Ali (Wings) - Summer 2011

Editorial Summer 2011

David Lingard

We heard the sad news in April that the founder of LIPU-UK, Roger Jordan had died; although he had not enjoyed good health for some years, his passing was unexpected. Roger was closely associated with the RSPB Chelmsford Members Group for many years and group leader, Mike Logan Wood writes the following item.

OBITUARY

Roger Jordan

26th January 1942 – 2nd April 2011

We celebrate the life of a person who dedicated himself to the well being of young people and the conservation of birds, wild places and their wildlife. A man with a fine sense of humour, an ability to transmit his ideas to others and an ability to convey his feelings as well on paper as in conversation.

For many years he lectured on Government and Politics at Chelmsford College. He went on to become involved in the education of police cadets and in charge of youth training, becoming Principal Lecturer on the subject in 1990.

However, it is bird conservation that we will concentrate on here for, in 1975, he was one of the founder members of the Chelmsford & Central Essex RSPB Local Group where he became an inspirational help in fund-raising for the RSPB and Group Leader for many years. He organized sponsorship for many events, something unheard of at the time. He had the stall holders at the Groups Spring and Christmas Fayres held at Shire Hall dressed in Dickensian costumes with one member delegated to walk the High Street dressed as a duck to advertise the events. He realized the value of Jumble Sales in the 70s and 80s, inspiring his team to greater and greater heights in his humorous way.

This ability was not lost at RSPB HQ at Sandy for they invited him to run courses on fund-raising to other local Groups. He is still remembered fondly by many of the older staff at HQ.

One story exemplifies this. Roger just happened to be at HQ when they were loading a skip with redundant goods of all sorts. This was too much for Roger who could see latent profit here and immediately filled his car to the brim with goodies which he took home. He eventually raised over £2,000 for the Society through Fayres, Jumble Sales and the like – quite a good sum at the time.

In 1988, he became shocked by the treatment of migrant birds in Italy, where they were routinely trapped in their tens of thousands. He offered his skills to LIPU, the Italian equivalent to the RSPB. He created a UK branch to help raise funds for the protection of birds in Italy. In 1989 the official launch of LIPU-UK took place in Hyde Park – a typical piece of Roger’s organization.

Unfortunately, in 1998, Roger began to suffer from a debilitating illness and he had to withdraw from active work. However, he continued to write regular articles for the RSPB Local Group Newsletter, concentrating on international bird and conservation subjects, helping wherever he could to give support to schemes that impressed him. In one article, which was included in his regular “Windows on the World” series in the July 2006 Newsletter, he wrote –
“I leave the last word to the great Indian Chief Seattle. In 1855, when he was forced to cede his lands to the US Government, he wrote to the US President and said –

“Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The white man is a stranger who comes in the night, takes whatever he needs, the earth is not his brother but his enemy, he does not seem to notice the air he breathes. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth”

Could this be Roger’s Epitaph perhaps?

* * *

AND TO BE TAKEN EVER MORE SERIOUSLY

Giuliano Tallone, LIPU President

Almost eight years have passed since I was first elected to the Presidency of LIPU and this editorial is the last of my second term of office. They have been years of intense and complex activity, during a continuing economic crisis and the resulting social upheaval in our country which has also affected the association’s mission. Nevertheless, and I think that this has been the most important outcome of the management which I have had the honour to coordinate, the budget and the organisation of LIPU have emerged considerably strengthened. In the last few years we have enjoyed a budget in the black thus ensuring that the membership fees of the members and the donations of our supporters have been used for the best in the protection of nature and of wildlife. To many members this might not appear terribly relevant. After all, we are here to rescue wounded birds, to combat poaching, to create new reserves, to support environmental education and research, to work for the passing of new laws in the interest of the environment. Absolutely right! Those are our objectives.

But what often escapes people is that to achieve that objective it is necessary to maintain a complex structure, as is LIPU, made up of volunteers, of delegates and activists but also one which has headquarters in Parma, Roma and Milan with offices, reserves and centres throughout Italy. These support structures, capable of taking direct action, are sustained by a management machine with a network spread throughout the country, with an overall cost of considerable scale (it reaches today almost five million euros) and at least fifty or so employees and collaborators. It is just this machine, prudently run by two Directors, which allows LIPU to be what it is. All this comes from a “company” view (which itself is always subordinate to the volunteer, enthusiast spirit which infuses not just our members but all our staff) which uses the best means to ensure that the support of our members at all levels is channelled into the best way of achieving our aims with the greatest possible effectiveness.

It is perhaps this growing capacity for organisation and action which has allowed us to obtain the financial support of several banking foundations for our projects (Cariplo, Cariparma, Monte Paschi Siena and others) since LIPU, after rigorous external checks on its own capability to guarantee results, has shown itself worthy of the trust of these institutions. So, it is thanks to this solidity, together with the exceptional successes obtained in the protection of nature and wildlife, recorded in these pages, that we have won the trust of many of our members who support us with their donations or by remembering us in their wills. Very many of you have also chosen to use your “five per thousand” in your tax returns and our returns were the best when compared with other similar organisations. This ever growing trust on the part of our members and external donors has caused us to ask more of ourselves, since we are seen to be worthy of that trust by making the greatest efforts and through visible and concrete results.

In these eight years, the practical results achieved have been many. There has been a greater safeguarding of the protected areas and Natura 2000 Network sites, through the management of the oases and through working with Federparchi, the national association for protected areas. We have completed numerous studies and conservation proposals – transformed into regulations and orders – carried out by ourselves or with the support of the Ministry of the Environment or the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests. We have resisted repeated challenges from the hunting lobby and from politicians aiming to distort the rules governing hunting and the protection of birds. We have developed the network of rescue centres as well as our anti-poaching activities throughout Italy, but in particular on the Straits of Messina, in Brescia and in Sardinia. We have also broadened the appreciation of nature and the environment in our country. We have succeeded, we think, in moving towards the management of our landscape and our economic activity which is both more sustainable and more careful of the demands of the natural environment. Much remains to be done and it will be the task of the new President who will be chosen under the aegis of the new Executive Council, elected by the members, to which, if I am asked, I shall not fail to give my personal support.

In closing, I have one regret in not having succeeded in bringing to a conclusion the refurbishment of the association’s property in Sala Baganza. Thanks to a founding donation from AISPA, this formerly housed LIPU’s National Bird of Prey Rescue Centre and has not been used for a few years. Its development through a bio-building project aimed at making it the main seat of the association, as already decided by the Executive Council, remains as yet a “dream in a drawer”. I pass on hopefully this statement to the next phase of management whose task it will be to build “our Hoopoe’s Nest”

FROM THE FIRST CAMPS ON THE STRAITS OF MESSINA TO LOCAL CONSERVATION GROUPS.

Proclaimed the International Year of Volunteering, 2011 is the occasion to pay homage to those who for 30 years have enabled LIPU to translate its original values into action.

From “Bird-watcher” to “Bird-protector”. This is the final challenge for these groups which must continue the fight against poaching, carry out the day to day tasks in the reserves and recovery centres as well as raising public awareness. In all this our volunteers are our strength.
It all began in 1981 when two Sicilian volunteers told the LIPU National Assembly about the terrible plight of the Honey Buzzards killed in huge quantities for no other reasons than tradition and superstition. Thanks to this appeal the long battle to defend these splendid raptors began. There have been resounding successes but although the level of poaching is much reduced it is still a struggle. Ever since 1981, hundreds of volunteers have participated in numerous LIPU surveillance camps, first on the Sicilian side, and later in Calabria as well.

The situation on the Sicilian side of the Straits of Messina has improved noticeably since those early years thanks to both volunteers and the police. However, in Calabria it took longer and volunteers faced threats, hate mail, even an attack on their local headquarters in Pellaro, Reggio Calabria.

The Year of Volunteering

Now thirty years after the 1981 assembly, which was so historic for both LIPU and the protection of birds, the EU has declared 2011 the year of volunteering. You might say that it is a coincidence, but for LIPU it has a special meaning. We wish to dedicate this year to all those who give time, money and energy to benefit nature. On the pages that follow we will give them a voice. The interviews with some of them, reveal their many different tasks, – from caring for injured animals to maintaining footpaths and reserves; from catching poachers to defending our rivers and coasts, which could disappear under concrete. Local Conservation Groups have moved on from monitoring hunting to giving us new ways of understanding volunteering for LIPU.

A precious harvest of useful data is garnered from both traditional bird watching (the passion of all our volunteers) and research. It is so well co-ordinated by BirdLife International that it is invaluable for the conservation of biodiversity both here and abroad. In our small way we are “glocal” – a fashionable word for those, who by taking action locally, are sharing in the global defence of nature.

Local Groups

Launched in 2010 thirty two groups take care of some 56 conservation areas and the volunteers have under observation 154 species of bird, of which 100 are breeding and 54 over-wintering. We should not call them “bird watchers” as they are not doing it purely for pleasure. They have become “bird protectors” who fiercely defend the countryside against those who wish to build warehouses and factories.

This journey into the world of the volunteer is both a celebration of those who give their time and an invitation to others to do so. It is only if it can count on volunteers that an association like LIPU can continue its battle on behalf of birds and the natural world.

Passion and action.

In the words of the volunteers: the motivations, projects and aims of those who have decided to dedicate their lives to protecting nature.

Stories of real commitment, from Italy and beyond. Stories of people, that best represent the heart and soul of the LIPU, with not only the principles but the capacity, and the courage to turn them into concrete action. For many who spent their childhood with binoculars in hand it was a natural decision to become a volunteer, for others it was a chance passion. Some get involved because they want to do something concrete to help the environment and others simply because they can’t bear to think of poachers decimating migrating raptors.

LIPU volunteers, from widely differing backgrounds, with different motivations and experiences, have one thing in common: a passion for nature and a real sense of commitment. They really are the heart and soul of the Association. So let’s hear from some of them for it is their contributions that bring vitality and action to the work of LIPU. From Lombardy to Sicily, from Lazio to Sardinia and even to the United Kingdom, here are ten volunteers to tell their experiences.

Alessandro Baccheschi – Palude Brabbia Reserve

"I thought it was just another lesson…"

For Alessandro Baccheschi it all began with an announcement that caught his attention on the University notice-board for a meeting on biodiversity at the Palude Brabbia reserve, in the province of Varese. Being interested in such things he decided to participate: “I thought it would just be a lesson like any other but I found myself getting really involved like all the others who share the same passion” Since then Alessandro has dedicated a great deal of time to the reserve. “I had found a place where I could put into practice everything I had learned in books. I soon learned to recognise the various plants, the birdcalls and animal tracks and then, binoculars in hand, I overcame my shyness and I became a guide”. Over the years Alessandro has learned to do a bit of everything even though, “as a naturalist I prefer the guided visits to the ornithological census”. A year ago the LCG (Local Conservation Group) was set up: “It is a wonderful, new experience and such a great opportunity to relax and immerse myself completely in the sounds of nature”.

Stefania Gasperini – Castel di Guido Reserve (Lazio)

I discovered the joy of planting the seeds of curiosity and respect…"

Stefania Gasperini’s adventure in LIPU began with a graduation thesis in natural science: “I was looking for a research project and I was lucky enough to come across the Castel di Guido reserve. I got involved with a group of active young researchers on an interesting scientific project– says Stefania – and in just under a year I learnt very much. Until then I had had virtually no experience of nature but I really became a naturalist here”. As well as helping out with routine maintenance, Stefania got involved with guided visits for adults and children, an experience in environmental education and nature teaching: “I discovered the joy of managing to plant the seeds of curiosity and respect in children that, perhaps for the first time, were coming into real contact with nature and in adults who are so often overwhelmed by the worries of city life”. In these four years – adds Stefania – I have been working for a cause in which I really believe, I have taught, I have learnt and at the same time I have enjoyed myself immensely!”.

David Lingard – LIPU-UK

"Those were hard times, and I was full of admiration for them ..."

I joined LIPU in 1994 when I read in a British newspaper a feature about the slaughter of Honey Buzzards migrating through the Straits of Messina. Those were the dark days when the work of the volunteers at the camps was very dangerous and I was full of admiration for them.

I have remained a member since then, but, in 1998 Roger Jordan, the founder of LIPU-UK was forced to give up this work and he was looking for someone to to take over from him. I was approaching retirement from the Royal Air Force and was looking for something to do which would inspire me and keep me busy – birdwatching has given me a lot of pleasure in my life and I thought this might allow me to give something back.

Since then, hardly a day passes when I am not involved in some way with LIPU. It may be dealing with the mail of members renewing their subscription, I might be preparing the English edition of the Ali, I might be discussing future plans with the staff in Parma – rarely are two days the same.

Finding and keeping new members is our greatest challenge and I give talks around the country of the work done by LIPU In Italy, but it is an uphill struggle to ask people to commit themselves to helping the birds in another country...

Nevertheless, we have grown in many ways, we help LIPU by spreading the message in the UK and raising funds to help your work, usually around €70,000 each year.

Enzo Cripezzi – Environmental Politics (Puglia)

"Upset by concrete, fascinated by nature"

“When I was really young I often used to go to the river Ofanto, where I would see birds I later found out to be kites and buzzards so I was upset and concerned when I saw the arrival of those great blocks of concrete at the river”. This was for Enzo Cripezzi, now the LIPU delegate for Puglia, the catalyst that moved him to action. “When I went to the sea, on the other side of the beach, I saw a magical world of Black-winged Stilts, herons and Marsh Harriers but also illegal land reclamation eating into the marshland”. This is why Enzo joined the Association: his first binoculars, first camera, first talks in the schools and first rescued animals at home. In 1988, at little more than 20, he set up a new LIPU group. Today Enzo deals with environmental politics: “It’s fundamental that we intercept projects that would damage biodiversity and the environment. It’s no easy task. I have to deal with unpleasant reactions and speculative projects often bordering on the illegal. But it’s certainly worth it. It’s so satisfying to see the orchids or the Sparrowhawk flying over a hundred hectares of maquis rescued from the concrete of a so-called tourist village.

Gastone Gaiba – Education (Latina)

I like to show them how exciting nature can be…"

Birdwatching in the National Park of the Circeo or in the Sabaudian forest, walking in the Lepini Mountains or exploring the grottoes around the Circeo Promontory. Gastone Gaiba works mainly with school children: “I like to tell people what I have learned, to share my enthusiasm, to show how exciting nature can be”. His adventure with LIPU began when he did his social service: “The opportunity to do something useful in an important association for Latina was not one to be missed”. The local LIPU group has a long tradition in environmental teaching. Over the years Gastone has organised programmes on water awareness, waste, ecosystems, and migration. “I have been lucky, during my first 15 years in LIPU, to have had the chance to meet thousands of children and hundreds of teachers. The environment and teaching about nature always have an important role in the schools. As our honorary president Danilo Mainardi says....children need nature. Never a truer word.

Giovanni Malara – Anti-poaching

"We stopped the massacre but haven't dropped our guard."

Giovanni Malara joined the LIPU in 1977 and has been a delegate since 1983. His decision to join was due to the fact that his area was home to “the most terrible and illegal massacre of migratory birds in the Mediterranean”. Years of fighting poaching have produced important results: “both in the Straits of Messina, where poaching has been drastically reduced and in Sardinia”. These results have been obtained at times with the help of the police, at others by using more radical techniques: “Filming the poacher with a hidden video camera and recorder, not losing sight of him until the arrival of the police and destroying his illegal equipment”. But there is still a great deal to be done: “There is a fine line between hunting and poaching, poachers are becoming increasingly daring and the State is unable to guarantee the respect of the law”. And in the Straits of Messina, Giovanni explains, things are getting worse: “It looks like any action taken by the local anti-poaching group won’t be allowed this year. It’s here that you can really see the efficiency and capacity to react of the voluntary associations”.

Giuseppe Rannisi – Anti-poaching (Linosa)

"Voluntary work? A splendid 'illness'. The challenge? Convincing people that nature is worth protecting …"

“Voluntary work is like a chronic illness. Once you’ve got it you’ll have it forever”, says Giuseppe Rannisi, who fights poaching in Sicily. A volunteer since the end of the ‘70s, he took part in the environmental battles that led to the first protection laws and in the anti-poaching campaigns in the Straits of Messina. Since 1991 the challenge has been to protect Italy’s largest population of Cory’s Shearwaters (10,000 pairs) on the island of Linosa , where the islanders traditionally take the birds’ single egg. “We tried to convince the population that the shearwaters could help the island’s tourism “. Now attitudes have changed. “Many islanders take tourists at dusk to see the flocks around the cliffs”. In 2006 a survey was carried out on the black rat, a dangerous predator for both shearwater chicks and eggs. Thanks to the elimination of these rodents the success rate for fledglings went from 40% to nearly 100%. In 2011 the new challenge is the protection of Bonelli’s eagle and the Lanner falcon from egg collectors, traders and falconers.

Pier Francesco Pandolfi – CRFS – Roma

"Rescuing animals is a laboratory of life, it teaches us to be active citizens"

What does it mean to work in a real animal hospital? Pier Francesco is 18 and has been working as a volunteer for 6 years in the wild animal rescue centre in Rome: “Our work entails anything from cleaning to looking after new born or injured animals”. For Pier Francesco the centre offers a wealth of new experiences: “I have learned so much which is practical and technical, rather than academic, science which stands me in great stead for any scientific research I’ll do in the future. Working in an animal rescue centre is like working in the laboratory of life”. That’s what’s so great about voluntary work for Pier Francesco: “Understanding the real importance of what you are doing, and it doesn’t just mean lending a hand but playing a really active role in helping to save the planet.”.

Riccardo Lertora – legality warden (Genova)

"I'm proud to have saved many animals from certain death…"

“I’m 36 and I’ve been working as a volunteer for the environment since I was 19. I suppose that’s what you’d call passion”. Riccardo Lertora is a lawyer and has also been an enthusiastic legality warden for 14 years. Having worked as a volunteer for the WWF, in 2005 he joined LIPU. “We deal with all kinds of environmental issues:hunting, waste, fishing, endangered flora and fauna, even off road traffic. In the last few years I have concentrated on combatting illegal actions because I believe that the loss of biodiversity is one of our planet’s greatest emergencies”. His work as a warden has allowed Riccardo to acquire a deep understanding of the territory and its fauna, “and to become a close observer of human behaviour and to share operational decisions with my collaegues. But above all I am proud to have saved many animals from certain death.”

Riccardo Paddeu – Local Consefrvation Group, Sardinia

"A passion for ornithology, a love for my country"

Riccardo Paddeu has been the LIPU delegate for the province of Sassari, in Sardinia, and leader of Local Conservation Group 22 since last year. His work as a volunteer includes monitoring and teaching. “but, every weekend in the country, I dedicate a lot of time talking to farmers and shepherds, because they are essential to any protection programme”. With the other LCG volunteers, Riccardo monitors the colony of Griffon Vultures in Alghero and Bosa, the Purple Gallinule and sea birds. In 2010 he organized a day dedicated to biodiversity with the Park of Porto Conte, with the release of two young Griffon Vultures recovered at sea. He also takes primary schools for bird watching walks, setting up artificial nests with the children. “My driving force– he says – is my passion for ornithology, a love for Sardinia and the respect I feel for those like LIPU, that dedicate human and financial resources to the protection of birds and their habitat”.

* * *

THE ANIMALS' CORRIDOR THROUGH THE MOTORWAY

For us they are indispensible highways of movement and communication, but for animal species they represent, on the contrary, insuperable barriers. We are speaking of the motorways, busy streets, railways, but also artificial canals, bridges and even high-tension cables.

A LIPU project called “Biodiversity Network” is working on this problem. Since the beginning of 2007, the work has continued, thanks to a second phase of finance from the Cariplo Foundation. The intention is to protect the two ecological corridors, to the east and west of Lake Varese, which connect the Park of Campi di Fiori with the Park of Ticino, two truly natural highways necessary for the movement of mammals and birds, and hence to the preservation of biodiversity.
There are 38 administrative bodies involved in the project, which extends over 59 kilometres in total (the Western corridor is 27 km, the Eastern 32). After a feasibility study, which has identified 54 wildlife routes, 7 of them critical, these bodies will soon be called upon to sign the “Network Contract”. In practice, they will have to define the specific protection measures and related powers, such as the requalification of green areas, or the modification of barriers insurmountable by animals. A series of small underpasses, brackets, ramps or suspension bridges will ease the passage for fauna, rendering it safer. The first of the planned solutions has already gained the approval of the European Community, which has been asked for finance through a Life programme.

The project, which will be concluded next December, will bring important results, with schemes to inform and raise awareness in the population on the value of biodiversity. Applying scientific methods, moreover, LIPU will publish the results of the work, and organise a national convention to publicise the results of this project and stress the importance of its practical value in urban areas.

POACHING: HOW LIPU IS TACKLING A NATIONAL CRISIS

The problem of poaching affects the whole country, but in some areas it has reached crisis proportions. LIPU is working on the front line alongside the police, who face cuts and a progressive “disengagement” by the State.

In Italy, birds and mammals are protected by law; a law that is continually breached by poachers. The most common violations are: hunting during the closed season, use of traps and nets, hunting of protected species, hunting in parks and reserves and trading in wild animals. While poaching is widespread – in the hunting season LIPU treats hundreds of birds of prey from all over Italy – in some areas it is particularly bloody. The poaching “hot spots” of the Straits of Messina, Bresciano Valleys, Basso Sulcis, the Pontine islands, and the islands of the bay of Naples, are all infamous for the slaughter of birds.

Recent years have seen a decreasing commitment by the state to the fight against poaching; levels of manpower and funding, already insufficient, are now suffering cuts. For many years LIPU has actively fought poaching in the field: the main initiatives are illustrated in this article, but there are many others in preparation. The fight is critical, not just to the protection of birds, but also to reaffirming civilized behaviour and respect for the law.

The Straits of Messina and the (dis)honourable hunting of Honey Buzzards

Together with Gibraltar and the Bosphorus, the Straits of Messina is one of three migration bottlenecks faced by birds on their journeys between Africa and Europe. According to an ancient but senseless tradition, originating in Calabria and spreading to Sicily, a man has to prove his sense of honour by killing a honey buzzard. These wonderful birds glide low over the Calabrian coast, exhausted after crossing the Straits. Here the poachers lie in wait, hidden in wooden or concrete bunkers, or standing on the terraces of their houses. They shoot to kill, despite the fact that these birds enjoy special protection.

LIPU started mobilizing against poaching in 1981. Growing out of protests and demonstrations, the first real protection camp was established on the Sicilian side of the Straits in 1984, and on the Calabrian side in the following year. On the Sicilian side poaching has declined rapidly, but on the other side it still persists. Up until the early eighties, as many as two thousand honey buzzards were killed every year near Reggio Calabria; today, thanks to state intervention, the number has dropped to 200. Crucial contributions have been made, over many years, by “Gufo” student ornithologists from Tuscia University (Viterbo); and between 1990-6 by the Guardia di Finanza. Since 1985 the Forest Guard has also sent agents from its anti-poaching unit for the period of migration.

LIPU also runs project “Migrant Raptors”, made possible thanks to the financial support of LIPU-UK. Running for a month each year, alongside the spring camp, a dozen ornithologists follow the migration of up to 20 thousand birds of prey from the islands of Pantelleria, Marettimo, Ustica and Panarea to the Sicilian side of the Straits. These observers send real-time information to the camp volunteers, warning of the arrival of migrants and helping to curb poaching on the Straits of Messina.

Basso Sulcis: paradise spoiled

In Sardinia, trapping became illegal only in 1978 – 39 years after the rest of Italy. The reason? Its claimed “importance” to the local economy. Basso Sulcis, situated to the west of Cagliari, is an important centre for millions of migratory and over-wintering birds, thanks to its mild climate and an enormous expanse of Mediterranean macchia. It is also a slaughterhouse.

This is the realm of trappers; a paradise infested with thousands of traps “welcoming” birds at the start of their migration journey in early October. These cruel devices, of types “lattsu ‘e terra” and “lattsu ‘e matta”, use a noose to catch birds and other animals, causing long agony followed by death from strangulation.

To the east of Cagliari, the Sarrabus fares no better, even though it lacks a deep-rooted tradition of trapping. Spring traps are common here, together with nets which can be of very large dimensions.

LIPU has saved literally hundreds of thousands of birds in Sardinia since work camps started in 2005. The camps now run for six weeks a year, destroying traps and nets, and reporting the trappers. LIPU also works with schools to develop awareness, both of the damage caused by trappers, and the importance of protecting the natural environment.
However, up to 300,000 birds are still killed every year in the Cagliari area, particularly in the Sulcis. LIPU has reported the problem to the authorities and continues to organise town-centre sit-ins. A collaboration with the Carabinieri led to a noticeable improvement in 2010-2011.

Around Brescia: fewer traps, but the die-hards resist

During the autumn migration, hundreds of thousands of traps are laid in the wooded valleys around Brescia to catch robins, wrens, blackcaps, nightingales, tits and other small birds. The seriousness of the situation became clear in the autumn of 1986 when alerts from locals led to LIPU intervention. A volunteer guard, led by Piergiorgio Candela, assessed the number of traps covering the vast area from the Brescia side of Lake Garda to Lake Iseo; practically from the edge of Brescia to the edge of Trentino. Inspector Candela informed local magistrates, and obtained permission to inspect dozens of local businesses where thousands of birds were found.

Since then, tens of thousands of traps – up to 5,000 at some times of year – have been removed by LIPU volunteers, as well as hundreds of nets. “Operation Robin”, the combined work of LIPU volunteers and the Forest Guard, has transformed the situation compared with 25 years ago. Traps on a commercial scale have disappeared, and roast birds are no longer to be found on sale at the autumn fairs. However, a few restaurateurs continue to serve songbirds illegally, despite the risk of heavy fines or imprisonment. A few individuals also trap birds in their gardens, for their own consumption.
Birds are caught using “bow” traps. These lethal contraptions are made from a hazel branch or from a steel wire shaped into an arch. The bird lands on it, attracted by rowan or elder berries, activating a noose which snaps around the legs and breaks them. The victim is left hanging for hours, head down, in the useless struggle to free itself. A recent, but no less cruel, fashion is to use “Sep” traps. Made from stainless steel, these traps spring shut, breaking the collar bone or spine.

LIPU volunteer guards

LIPU runs 75 anti-poaching and wildlife patrols, organised in 14 centres spread throughout the country. Between them they carry out thousands of checks, issue hundreds of fines, confiscate thousands of traps and seize hundreds of weapons. They report hundreds of poachers to the authorities, and release thousands and thousands of birds back into the wild. They often work side by side with national Police, local Police, the Carabinieri and the Forest Guard. In addition to checks on hunting, patrols also check on fishing and report cases of water pollution, illegal sewage, illegal construction, and the maltreatment of animals.

Becoming a LIPU guard is no easy matter. First it is necessary to be a member and to be actively involved with the association. This is followed by a training course and an examination before registering as a guard. The job is a responsible one, and can entail risk. At the same time helping to uphold the law and protecting nature is a highly rewarding experience.

Facts, figures, opportunities

Honey buzzards killed yearly (Straits of Messina; early eighties)

2,000
Honey buzzards killed yearly (Straits of Messina; today)
200
Birds killed yearly around Cagliari
300,000
Traps removed, Cagliari (2010-11)
9,000
Traps removed, Brescia (autumn 2010)
2,000
Number of LIPU wildlife guards
75
Number of LIPU anti-poaching centres
14

Despite important achievements, such as the number of Honey Buzzards saved, the slaughter still goes on. Poaching is a barbaric tradition that is kept alive by a small minority who use economic benefit as an excuse. But it is the whole country that suffers from this environmental, cultural, and (yes) economic plague.

Though essential, patrols and enforcement are not enough on their own. This is why LIPU is also active in engaging local people, as well as working in schools to promote environmental awareness and to highlight the importance of wildlife. Only by protecting nature will it be possible to develop sustainable tourism in some of the most beautiful corners of Italy. Protecting the woodlands of Cagliari and Brescia; protecting Honey Buzzards on the Straits of Messina: this is laying the foundation for an extraordinary transformation, not in the narrow interests of the few, but for the benefit of all.

BIRDLIFE

Interview by Giovanni Albarella

Wings over the Pampas

A devastated land, with an immense heritage of biodiversity in the grip of radical changes to its habitats. A daunting task then for Aves Argentinas, founded in 1916 by an Italian, Roberto Dabenne.

What is being done?

Projects with the agricultural community, environmental education, scientific research - these are the three main areas for action.

In spite of the difficulties, there are thousands of volunteers, who, in Argentina, have are committed to the cause of nature conservation.

Argentina is a vast country, the eighth largest in the world, and the second biggest in South America. Thanks to its size, and the fact that in terms of its length it extends through a major part of the continent, it possesses an extraordinary variety of habitats, from the Andes to the Pampas, and from the northern plains to Patagonia. It has indeed no fewer than 18 eco-regions and over 1050 bird species. Its BirdLife International partner is Aves Argentinas, and Ali has interviewed its director general, Andres Bosso.

Andres, how do you address the problems of conservation in such a large country?

At the national level we work with the Secretariat for the Environment to raise the profile of the needs of wild birds and to lay out action plans for those species most under threat, such as the Hooded Grebe. Where habitats are concerned, we are working on a project for the Pampas, looking to involve agriculturalists in adopting methods favourable to biodiversity. In 2000 we launched the group, “Conserve Argentina”, which finances regional projects aimed at saving IBAs and threatened species, and for five years we have created “Coas”, local birdwatching groups.

One of your most important activities is environmental education. What are the principal ways in which you promote this?

The Argentinian naturalists’ school, birdwatching courses and the urban reserves programme. The school, unique in Latin America, was started in 1989 to involve people in the study of nature. The birdwatching courses started back in 1970, and have given legions of naturalists, biologists and rangers the chance to launch their careers. The urban reserves represent a major opportunity to involve the Argentinian population at large, who are city dwellers for the most part after all, in the conservation of nature.

There is also stress on scientific research. With what main objectives?

When Aves Argentinas was founded in 1916, it was essentially a scientific body, and its first president was an Italian, Roberto Dabenne. Every two years we hold the Argentinian Ornithological Convention, with a scientific journal, “El Hornero”, published twice a year. A major achievement has been the IBA register, completed in 2005, and we are currently working on a timetable for the designation of marine IBAs. We also have an ambitious project for the creation of an atlas of Argentinian birds. The challenge is to relate the precise mapping of the status of our birds to the protection of our IBAs.

What are the principal threats to birds in Argentina?

Changes to our habitats are having a major impact on our ecosystems, above all from the intensification in agriculture over that of traditional methods. The excessive use of pesticides has caused the death of 20,000 Swainson’s Hawks in the Pampas. Moreover, many European hunters, mainly Italian, Spanish and French, but also many from the USA, come over here for illegal shooting, firing away at anything that flies. One that has particularly suffered is the Ruddy-headed Goose, which migrates from Tierra del Fuego to the areas south of Buenos Aires, where it is hunted on private reserves. Then there is the toll taken by certain fishing practices, especially in the important feeding areas that the South Atlantic provides.

Is there collaboration with other organisations in Argentina and with other members of BirdLife?

We have set up the Patagonian Sea Forum, which comprises 20 organisations from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, the UK and the USA, who share the same vision for the future of the Atlantic and its riches. We have also created an Alliance for the Prairies with our BirdLife partners in Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay for the safeguarding of the Pampas.

Aves Argentinas is nearly a hundred years old: how has the task of the association changed?

Our country has changed greatly in the last century. The landscape has been radically transformed, but nevertheless, local and national parks have been created, many farmers have set aside part of their land for nature, and thousands of volunteers have embraced the cause of conservation. Books and journals have given space to birds, and young and old alike have taken to birdwatching, believing that a different world is possible, and trying to change a little part of it at least. In all this Aves Argentinas has we think had some influence, for if you want to change the world you have to stand up and say so.

Facts and figures

Aves Argentinas

Formed: 1916

President: Mario Gustavo Costa

Members: 1441

Number of IBAs in Argentina: 270

Globally threatened species in Argentina: 115

Website: www.avesargentinas.org.ar

* * *

NEWS FROM LIPU-UK

LIPU Elections 2011

I must thank you all for your patience over the recent election for the council of LIPU. For the last four years I have been searching for a way to make this easier and more relevant to members living in this country.

The problem is that it is very similar to a General Election here, we are all entitled to a vote and would be very upset if that right were to be denied us; it is even true that there are sometimes candidates on the ballot paper unknown to us.

I received a couple of understandable comments on saving printing and postage costs but a good number of our members chose to vote. I can see both sides of this argument, but the fact is that the election would be null and void if your right to vote was denied you. Thank you again for the forbearance you have shown – we’ll not have to do it again until 2015!

* * *

Membership renewals

The Post Office tells us that it cannot make a profit because we are using email, and then increases prices under that pretext! In another attempt to cut the costs of our postage, I am now sending invitations to renew membership by email, when this is possible – please remember to tell me if your email address changes.

Another way of using modern technology is the use of Internet banking – all renewal reminders will now show our bank details so you can save a stamp if you wish. However, if this option is not for you, please don’t worry, a renewal cheque arriving by post is still just as welcome as ever!

Thanks to my team of translators: Cicely Adelson, Joanna Bazen, Tony Harris, Caterina Paone, Peter Rafferty and John Walder. Line drawing are by courtesy of the RSPB. Photographs are © LIPU, Steve Downing and David Lingard.

* * *