, someone who would join us and play a part in our success? We must get the message across that this is not a lost cause; huge gains have been made as can be seen in the dramatic reduction in the level of spring poaching of migrating birds at the Messina straits.

The work is a long way from over but all around we see encouragement - the number of hunters is reducing, the amount of land which is protected is increasing all the time and the IBAs will now have the protection of being designated as Special Protection Areas. So the message must be that we are a success and an organisation deserving support - and how many conservation organisations have a subscription level as low as ours?

Thanks to the generous support of Lynx Editions of Barcelona, publishers of the famous "Handbook of Birds of the World" we have copies of "A Birdwatchers Guide to Italy" which we are offering to all new members who elect to join and subscribe with a Bankers Order. Existing members will not be forgotten and any who decide to adopt the Bankers Order method of renewal will also receive a copy of the book, we just ask for a contribution of £5 to cover the costs of postage and packaging. This excellent guide was reviewed in the Ali of March 2006.

We really do need your help to stop the decline in our membership; for years there was a slow but steady increase and we broke through 1,000 a few years ago but are currently back below that number - let's spread the word and bring more members into the fold to make us even more of a success story in the future.

- David Lingard

Translators of this issue are: Cicely Adelson, Daria Dadam, Stephen Milner, Caterina Paone, Peter Rafferty, John Walder and Brian Horkley. my thanks to them all.