Ali (Wings) - Summer 2012
Editorial Summer 2012
A REMARKABLE YEAR
I write this as we approach the end of another business year and it seems the right time to offer some thoughts on the past twelve months. Full detail will, of course, be in the Trustees’ Annual Report which will be sent to you with the Winter edition of Ali but I’d like to share with you a summary of our work in the year just ending.
It started in doom and gloom. The dreadful economic conditions in the world as well as our own country bring uncertainty and fear clichés straight from the news media, and we were concerned whether we would be able to achieve our objectives this year.
As 2012 got under way, things started to improve and the friends of LIPU rallied around to bring light into the darkness. The 2012 annual appeal has been an amazing success and has raised almost £27000 toward the projects we have committed to support. If we disregard the appeal of 2008, which benefited from a single, very large donation, this year’s appeal has been the most successful ever and it has not yet closed!
It now looks likely that we shall be able to achieve our aims without having to draw on the reserves and we will be able to look forward to the coming year with a little more confidence. As in the past, we shall control our costs but we are faced with a real challenge from the Royal Mail more of that later.
It is always heartening to find a note attached to a membership renewal saying, “Keep up the good work”, or something similar, but let’s not forget that LIPU-UK is not about me, or your board of trustees, it’s about its members. Without you, the incredibly supportive, generous, members and friends of LIPU, the British section would be nothing and the work we support would go undone.
Thank you all.
Fulvio Mamone Capria, LIPU President
The birds return from migration and poaching starts once again. To prevent this massacre LIPU sends its brave and generous volunteers out to the worst hot-spots. We can all share in this mission through our support and through our donations.
While I was sitting at my computer to write this editorial, I received two phone calls. The first was from Giovanni Malara, a LIPU volunteer for over thirty years. He called from the anti-poaching camp, held every year on the Straits of Messina, to report the killing of ten Honey Buzzards and the arrest of two poachers by the Forestry Corps. Caught red-handed, with the serial numbers filed off their guns, they were shooting at birds of prey. The migration is huge here. After crossing the straits, the buzzards follow the rising thermals, flying low into seasonal watercourses called fiumare. Giovanni, together with his LIPU team, escorts them as they fly, driving along the Calabrian coastline from Scilla towards Palmi.
The second call was from Angelo Scuderi. Angelo is monitoring pairs of Bonelli’s eagle in the provinces of Agrigento and Caltanissetta, where the young are at risk from theft by falconers. The chicks are healthy and growing, and for the time being all is going well, he tells me over the phone. There are many volunteers working alongside Angelo in the front line, protecting one of the rarest birds of prey in Italy. Evening falls, and our “heroes” take an early night; tomorrow they will get up before dawn, ready to take their place under the nests. They will not be able to claim victory right up until the moment the chicks are fledged.
These two stories are small examples of the dedication which LIPU volunteers bring every day to poaching hot-spots. Their deeds prove the continued seriousness of this problem, and form the backbone of our new national campaign. We are asking the Minister for Agriculture, Mario Catania, to guarantee proper funding for NOA, the anti-poaching branch of the Forestry Corps. Without the presence of NOA, and the support of our volunteers, there would be a real massacre.
LIPU’s work and the effort of LIPU volunteers are both highly commendable. For this reason we are hoping to recruit new members and to raise money through donations (see www.lipu.it), to fund both our anti-poaching camps and our wildlife hospitals. In recent weeks these have been filling up with thousands of chicks that have fallen from their nests. What makes the LIPU difference is our activity and a practical approach. I remember the teaching of our founder, Giorgio Punzo; from his small island of Vivara, saved from property speculation and poaching, he would spur us on to fulfil our dreams. Like Axel Munthe at Villa San Michele in Capri, many years before, Giorgio believed that “saving the birds means saving humankind”. Both men dedicated the greatest part of their lives to the protection of wild birds. And since that far-off 1965, we still pursue the same ideals, defending the flight and the freedom of our birds. We can only manage to do this thanks to your warm and constant support. We really are grateful to you all, on behalf of the “migratory population”.
THE NETWORKS THAT PRESERVE NATURE
Claudio Celada, LIPU Conservation Director
The infrastructures that humans create can represent a threat to the survival of many species. The solutions and proposals which were presented at the recent Varese Convention.
Among the most promising ideas for changing the future of biodiversity for the better, that of ecological networks is among those in the first rank. The idea is not a new one, and can be traced back as far as the sixties, with the Theory of Island Biogeography, developed by the renowned American biologists Robert MacArthur and Edward Wilson. They observed that the richness of an island’s biodiversity decreased in proportion both with a decrease in the size of the island and with increasing distance from the continent. Many studies since have produced confirmation of this, not only from the “true” islands, those bounded by the seas and oceans, but also in those relict islands of habitat surrounded by an inhospitable ocean of landscapes bent to the convenience of man. In essence small and isolated fragments of habitat have little chance of supporting a rich biodiversity. Taking these studies down to the level of single animal populations and above all the problems that every individual member of a wild population has to confront, we have come to an understanding that the opportunity to relocate, in order to find areas of suitable natural habitat, is a key factor for the survival of almost all living things.
Ecological networks and silent slaughter
It is therefore logical to ask oneself what happens when this opportunity for relocation is hindered by causes attributable to the actions of man, coming not according to the time scales of evolution, but rather at breakneck speed. And a response to this is vital faced with the long litany of extinctions, localised disappearances, and the increasing scarcity of species, that is taking place on a planetary scale at a frightening pace. In sum, the isolation caused by the destruction of habitats and the interruption of environmental continuity, otherwise known as fragmentation, kills. What may truly be called silent massacres are happening before our eyes, but which raise fewer alarms than other causes of loss of biodiversity, probably because it is harder to comprehend at first that an animal deprived of the chance of movement is condemned to death just as effectively as one cut down by a volley of gunfire. Taking to heart the urgency of the situation, LIPU has for some time been committed to the activation of a multi-year programme of work on ecological networks, in order to renew the continuity of natural habitats in those contexts in which it is compromised, thanks also to the support of the Cariplo Foundation.
To preserve and rebuild ecological corridors, and to undertake works of defragmentation on the existing barriers (for example underpasses to allow animals to cross roads and railways) are two of the fundamental elements for putting together a genuine network of natural habitats, and thereby give the chance of movement back to many organisms.
That which lives, moves positive actions
To begin with, LIPU has decided to concentrate on a strategic ecological corridor of great importance, the only one with the capability to guarantee an ecological connection between the Alps (starting from the Campo dei Fiori Regional Park) and the Apennines, passing through the Regional Park of the Ticino Valley. In particular, the northern section of the corridor, near the lake of Varese, is in severe danger of being compromised by the unstoppable advance of concrete, and it is there through the European Life+ project that an intervention is intended, thanks to a partnership made up from the Province of Varese, the Region of Lombardy, the Cariplo Foundation and LIPU, and with a substantial co-financing from the EU. After a thorough feasibility study over two years, LIPU has been joined by the organisation of the conference “Only that which moves can live: ecological networks for the safeguarding of biodiversity”. On the 29th of March at Varese’s Ville Ponti, about 400 scholars, members of the public and members of institutions alike took part, demonstrating the huge interest there is in the theme of ecological networks, and the preservation of the environment.
It is true that nature conservation cannot be done merely through words, but when words are tied to the possibility of real actions on the ground, so that the moments where one can meet and exchange and share experiences become of great importance in making stronger and more effective bonds between people sharing a common interest, that of defending the quality of the natural environment, and thereby of all our lives. The coming together of high-level representatives from the European Commission, the Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea, of local and regional bodies, the Cariplo Foundation, from ISPRA (the Institute for Environmental Protection and Research), of international NGOs such as Rainforest Alliance, and of the scientific and university communities, created a day of great intensity in terms of ideas and contributions towards the launching of a genuine grassroots movement around the theme of protected areas, their organisation and management.
And it is indeed in terms of this idea of involvement and of networks of people, as well as protected areas, that LIPU intends to press forward in the coming years, to increase the positive impact of its projects for the conservation of nature and of birds.
The LIFE Project TIB
The LIFE Project TIB (Trans Insubria Bionet) is aimed at a series of actions at ground level such as the building of underpasses two enable the traversing of particularly dangerous roads by amphibians (frogs, toads) and mammals of medium size (hedgehogs, martens, badgers etc) and the renaturalisation of areas adjacent to the underpasses; with interventions also to remake wetland areas with the creation of new ponds for breeding amphibians, the experimental removal of invasive alien plants such as the Indian Lotus at Brabbia, or even those not native to the locality, the maintenance or even the creation of new drystone walls for both amphibians and reptiles, creating refuges and hunting grounds that the latter in particular can enjoy. Finally too there is the creation of works to improve connectivity in the vicinity of bridges, given that in times of high water levels they represent a bottleneck that impedes faunal movement along the banks of watercourses.
As well as the other actions aimed at environmental improvement, the mobility of birds can gain particular benefit through the placing of deflectors on electric cables, dangerous in the extreme for impact and electric shock. Other actions, such as the creation of sites favourable to insects associated with dead wood, currently in severe decline (saproxilic fauna), and the planting of pollarded willows (having thus a drastically reduced vertical and lateral extent with respect to that of a full-grown specimen) to give shelter to the Hermit Beetle, an extremely rare member of the coleoptera, complete the portfolio.
The Life Project TIB is underpinned by a plan of communication that unfolds to a vast audience through a range of (messages) and media, from the scientific and administrative community, from local experts and politicians, from journalists to teachers and into the population at large. Further details on the project may be found on the website
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Changing climate: will we save ourselves?
Interview with the climate expert Luca Mercalli:
“The planet is at risk of crumbling if exploitation doesn’t stop; growth is a short-sighted choice. “We are using 35% more resources than the planet can afford to offer us. This is creating a debt towards the environment that no Government could ever repay, and this debt will be heavy on ourselves and all living creatures for the next generations”. The alarm, which has already been stated by the international scientific community, is stressed by Luca Mercalli, well known climate expert in his last book Prepariamoci (“Let’s get ready”).
Dr Mercalli, are we still in time to change the course of the events?
Yes we are, but judging by the plans I see around us, I am pessimistic. The plans for growth, for example, involve an increasing use of resources and by the middle of this century we will need two planets. It is a short-sighted choice which cannot work in the long term and poses a real threat. The solution is to switch to the use of resources proportioned to what the planet can really sustain and waste that it can cope with.
The World Summits do not seem to find an effective agreement. Which are the risks that we run in the next decades?
Looking at data from the past 1,500 years, which highlight a climatic instability, one can see that we are already beyond any historic predictions, and hence the limits we might have had. The mean temperature of the planet has already risen by almost a degree centigrade, and if we continue the current economic and demographic growths, by the end of the century we will have raised the temperature, through release of CO2, by 5-6 degrees. This would be a catastrophic outcome, which may put in jeopardy the survival of Homo sapiens itself.
Another threat to the environment is the imbalance of the phosphorus and nitrogen cycles. Could you tell us what they are and what effect they will have?
In the last 100 years industrial processes have released in the environment large quantity of compounds of phosphorus and nitrogen. The oxidative process of nitrates has created acid rain which has brought this substance to areas previously free from human activity. Phosphorus used as fertiliser has caused eutrophication of the waters. The use of these substances has also driven the depletion of their availability as raw materials, which will eventually drive up the cost of food.
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This may be one of those nebulous phrases thrown around which leaves you wondering why you have no idea what it is, so he is a brief guide to one of the ways the EU dispenses its largesse. The EU says:
“The LIFE programme is the EU’s funding instrument for the environment. The general objective of LIFE is to contribute to the implementation, updating and development of EU environmental policy and legislation by co-financing pilot or demonstration projects with European added value.
LIFE began in 1992 and to date there have been three complete phases of the programme (LIFE I: 1992-1995, LIFE II: 1996-1999 and LIFE III: 2000-2006). During this period, LIFE has co-financed some 3104 projects across the EU, contributing approximately €2.2 billion to the protection of the environment.
The current phase of the programme, LIFE+, runs from 2007-2013 and has a budget of €2.143 billion. LIFE+ covers both the operational expenditure of DG Environment and the co-financing of projects. According to Article 6 of the LIFE+ Regulation, at least 78 percent of the LIFE+ budgetary resources must be used for project action grants (i.e. LIFE+ projects).
During the period 2007-2013, the European Commission will launch one call for LIFE+ project proposals per year. Proposals must be eligible under one of the programme’s three components: LIFE+ Nature and Biodiversity, LIFE+ Environment Policy and Governance, and LIFE+ Information and Communication.”
The amount of the largesse is significant, although €2.2 billion over 20 years might be seen as a mere gesture to the environment, but we should be grateful that it is not less. Grants are made in the form of “Matched Funding” where the NGO must raise a proportion, usually a half, of the funds required for the project and the LIFE programme will contribute the remainder.
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RED LIST: SIX SPECIES ARE AT RISK
by Marco Gustin, Species and Research Manager at LIPU
LIPU and the Sapienza University of Rome have published the new Italian bird Red List: almost one in three species is on the brink of extinction. Among the six species critically endangered are the Griffon Vulture, the Bonelli’s Eagle and the Egyptian Vulture.
Six species are critically endangered in Italy: the Lammergeier, the Egyptian Vulture, the Griffon Vulture, the Bonelli’s Eagle, the Barred Warbler and the Sedge Warbler. It is the most alarming finding emerging from the new Italian Red List for nesting birds. The list, which has been finalised by LIPU and the Sapienza University of Rome in the past few days, comes 13 years after the first one.
It emerges that out of 270 nesting species present in Italy, 27.3% belong to one of those at risk of extinction: 2.2% are Critically Endangered, 8% are Endangered and 17% are Vulnerable. However, although the risk for certain birds of prey and passeriformes is high, the positive news is that the Cattle Egret, the Lesser Kestrel and the White Stork are constantly increasing.
Before analysing the new Italian Red List in detail, it is necessary to understand better the reasons behind the design of such a list and what birds are included in it. Over the last century, a great number of natural habitats has been lost, thus threatening birds’ survival. Since the Sixties, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has compiled and punctually updated the Red List, a list of endangered animal species.
Birds are not an exception. At a global level, 1,253 bird species, which account for 13% of the total world bird population, were classified as ‘Endangered’ and 189 of these were classified as ‘Critically Endangered’.
The increase in agriculture and farming lands, urbanisation, deforestation, the expansion of road networks, the creation of hydroelectric plants, the development of water supply systems, the disappearance or reduction of rivers due to illegal building, the exploitation of subsoil resources and the presence of exotic species are among the factors which have led birds to be on the brink of extinction.
The Red List is a tool in continuous development and is known not only to experts but also to the general public. Indeed, the Red Lists are a warning sign to raise awareness on the status of wildlife and are an important tool to assess natural habitats as well as the success of conservation measures which might be adopted.
The new Italian Red List
In Italy the first risk assessment concerning the extinction of nesting birds took place in 1981. So 30 years later, what has changed? It has been mentioned already that one in three species is Critically Endangered, whereas 51% is of Least Concern and 9.6% is Near Threatened.
In terms of orders, the taxon presenting the highest number of endangered or near threatened species (Cr, En, Vu, Nt) is that of the Accipitriformes (hawks, and other diurnal raptors) with a percentage of 56.5%, followed by the Anseriformes (swans, ducks, geese etc) with 55.6%.
Three of the six species classified as Critically Endangered (Egyptian Vulture, Bonelli’s Eagle and Sedge Warbler) belonged to the same category in the previous list, the Griffon Vulture was Endangered, the Barred Warbler was Near Threatened whereas the Lammergeier, which was considered extinct, is present today thanks to re-introduction projects.
It is not surprising then that four out of six Critically Endangered species are Accipitriformes and three are scavenging vultures. Illegal hunting is the main cause of mortality for most of these species but even the change in agricultural and farming systems constitutes a threat for some species.
The three types of Vultures present in Italy are involved in re-introduction and conservation projects. At present, the Griffon Vulture population appears to depend on the number of carcasses of dead animals, whereas the Lammergeier population, which is slightly increasing, seems to be sustained naturally. As far as the Egyptian Vulture is concerned, its population is constantly decreasing and there have been no cases of reproduction of released specimens.
In Italy the Sedge Warbler has a small population on the Southern edge of its nesting area in Europe, thus being subject to local extinction. In the past, the Barred Warbler was present in a relatively large area but since the Eighties it has dramatically decreased until today, where it is locally extinct in several areas where it used to breed.
In conclusion, it has been possible to classify most of the assessed species thanks to the knowledge acquired on the nesting birds present in Italy. However, in order to assess many other species properly, further information is needed: for example, information on survival, mortality rate, and reproduction for most species as well as more information on the real causes of endangerment for many others.
Red List Categories and Criteria
Each of the assessed species is classified in one of the 11 existing categories: Extinct (Ex), Extinct in the Wild (Ew), Extinct in the Region (Re), Critically Endangered (Cr), Endangered (En), Vulnerable (Vu), Near Threatened (Nt), Data Deficient (Dd), Least Concern (Lc), Not Applicable (Na) and Not Evaluated (Ne).
The criteria (A-E) determining whether a species can belong to one of the above mentioned categories are Reduction (Criterion A), Area of occupancy, Location, Extreme fluctuations and Severe fragmentation (Criterion B), Subpopulation and Decline (Criterion C), Population Size (Criterion D) and Quantitative Analysis (Criterion E).
Here are 6 species which are important, in differing ways, to Italy:
GRIFFON VULTURE Cr (Critically endangered)
The only ‘historical’ population in Italy is in Sardinia. Those present in Abruzzo, Sicily and Friuli-Venezia Giulia are the result of re-introduction projects and rely on carcasses of animals, which are managed artificially. Over the last century, this species has drastically decreased in number with an overall drop of at least 84%, whereas the couples, which were present in Italy between the Thirties and 2005 have dropped by 97%. Therefore, it can be shown that the number of mature birds in Italy has decreased by at least 80%, thus classifying this species as ‘Critically Endangered’.
BONELLI’S EAGLE Cr (Critically endangered)
The Italian population is very limited and the nesting couples are concentrated almost exclusively in Sicily, where 22-25 couples have been recorded. This species is still subject to several threats such as habitat loss, anthropic interventions and nest robbing for falconry. It is therefore classified as ‘Critically Endangered’.
EGYPTIAN VULTURE Cr (Critically endangered)
In 1970 there were 71 nesting couples compared to the 4-5 couples recorded in 2011. Its population has dropped by 90% over the past 40 years and by 58% only in the period 1990-2007. The main threats are the change in agricultural and farming systems, illegal hunting, bird poisoning through pesticides and poisoned food, and wind turbines. Because of the drastic drop and the reduced number of mature specimens, this species has been classified as ‘Critically Endangered’.
WHITE STORK Lc (Least Concern)
The number of couples is estimated to be around 100 and is constantly increasing thanks to re-introduction measures as well as spontaneous colonies by specimens coming from outside the region (those in Sicily are possibly coming from North Africa). The very positive trend registered at least in the Southern part of the Italian area of occupancy is likely to continue, thanks to the stable and increasing number of the population in a great part of its European area of occupancy. Therefore, this species has been classified of ‘Least Concern’.
CATTLE EGRET Lc (Least Concern)
It is a species that has immigrated recently. It is considered of ‘Least Concern’ as it has been increasing over the past 15 years not only in Italy but in the whole European area. Moreover, there are no specific threats to this species in our country.
LESSER KESTREL Lc (Least Concern)
Between 1990 and 2000 this species has recorded a major increase especially in Sicily. It is not threatened in its strongholds in Puglia and Basilicata despite the reduction in the availability of food and natural habitats represented by pseudo-steppes. It has been classified of ‘Least Concern’ both at a local and global level.
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Iceland, a legend of nature
A unique ecosystem, a wealth of species which brings in birdwatchers from all over Europe. Thanks to the Icelandic partner of Birdlife, the Fuglavernd, the island has seen the return of the Sea Eagle and the protection of important marine species. We take a look at the association’s strategies for the next few years.
Thanks to its geographic situation and to the strangeness of its environment, Iceland, for birdwatchers, represents a legendary goal. The island hosts numerous colonies of seabird species and, for some, this is the only place in Europe where they may be seen. Examples of these species include the Harlequin Duck and Barrow’s Goldeneye. Fuglavernd is the Icelandic partner of Birdlife and Ali has interviewed its president, Johann Oli Hilmarsson.
Johann, Iceland is a very important place for seabird colonies. What is the environmental state of health of the island?
The island plays host to the largest North Atlantic colonies of Razorbill and Puffin. Sadly, in recent years, as a result of the decline in food resources along the Icelandic coasts, we have recorded a lack of breeding success in all these colonies.
One of your principal activities concerns the programme of IBAs or Important Bird Areas. What are the objectives?
In the last ten years, Fuglavernd has worked for the protection and conservation of many IBAs and our objective is to maintain the current number of such areas and to develop a programme of monitoring of the sites managed by volunteers.
Fuglavernd also works on species conservation. Which ones in particular?
In general, we monitor the overall status of Iceland’s birds but specifically we are working on the conservation of seabirds. So far, we have succeeded in removing the Willow Grouse and the White-fronted Goose from the list of game species.
What are the aims of the monitoring of garden-based wintering birds which you have been carrying out since 1994?
To show that it is possible to experience birdwatching in a very easy way, even close to the house. Each winter we organise a whole weekend devoted to this type of observation in which hundreds of people take part.
One of your most significant areas of activity is in environmental education. What are the principal activities you undertake?
Alongside traditional activities such as photographic exhibitions and trips, we have in hand a programme for the production of materials especially for nurseries. In future, however, we intend to involve ever more children and adolescents.
The history of Fuglavernd is closely linked to the Sea eagle. Can you tell us about it?
Ever since its foundation, and for about 30 years, Fuglavernd has concentrated almost exclusively on saving the Icelandic population of Sea Eagles. The prime mover of this activity was Bjorn Guobrandsson, a doctor who has dedicated his life to this cause. Today, thanks to his efforts, the Sea eagle in Iceland is safe and numbers at least 66 pairs.
· Date of birth 1963
· President Johann Oli Hilmarsson
· Membership 1200
· Number of IBAs in Iceland 61
· Web site www.fuglavernd.is
Where to go bird watching in Iceland - The “Top Seven”
Lake Mývatn and river Láxá (All the year)
Barrow’s Goldeneye, Harlequin Duck, Great Northern and Red-throated Diver, Gyrfalcon, Merlin, Grey Phalarope and Snow Bunting.
Látrabjarg bird cliff (April to August)
Fulmar, Shag, Kittiwake, Guillemot and Brunnich’s Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin and Snow Bunting.
Breiðafjörður Bay (April to October)
Eider, Fulmar, Shag, Red-necked and Grey Phalarope, White-tailed Eagle and Arctic Tern.
Suðurnes (All year)
Gannet, Fulmar, Ptarmigan, Arctic Tern, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Black Guillemot and Puffin.
Veiðivötn lakes (May to September)
Whooper Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Long-tailed Duck, Harlequin Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Great Northern Diver and Purple Sandpiper.
Öræfi and Ingóflshöfði headland (April to September)
Whooper Swan, Barnacle Goose, Red-throated Diver, Fulmar, Arctic and Great Skua, Kittiwake, Guillemot and Brunnich’s Guillemot, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Puffin. On migration: Pink-footed, White-fronted and Greylag Goose,
Vestmannaeyjar (May to August)
Gannet, Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Storm Petrel and Leach’s Storm Petrel.
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NEWS FROM LIPU-UK
As I’m sure you know, the Royal Mail has imposed a dramatic rise in postage charges. Whatever you think of this we have, somehow, to try to contain its effects on our work.
For our part we have studied the economics of a franking machine and are now ready abandon ordinary stamps. The outlay is quite high but we expect to recoup that in the first year and thereafter will make worthwhile savings in our postage costs.
You, too, can help and this is another plea to those of you who have email addresses to drop me a line at “email@example.com” so that I can send routine letters, such as renewal reminders, by this free means of communication. I do not, and will not, divulge your email address to anyone.
If you don’t use email, don’t worry, I’ll still write and send the newsletters in the time-honoured way, but there are savings to be made here by those who can.
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High quality, original, colour slides of birds, animals, landscapes etc for non-commercial use are offered by member, Graham Bell, who asks £2.00 each, which will include a donation to LIPU. Please contact Graham on 01668 281310
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My thanks for a job well done go to the translators of this edition: Daria Dadam, Giusy Fazzini, Caterina Paone, Peter Rafferty and John Walder.
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