Download the LIPU-UK Annual Report 2010-2011 here

Ali (Wings) - December 2011

Editorial December 2011

GUNS AND BULLETS - THE APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE

In this country we have two world-leading organisations working for the well-being of birds – the RSPB, which needs no introduction, and the British Trust for Ornithology, the BTO. The research done by the scientists of the BTO and its volunteer members is used by government departments because it can be trusted to be impartial and factual.

It is often said that when the RSPB is campaigning and using BTO data to support its case that the RSPB fires the gun and the BTO supplies the bullets.

In Italy LIPU has to combine both these roles; its campaigning and lobbying is directed not just at national legislators but also those of the regions and even the provinces. An excellent example is that of the recent designation of the Pantani of South East Sicily as a Regional Nature Reserve – a story reported in the our last edition and in this.

It is twenty years since Sicily said that the wetlands deserved protection, but the document of the time said only that there was an intention to do something and, of course, nothing was actually done. Lobbying and persuasion were achieving nothing and the hunters were having a free hand to shoot over the wetlands. However, the Local Conservation Group started to survey the sites and record their findings in a series of reports which could not be ignored.

The importance of these areas could now be demonstrated with data that could be verified and the importance of the Pantani to the Ferruginous Duck was probably the tipping point.

We in LIPU-UK are supporting another research project in that we now know so much more about the routes flown by raptors migrating though Sicily in the spring migration and can now improve the protection of these birds by the use of this knowledge – important and essential work indeed.

THE CRISIS HITS FIRST AT PROTECTION OF THE ENVIRONMENT

Fulvio Mamone Capria, LIPU President

Crisis cuts, waste reduction, savings, these are some of the expressions used in recent years by politicians and journalists to tell us – in their own way – about the economic stagnation into which our country has fallen. But what about the environment?

The environment has been butchered by savage cuts to the budgets of strategic ministries, like those concerned with agricultural and environmental policies, and investments in the regional and local authorities have been cut to the bone.

The crisis exists, it touches us all, but it cannot be fought by putting at risk the resources for the protection of biodiversity and sustainable development. The government and the regions are having to discharge cash that was intended for environmental policies, to others that are already in financial need.
As with a machete they have cut the funds to the parks and protected areas. With the ‘Stability Pact’ the communes and provinces live from hand to mouth, huge investment programmes for the ecology and environment are blocked, while right now, we have to believe in the ‘green economy’.

Innovative technology, scientific research, ‘green works’ efficient energy, products of low environmental impact, environmentalism, bio-architecture, recycling of rubbish, all these began timidly in Italy, another challenge to international competitiveness.

A range of new ‘green opportunities’ needs to be accompanied by political will, not just a lot of hot air. Furthermore, there are hints at the disposal of state-owned public assets to raise cash which would allow tax benefits for new construction (to the mortification of even the most law-abiding citizens) to help the traditional car market rather than helping initiatives for a sustainable and alternative mobility.

If one continues investing in cement to build the third and fourth houses that still remain empty and untenanted on precious agricultural land, why not instead start a ‘mega site for Italy’? This would deal with reclamation projects and urban regeneration of our metropolitan and run-down urban areas that have been damaged by bad taste and poor quality workmanship.

And finally if one is also expropriating land to try to start building the unnecessary and Pharaonic Messina Bridge, we are truly under siege. But we cannot and must not, by any means, give up our resources for the protection of the green environment that surrounds us and for protection of the few areas that remain intact for our beloved birds.

LIPU’s mission is the protection of habitats and conservation of nature and for this reason we are organizing at all levels to strengthen the work of analysis and reporting on the fragmentation of sites, on land degradation, on the threats to Natura 2000 network and to the protected areas.

LIPU sounds the alarm against this attack which is causing the impairment of important sites for birds. This is an attack on our communities which is causing the death of environmental ecosystems in our country. We are called to an extraordinarily difficult challenge, but we have the courage and the desire to save the planet for you.

THE WETLANDS OF SOUTH-EAST SICILY

The Reserve is born – at last!

By Egle Gambino and Carlo Cappuzzello

From the 10th June 1991 to the 27th July 2011 - it took 20 years to bring this reserve to its birth, 20 years to rouse the administrators to find the courage to do their institutional duty, 20 years to convince the Sicilians that it was possible for there to be a paradise of biodiversity just two steps from home.

It has surely taken too long since that distant year of 1991 when these coastal wetlands were put on the list of reserves to be set up in Sicily - but leaving on the document just the intention to preserve, conserve and protect.

Each year since then has been an attack on nature supported by the hunting lobby with the clear intent of spreading the idea that these are places of no value, to the point that they may be used as open air rubbish dumps.

These marvellous sites have, on the contrary, resisted years of neglect, of fly-tipping, of unauthorized enclosure, of illicit disposal of liquid waste, of unregulated water extraction and, above all, of uncontrolled and indiscriminate hunting. It is not an exaggeration to say that it is something of a miracle that this place still retains so much beauty, despite the fact that for decades no one has taken on the task of at least setting up a system to control hunting. The institution of the reserve does not just mean conservation and protection but, above all, restoring dignity and value to such an important place.

The road to the reserve

The Pantani of South-east Sicily form a complex system of coastal wetlands which extend along the strip from Marzamemi (SR) to Pantano Gorgo Salato (RG); they lie in the southern zone of Sicily, at a latitude below that of Tunis, in the centre of the Mediterranean and exactly on one of the principal migratory routes. They are made up in particular of a string of 11 wetlands (from east to west: Marzamemi, Morghella, Ponterio, Ciaramiraro, Baronello, Auruca, Cannone, Cuba, Longarini, Bruno, Gorgo Salato) of differing dimensions, characterized by varying depth and salinity and whose hydrological profile is for the most part conditioned by rainfall. Because of a series of special features the wetlands of south-eastern Sicily constitute for birds a very precious habitat: their geographical position, their size, the alternation of zones of deep water with those of shallows, as well as the varied vegetation come together to provide ideal conditions for the feeding and breeding activities of a very large number of bird species.

This complex and interconnected system of wetlands constitutes one of the most important stopover and nesting areas for some 200 bird species. Designated an Important Bird Area and, successively, a Site of Community Importance and a Zone of Special Protection, it is an area of crucial importance for birdlife and constitutes the last remaining wetland of any size in eastern Sicily.

The first step on the road to reserve status must surely have been the realisation among a group of birdwatching friends that it was no longer enough to complain and wait for the end of the hunting season in order to return to the flashes but that it was necessary to begin to do something concrete. And so, in 2008, direct action to control poaching and at the same time a systematic census of the birds present was undertaken. Subsequently, the creation of the Local Conservation Group in 2010 has contributed through its monitoring of the Ferruginous Duck to the continuation of the census in a methodical and accurate way; the availability of scientifically valid data has been an important support for the campaign of the associations which at a regional level were able to demonstrate, on numerous occasions, the importance of the site not only for migrating species but also for the winter visitors and the breeding birds as well.

In reality the necessity of setting up some form of protection over the years had been frequently confirmed by ISPRA, the Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, through its expressed opinion against the opening of the hunting season; however, the decisive step forward came in 2011 when it was possible, through the work carried out by the census, to compare the data on birdlife during the absence of hunting and those on one single week during the hunting season. The disturbing result has shown without any shadow of a doubt the incompatibility of hunting activity in an area and the conservation of its wildlife.

A Paradise of Biodiversity

Throughout the whole span of the year, from winter to the spring migration, from the breeding season to the autumn migration, the Pantani constitute an element fundamental to the survival of some 200 species of bird. They make a veritable treasure chest of biodiversity, a place where it is possible to observe in a single day up to 100 different species of bird and where it is not difficult to spot rarities such as Temminck’s Stint, Knot, Red-necked Phalarope, Lesser-crested Tern and the Red-throated Pipit.

Apart from the number of species present, the serious importance for wildlife of the wetland complex lies in the fact that some of these species are gravely threatened at either European or world levels. Others, such as the Purple Gallinule, have been the object of recent reintroduction in Sicily and yet others, such as the Marbled Duck, have, just in the last few years, chosen this site to try to colonise the island.

Above all, the presence of the Ferruginous Duck has stabilised in recent years at least in the breeding season, so that in 2010 some 30 pairs have been counted with around 200 young.* This means that the area is the most important breeding site in Italy for this species. Not only this, but the data on the numbers of birds counted in 2010 from the post-breeding migration to the first week of January 2011 show absolutely clearly that the Pantani of south-eastern Sicily, free from any hunting activity, have become the most important wintering site in Italy for this species (102 individuals counted on 4th January, 2011).

* Data taken relative to the monitoring of the reproduction of the Ferruginous Duck in the vicinity of the Pantani of SE Sicily carried out by the Local Conservation Group 019, Pantani Longarini-Cuba of the Ragusa section.

COMMON AGRICULTURAL POLICY – PROPOSED REFORM

LIPU – “Biodiversity will not be safeguarded”

“We are not happy with this proposal. They had promised us a ‘green’ reform but we now fear that the changes will be detrimental to biodiversity and the natural resources on which agriculture depends”.

This was the comment of LIPU following the press-release by the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Gracian Ciolos, regarding the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) that would come into practice after 2013.

Dr Patrizia Rossi, LIPU Agriculture Policy Advisor, said, “The reform proposed by the European Commission certainly contains some positive elements, such as greater protection of natural meadows and the set aside of 7% of agricultural areas for biodiversity. This would include landscape features such as hedgerows, ponds and woodland areas, as well as the compulsory compliance to the Water Directive by farmers. “However, these positive elements are outweighed by the option for the EU members to reward those practices that are detrimental to the environment. In extreme cases, the reform would also allow Member States to shift funds from the second pillar of the CAP, the one most beneficial for the environment, to the first one, reversing the previous compensatory options introduced in previous reforms.” continues Dr Rossi.

Among the most negative elements of the proposed reform – highlights LIPU – is the option of pairing subsidiaries and specific crop productions, a combination that is thought to be particularly detrimental to the environment. The ‘pairing’ had been cancelled in the past. Furthermore, the lack of increased funds for the agro-environment schemes and the development of rural areas will be a further drawback.

“The proposed changes will not protect natural resources such as water, soil, biodiversity and climate” – states Dr Fulvio Mamone Capria, LIPU President – “ Not only do we risk failing to meet the biodiversity targets for 2020, but these changes will also have a negative impact on the quality of life of European citizens and they will be to the detriment of the resources on which agriculture itself depends.”

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A WILDLIFE CORRIDOR

by Cristina Tessaro

The wildlife ‘highway’ connecting the Alps and the Apennines will pass through Varese

The Earth is moving. We are not talking about the Copernican revolution, but the fact that our planet is full of animal and plant species that travel across it. Movements of a few metres or thousands of kilometres are all essential for the survival of species and hence of biodiversity. Ecological corridors guarantee the ‘oxygen’ necessary to prevent the loss of genetic diversity of flora and fauna, which would lead to their extinction.

Movement is essential for all species, not only for elephants and lions in the savannah, sperm whales in the deep oceans, storks and swallows in the sky along their heroic migration routes, but also for species that live in dense urbanised areas. For those species that live within protected areas, the survival instinct pushes them to move out of those safe pockets and on to a dangerous journey. Human infrastructures, such as fast roads, railways, canals, bridges, and power lines often represent insurmountable or deadly obstacles. The outcome is that the biodiversity of these areas is at risk of depletion.

In order to contrast this phenomenon, LIPU has been working since October on the ‘Trans Insubria Bionet’ (TIB) project, which involves the Varese province but that influences areas further afield. The aim is to connect two regional natural reserves to the north and south of the province: the ‘Campo dei Fiori’ Park and the ‘Ticino’ Park to preserve the exchange of animal species between the Alps and the Po river, and hence the Apennines.

The action key-word is ‘defragmentation’, as a way to mend the fragmentation caused by human infrastructures. All that is needed are ramps, ladders, window-seals, tunnels and bridges to allow animals to cross a motorway safely or move upstream. These types of measures are not new, but what is new in the TIB project is that the defragmentation has been addressed on a vast scale. The action plan does not involve a single mitigation feature, but a network of intervention plans stretching over 35 square kilometres, involving 54 corridors, seven of which occur in areas that are particularly dangerous to many species. In particular, two ecological corridors will be tackled: on the east and west side of the Varese Lake, connecting the ‘Campo dei Fiori’ Park and the ‘Ticino’ Park, over 59 kilometres. At the moment, these corridors are considered the best method to maintain a connection between the Alps and the Apennines in the ‘Padana Plain’.

The TIB project therefore represents a pilot study of extraordinary strategic consequences for its predicted results and the good example it exemplifies, which may open the way to similar projects involving the creation of ecological corridors in other areas of the European Community. It is not a coincidence that Brussels is one of the main funding bodies of the project, with 1.5 million Euros, almost half of the 3.1 million Euros needed for the full project. Funding was obtained thanks to the ‘Life + Natura 2010’ grant, which was won by LIPU after a large organisational effort and despite the high number and quality of applicants.

The TIB project does not involve only LIPU, represented in this project by Massimo Soldarini, but several other groups will also be involved, from the Varese Province to the Lombardy Region and the bank ‘Cariplo Foundation’. The project will also see the involvement of the 35 constituencies that are found in the areas of the two ecological corridors and both the ‘Campo dei Fiori’ and ‘Ticino’ Parks.

The TIB project factsheet.

Duration: 1 October 2011 to 31 December 2015 Funding (total): 3,093,737 Euro

Funding in detail:

European Community: 1,545,425 Euro;

Lombardy Region: 645,000 Euro;

Varese Province: 269,312 Euro;

‘Fondazione Cariplo’ 484,000 Euro;

LIPU: 150,000 Euro.

The project will not only work on the defragmentation actions, but also on the restoration and safeguard of habitats, the control of invasive species and the communication to the public through different channels.

From ‘Biodiversity Network’ to TIB

The TIB project evolved from the ‘Biodiversity Network’ idea, a project involving LIPU, the Varese Province, the Lombardy Region, and the bank ‘Cariplo Foundation’ that has been running since 2007 in the Varese area. The promoters of the project had invited the constituencies touched by the ecological corridors to sign a ‘Network Contract’ and to start to work independently on defragmentation projects. Now the ‘Biodiversity Network’ passes the mission on TIB, which will complete the work objectives by establishing a bigger and better coordinated project.

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MIGRATION – ITS STUDY THROUGH RESEARCH

Marco Gustin, Responsible for species and research

The migration of birds, above all that of the larger species, has always held a particular fascination for humankind, even from ancient times. Aristotle, indeed, in the Historia Animalium, exhibits precise knowledge of the seasonal voyaging of birds, and their breeding and wintering phenology.

With the passage of time, the more fanciful theories (as for example the winter hibernation of certain species such as the swallow), were bit by bit disproved and superseded by more effective and systematic studies of migration. The technique of ringing, used for the first time in Denmark in 1899 by Mortensen, contributed decisively to this fundamental change.

Indeed, there have been major advances thanks to this method, that have to this day retained their validity for the science and conservation of our avifauna.

The role of ringing in science

The scientific use of ringing is in practice a research technique based on the marking of a single captured subject, that permits us to understand, once it is recaptured, its life history.

Even today, ringing is the most widely-used method in the study of migration, understood as movement from one place to another (for example between breeding and wintering areas, and vice-versa) and at the same time represents a highly effective way of studying population dynamics (particularly where passerines are concerned), and the biology, ecology, behaviour, reproduction and demographics of individual species.

This method has enabled the understanding of physiological adaptations linked to migration, and in recent years, has contributed substantially to the definition of conservation strategies and to the politics of environmental site management.

With this technique, it is therefore possible to ascertain migration routes and stop-over sites, permitting us to have important and definitive information as a base for the planning of integrated systems of protected areas.

Who is responsible for ringing?

The smaller Mediterranean islands and the valleys of the Alps are ideal places for undertaking such surveys, through which hundreds of thousands of individuals of hundreds of species may concentrate during the periods of migration, as for example those of the outward and return journeys from sub-Saharan Africa. Coastal locations too, even if today radically changed from what they were, are excellent sites for making such studies.

Who is authorised to ring wild birds? In terms of personnel, it consists of those adequately trained by ISPRA (The Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research), who after a long apprenticeship are allowed by the institute and the province or region in which the activity takes place to carry out scientific ringing in Italy. Many ringers are simply enthusiasts, from birders in the field who give of their free time to these studies, to the ‘professionals’. Between the two groups are however highly specialised individuals dedicated to nature conservation.

How the netting works

How are the birds captured? The most usual equipment among ringers for capturing small and medium sized birds is the mist-net, invented in Japan about 300 years ago. They are of variable length (6,9 and 12 metres), of a height of about 2.5 metres, and are formed of a net of very fine nylon made up on average of around five horizontal shelf-strings and four pockets, in which the birds are captured. When flying through the vegetation in which the nets are set, the birds fall into the interior of the four pockets and remain held in the net. Naturally, no harm befalls the trapped birds, as the ringers excel at extricating them one by one without damage.

In all Europe around four million birds have been ringed, and about 250,000 in Italy. Obviously in order to manage such a daunting amount of data, there must be a high degree of organisation. The management of the European database is entrusted to The European Union for Bird Ringing, (Euring: www.euring.org), based in Holland, which guarantees effective collaboration between the various national ringing organisations, with Italy being represented by ISPRA.

Satellite radio tracking

Recently, to the well established ringing using mist netting, have been added more sophisticated study techniques such as satellite radio tracking. In this case, minute transmitters are attached to the backs of individual subjects. Through linking to the satellites, these tiny radios continually give precise information as to the movements of each individual bird.

Through this revolutionary technology which is becoming more sophisticated all the time (species as small as a swallow, which weigh only about 20 grams, can now be tracked in this way), it is possible to track the progress of tens of migratory voyages in space and time to reveal a level of detail far superior to that obtained by ringing. The latter however will never be “pensioned off”, as the satellite method is much more expensive and not yet suitable for all species.

LIPU’S own research

At LIPU too, the staff with specific research projects, the recovery centres and the oases, also use ringing to contribute to the study of migration.

LIPU’S Little Island Project

To study the phenomenon of spring migration among the smaller islands of the Mediterranean through the use of ringing, the Little Island Project, or PPI (Progetto Piccole Isole) was set up in 1988 in coordination with ISPRA. A project which has revealed the importance of the pontine islands (but also many of the coastal islands of the Tyrrhenian) as strategic areas for the migration of European passerines.

Furthermore, LIPU has in recent years used radio tracking in conjunction with CERM of Grosseto, to identify wintering areas in central Africa, not previously known, of the Egyptian Vulture, the smallest of the European vultures, and in rapid decline, not least in Italy. Thanks to this technique, in the last four or five years, and with the help of a particular method of release called “hacking”, seven individuals were fitted with satellite transmitters at LIPU’s Gravina di Laterza Oasis. We have thereby ascertained that “our” vultures winter in the semi-desert areas in sub-Saharan Africa between Mali and Niger.

LIPU’s work with satellite telemetry is also particularly important in the case of the Cory’s Shearwater, a marine species which nests on the cliffs of the smaller Mediterranean islands. This has led to the identification of the most significant feeding grounds for both the main population of the island of Linosa, as well as for those of the smaller colonies of the Tremiti islands. One must not forget either, LIPU’s research work on swallows, again using satellite telemetry in conjunction with the University of Milan.

The Alpine Project

To study the autumn passage over the Italian Alps, that ecological barrier to the course of post-reproductive migration across Europe, the Progetto Alpi has run since 1997, in conjunction with ISPRA and the Natural Science Museum of Trento. This project has shown that there is an important flow of migrants crossing central Europe on a broad front on a generally North-East to South-West bearing.

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THE EAGLE AND THE WOLF

by Ugo Faralli, Head of Oases and Reserves

The Eagle and the Wolf. Is this the title of a fable by Aesop or perhaps by Phaedrus? Or is it maybe an advert for the football derby between Lazio (the eagle) and Rome (the she-wolf)? Instead, for animal lovers like us, these are two symbolic species; eternal myths, encountered first in school when we were little children, then later as activists engaged in their protection.

The Golden Eagle and the wolf are controversial species: part extremely loved and part extremely loathed. They have been celebrated throughout the course of history, in fables, on family crests, coats of arms, flags and in advertising. Symbols of freedom, strength, power and resistance, wild in nature, uncontaminated, close to man and at the same time distant. Distant enough that within the last few decades, hunting and trapping have driven both species to the edge of national extinction. From love, or at least a kind of celebration, to hatred. Sitting at the top of their respective food chains, both the eagle and the wolf compete directly with man; especially upland dwellers, who in the fifties made their livelihood from herding and raising animals.

From that time onwards, persecution has led to depopulation in the Alps (for eagles) and in the Apennines (for both). Hundreds and hundreds of individuals were killed by shooting, by traps, and with poisoned bait. In recent decades, yet more harm has been caused by the building of new roads, infrastructure and facilities for winter tourism, the laying of electricity networks and pylons, and the destruction of habitat. Who has not read (and continues to read) about the shooting of a Golden Eagle or of a wolf run over by a car?

As we have always said, LIPU oases and reserves were created and are managed with the following aims: the conservation of nature, education and a raising of environmental awareness; promotion of the area and community life. With the exception of Carloforte (and the Eleanora’s Falcon), none of the oases were created with Golden Eagle or wolf packs specifically in mind. However from the mid eighties onwards, thanks to better protection and the creation of parks and protected areas within the Alps and Apennines, the situation for eagles and wolves has been improving, and their numbers have increased. Now there are more individuals who range outside their territories, extending their hunting zones (for both species are migrants, especially the wolf). And luckily for us, as they roam the country they have encountered LIPU oases and reserves.

In this article you will find details of sightings in recent years. We hope this will inspire you to observe these two species for yourself.

Bianello Oasis - August 2011, Golden Eagle, born this year - November 2010, a young wolf seen in the south of the reserve hunting fallow deer and boar.

Monte Roccandagia Nature Reserve (Campocatino Oasis) - A pair of Golden Eagles, nesting just outside the edge of the reserve, and frequenting the reserve all year round. Regular sightings of the newborn chick throughout August and September.

Casacalenda Oasis - Wolf, tracks and droppings left by a small group of 3-4 individuals over the last two winters. Probably from Daunia in Puglia, across the river Fortore.

Gravina Laterza Oasis - Wolf, died winter 2008, a single body found in a state of decomposition by the Forestry Guard. Possibly shot on the edge of the Oasis after tracking a shepherd moving to winter pasture from Basilicata.

CARLOFORTE

In April we signed a convention with the Province of Carbonia-Iglesias and the Council of Carloforte. A few months later we “launched” the Carloforte Oasis with a weekend of events.

The official opening took place on Saturday 23 September, in the presence of local officials and of our President, Fulvio Mamone Capria. The customary ribbon was cut in front of the Capo Sandalo visitor centre, which had been refurbished with financial support from the Province of Carbonia-Iglesias.

The following day, Sunday, was a special celebration: thirty years of LIPU involvement with the island of San Pietro. In 1981 a few volunteers from the LIPU Sardinian delegation organised the very first camp to protect and observe Eleanora’s Falcon. At that time birds of prey were still threatened by falconers who poached both eggs and chicks. Our concern for other species of birds and animals grew out of that camp, from those first “battles” and from the obsession with Eleanora’s Falcon. This start led to the LIPU proposal for an Oasis to protect and conserve six kilometres of rocks and Mediterranean macchia, which every year plays host to over a hundred pairs of this rare bird.

THE LESSER KESTREL HOVERS IN FLIGHT, AROUSING THE EMOTIONS OF THOSE WHO, THANKS TO LIPU, CAN WATCH THE SPECTACLE.

From Pino Giglio – LIPU Sezione di Gravina (Ba)

June, July and August, for the volunteers of LIPU di Gravina, are months of intense activity dedicated to the recuperation of the kestrels that have fallen from the nest. The Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) is a small migratory raptor, threatened with extinction, which has bred in the historic centre of some towns in the territory of the National Park of Alta Murgia.

The intense awareness-raising activities (environmental education, information leaflets, guided visits, etc), have led to a notable annual increase in the number of kestrels saved – Around 300 in 2011. This project involved hundreds of local people, the police, the Corpo Forestale and the park fire service.

An important role was also played by the Osservatorio Faunistico of the Puglia region, where veterinary surgeons and specialist staff took care of the kestrels. But it is the release into the wild that we all wanted to see, as this moment is the emotional reward for the many people that have participated in the project.

The public release ceremony, on 16th August, last held at Gravina in Puglia, was attended by the President of LIPU, Fulvio Mamone Capria, who thanked everyone for taking part.

To describe this event and the emotions that were felt we will use the words of a sincere and disinterested person who shared it, by quoting the salient passage from the letter that he wrote to us.

“ Swirling emotions between earth and sky, whirling and twirling in free space, rapacious eyes so tender and full of gratitude… Free to fly in a breathtaking scenario and to live their lives as Lesser Kestrels. This was the final act on a long road taken with the help of the citizens, including myself, to put them back on the right track. A small action but full of passion and faith, a daily passion seen in the circle of adults that were present there, around a simple ritual but one full of significance and meaning. It was exciting to see the perfect balance of nature which is often spoiled by carelessness and human vulgar interest. Thank you, above all to everyone who, like me, has helped these extraordinary creatures to fly again in the clear air above Murgia” (Gelly de Leonardis).

Many thanks to the Parco Nationale dell’ Alta Murgia which with the project Il Parco per il Grillaio allowed us to hold several events for the conservation of the Lesser Kestrel.

Interview: BIRDLIFE MALTA

Malta, Gozo and Comino are the largest islands in the archipelago that is the nation of Malta. It is half way between the coasts of Africa and Sicily. Its position has given Malta, despite its size, a significant role in history and also makes it an important resting place for birds migrating from Africa. It is also sadly true that it is a place where they become victims of rampant poaching; enough to say that last spring about 100 White Storks were shot.

We discussed this with Geoffrey Saliba, coordinator of the Bird Life Malta Campaign.

Geoffrey, what is BLM doing against illegal poaching?

It organises two international camps during the spring and autumn migrations. With the help of volunteers from all over the world we collect evidence and help the police identify the poachers. Our work isn’t finished and penalties are still not severe enough.

And against the killing of birds?

When Malta joined the EU in 2005 it negotiated to be allowed to authorise the trapping of finches for five years. In 2008 the government withdrew this permission but still allowed the killing of golden plover, wild doves and song thrushes. BLM has begun a study on the impact of this trapping. Funded by the EU, we are working with the RSPB, the Maltese environment agency and a local newspaper. In 96% of the sites monitored it has been shown that protected species are also being caught. In June 2011, after proceedings against them by the EU, the government no longer permitted the trapping of these birds.

What are your objectives with regard to IBAs?

BLM has identified the IBAs on Malta that are becoming part of the network of Nature 2000. The next step is to achieve adequate protection and appropriate management from all layers of government.

Tell us about BLM’s project for the conservation of the Manx Shearwater.

Ten percent of the world population nest in Malta. A project has been set up in co-operation with the RSPB and the Portuguese section of Birdlife International. It aims to identify and remove threats to the birds, to locate the areas in which they feed and over-winter, along with their migration routes. All this to promote their protection as part of the Natura 2000 Network. Moreover, the project is using as its starting point another similar study of areas that are important for other sea birds such as Cory’s Shearwater and the Storm Petrel.

One of your most important activities is environmental education. What are the most important things you are doing?

90 % of the primary schools in Malta take part in our education programmes. This comes about because, funded by the Bank of Valletta and the Education Department, we are able to engage with teachers on the issues of global warming and loss of biodiversity. From this year we have begun to work with secondary students - taking them into the field which engenders a fresh enthusiasm. We hope to be able involve more schools in order to pass on the love of the natural world to even more young people.

BLM began in 1962 – how has it developed?

Over the years it has grown to become one of the most important associations in Malta. We manage two different nature reserves which have been identified as RAMSAR sites. We are busy with the reclamation of two sites that have been subjected to deforestation and we are working hard to combat poaching. Moreover BLM is the point of reference for the European bird ringing programme. Next year will be our 50th anniversary and we are looking to the future with a firm commitment to the protection of birds and their habitat in Malta.

TAIL FEATHERS

Binocular sale.

I’m often asked to recommend binoculars and I usually avoid the question by saying that the choice is so personal it should only be made after trying a number of different models. However, I’m going to set that aside as I offer a pair of LIPU binoculars for sale with the proceeds going to campaign funds.

They were presented to me, (really to LIPU-UK), at a recent event in Italy. They are Nikon Sporter EX ,8 x 42 glasses complete with all caps, strap and a case and they will stand out from the crowd because they carry the LIPU logo. I already have my own binoculars so these are offered to the highest offer over £50 plus £10 for delivery. The cheapest price I can find on an Internet search is £110 plus postage so this could be a bargain if the model is what you are looking for.

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ALL THINGS MUST COME TO AN END

You will see in the Annual Report an appeal for new trustees to join the board but I must add another request for help. I have been your Delegate to LIPU since 1998 and I would like to retire in 2014 at the latest. The job has been challenging but enjoyable, but the time is approaching when I should hand over the reins to a fresh pair of hands.

Please consider whether you might want to take LIPU-UK forward and drop me a line. The reason I’m appealing now is so my successor can have the benefit of a lengthy hand over, so please ask me for more of a “job description” without any obligation at this stage.

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As with every issue of the Ali this could not have been produced without the help of our team of translators who, for this edition, were: Jo Bazen, Daria Dadam, Carol Debney, Caterina Paone, Peter Rafferty and John Walder, my thanks to them all.

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Line drawings are used by permission of the RSPB and the EU; front and rear cover photographs are © David Lingard and others are credited to the respective photographers.

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