Ali (Wings) - Summer 2016

Editorial Summer 2016

LIPU-UK in 2015 - 16

David Lingard

Another business year closes for LIPU-UK and your trustees look back on it with gratitude, because without your continuing support we would have been unable to achieve what we have. We set out to raise funds to help LIPU with seven projects and when we add the normal membership contribution the total came to €80,000 and thanks to you we have succeeded.

The greatest challenge we face is still that of a slow decline in membership and, as far as we can tell, this is not caused by dissatisfaction but by the one thing none of us can prevent. We are trying many ways to reverse the trend, and over the course of the next months will be sending modest recruitment packs in the hope that friends and acquaintances might be told of what we do. Despite that rather gloomy thought the 2016 annual appeal was even more successful than that of the previous year – my thanks to all who took part and gave so generously.

One of the trustees’ responsibilities is to monitor the success of our support and we receive regular reports from Claudio Celada, the Conservation Director, but there must also be visits to see the work in progress. This year I combined attendance at the LIPU Assemblea (AGM), which was held in Comacchio, with a very busy few days on the east coast of Sicily – a more detailed account can be found in this issue.

We are facing much uncertainty in the future but one thing you can rely on is that our work for the birds in Italy will continue, but for that to be certain in the longer term we must look again for someone to take over the reins of LIPU-UK – again, more of that later.

Thank you again for your support over that past year, I hope you find this issue of the Ali interesting.

* * *


By Marco Gustin, Species and Research Section

From a total of 300 nesting pairs, 1,000 young flew the nest during the last two years. A result that would have been unthinkable in the mid-1980s when the species was still extinct in Italy

Even a few years ago it remained an impossible dream. But the return of the White Stork to Italy has become, and continues to be, a splendid reality. The species is recolonising our country, one region after another. Its return takes us back many centuries, to when this species lived amongst people and could easily be seen by all. The author Dante Alighieri mentions storks at least three times in The Divine Comedy. Today, in contrast to the past, admiring the White Stork is no easy matter: the bird needs diverse environments managed in an eco-sustainable way, rich in food resources.

The stork’s striking dimensions make it easily visible and recognisable; its large, characteristic nest built on the roofs of houses and the amazing amount of symbolism that accompanies it make the White Stork extraordinarily important and loved by all.

Thousands of years ago in the Roman era the White Stork bred throughout our country, but by the fifteenth century it was already confined to the Lombardy Plain, and during subsequent centuries it became almost completely extinct in Italy. In fact, during the Renaissance era young Storks were taken from the nest as food, since the species has always nested near roads and on houses, making capture easy and very common. In later years environmental changes modified the bird’s feeding areas, gradually accelerating the extinction process.

Over the centuries storks did try nesting, but even though the species was protected in Italy after 1937, by the 1970s many repeated episodes of illegal killing during the nesting season had prevented the establishment of any colonies – a state of affairs that has only changed relatively recently.

In the mid-1980s LIPU launched an awareness campaign and its first reintroduction project at Racconigi, developing with the Vaschetti family a breeding centre using specimens supplied by the Swiss centre led by Max Bloesch, in collaboration with the Swiss Ornithological Station at Sempach. Today, 30 years on, 25 wild pairs are breeding in the surrounding area. A first great milestone was reached in 2005, when the numbers of pairs of White Storks nesting in Italy rose to 160: many of these were, however, connected with the release programmes of breeding centres that came after Racconigi, especially in northern Italy (Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna), but also in Tuscany and Puglia. In southern Italy, especially in Sicily and Calabria, in contrast, recolonisation occurred with completely wild birds, confirming the ability of the species to recover naturally.

Nevertheless, today growth is ‘explosive’. Thanks to the amazing work done by the LIPU Stork Group, which monitors almost all the nests in Italy, there is evidence that the species is nesting in at least ten Italian regions, and in some of them for at least ten years, with a population that is currently nearing 300 pairs. In the last two years alone (2014 and 2015) at least 1,000 young storks have flown the nest in Italy.

In recent years, work by LIPU with regard to the species has not been limited to number counts – however fundamental these may be – of nesting pairs. Our association celebrates Stork Days from the beginning of summer with special events dedicated to consolidating the return of the species in Italy and during which it is possible to visit some nesting areas with LIPU volunteers.

Identity Card

White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)

Order: Ciconiiformes Family: Ciconiidae

Predominantly migratory – wintering areas are beyond the Sahara – in the Old World, the White Stork is mainly present in eastern European countries and in the Iberian region, whilst other nesting areas stretch from North Africa to the Middle East, and as far as central and eastern Asia. Unmistakeable with its white plumage and its large dimensions – up to 115 cm in length with a wingspan greater than 160 cm – the White Stork when standing can be over one metre high. The feathers on the neck and chest are especially long, as is the beak, which measures up to 20 centimetres and is especially adapted to taking various types of prey – insects, small mammals or birds, reptiles and amphibians.

* * *


It flies heavenward, ascending to remain suspended in the morning light and to deliver its powerful, melodic song. It is the Skylark, the marvellous Skylark, dubbed by Shakespeare himself as ‘the herald of the morn’. But it is also the last songbird still hunted in Italy – forty grams of wonder that we risk losing.

Already in difficulty due to intensive agriculture, ever more pollution and damage to habitats, the Skylark now faces the final blow – the heavy toll of the hunting to which it is still subject in Italy and a handful of other European countries – namely, France, Greece, Romania, Malta and Cyprus. Hunters’ professed ‘love’ for the bird is a perverted one, and each winter they welcome them by cutting them down in vast numbers, without even regard for their killing quotas.

Italy and Europe cannot allow this to continue.

We must act in unison to free the Skylark from this hail of deadly lead. The bird must be struck from the hunting calendar, and hunting it at all must be banned.

This is LIPU’s new major campaign, which begins in the coming days, and to prevail we need the help of you all.

Hope for the Herald of the Morn

According to official figures, over 1.8 million larks are killed in Italy every year during the hunting season: an enormous number, corresponding to 73 per cent of the European total of 2.5 million killed each year, to which must be added many more killed illegally, or going furtively and illicitly unrecorded on the corresponding hunting permits.

The situation has become so grave for the lark that some Italian regions, while lacking the courage to remove the bird from the hunting calendar, have sought to limit the numbers killed. Many hunters simply ignore these limits, however, killing the birds as fast as they can, then only recording a few on their logs, or in some cases none at all.

The data tell of a seemingly unstoppable decline: in Italy, the breeding population fell by 45 per cent between 2000 and 2014 (data from Monitoraggio Italiano Ornitologico 2000), with huge losses in Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna, the regions whose skylark populations are, or were, the greatest.

The decline of the lark continues too in countries other than our own, with falling numbers giving cause for concern in 19 out of 23 states surveyed: 40 – 50% in Austria, 30 – 40% in Slovenia, 33 – 40% in Denmark, and so on. According to the European Bird Census Council, numbers overall have fallen 50 per cent in the last thirty years.

What are the causes of the crisis? First of all, there are interrelated problems. In Italy, the lark nests on the ground in hay meadows, which are also in decline and are often turned into what are effectively death traps with the grass being cut by fast mowers just when the nests hold eggs or young. In autumn and winter the larks disperse, stay, or migrate from the north to forage in meadows or fields of stubble, which have however been rendered poor in terms of natural grasses, and therefore in terms of food or cover, by the excessive use of herbicides. Italy then, offers today ever fewer agricultural environments suitable for accommodating the birds or allowing the species to breed. And so, time after time, the lark finds itself homeless or without any sort of shelter.

To these difficulties is added the pressure of hunting, which would be difficult to tolerate in normal circumstances, but which given the overall crisis that the lark now faces has become unsustainable. From north to south, they are killed in their hundreds of thousands, and that is without the massacres being carried out in other countries, most notably Romania.For these reasons, intervention is needed, with policies for overall conservation, but also – and quickly – for protecting the species from the additional overwhelming toll that hunting inflicts upon it.

The lark must be removed immediately from the list of species of which hunting is permitted. Such a move is now essential, for which reason LIPU demands, among other things, government intervention in the form of a decree that removes the bird from the list of species that may be hunted as per article 18 of Law 157/92. LIPU’s campaign to save the Skylark will be a difficult one. But we must keep up our efforts and redouble our actions to protect this wonderful pilgrim, and the beauty of its song – giving hope once more to our little herald of the morn.

LIPU’s Campaign – What We Are Asking:

Of the government: A decree removing the lark from the schedule of species the hunting of which is allowed by article 18 of Law 157/1992.

Of the regions: the exclusion of larks from the hunting season.

Of ISPRA: to pronounce a negative assessment on the effect of the hunting of larks and to put forward an adequate management plan for the species.

Of the EU Commission: to concentrate greater attention on hunted species that, like the lark, suffer from unfavourable conservation status.

Of LIPU members and the general public: to sign the petition for the protection of the Skylark, and support LIPU throughout this difficult campaign.

Identity Card

Name: Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

Order: Passeriforms

Family: Alaudidae

Weight: about 40 grams

Conservation status: classified as Vulnerable on the Italian Red List. Although found from Portugal to Russia and beyond, according to BirdLife International the bird has also been classed as having Unfavourable status at the European level and has been placed on “Spec. 3”– that is, declining in Europe without being wholly dependent on our continent.

Threats: intensive agriculture, hunting, poaching.

Actions needed: the creation of suitable habitats in agricultural areas, a ban on hunting, and better enforcement by the hunting authorities.

Footnote: From a Hunting Blog

‘I’ve been crazy about it since I was a boy. We used to take out dozens and then start again. Hunting larks is a great pastime that no-one can take away from us.’

* * *


By Georgia Gaibani, IBA and Natura 2000 Network Coordinator

Four new marine areas that are fundamental to the conservation of Cory’s Shearwater, a species also knows as the ‘Mediterranean albatross’, have been identified by LIPU following years of research in Sicily, Sardinia, Puglia and Tuscany. Technically known as IBAs, these four areas are the outcome of LIPU’s long-standing commitment to the Marine IBA Programme. This, programme – begun by BirdLife International, of which LIPU is the Italian partner – aims to identify, via the application of quantitative and qualitative scientific criteria, those sites that are crucial for the long-term survival of marine bird populations.

Currently, marine IBAs are far fewer than terrestrial IBAs. This is due to the lower number of marine bird species compared to terrestrial bird species, but also to the difficulty of collecting data on the processes that regulate the distribution of pelagic birds. The marine habitat, and the pelagic portion of that habitat in particular, is especially difficult to study and such study requires a more complex methodology, and more advanced tools and knowledge compared to its terrestrial equivalent.

The first marine IBAs were created as an extension of coastal IBAs characterised by important nesting and roosting sites of the most abundant and well-studied species. However, this method does not, by itself, allow the identification of pelagic zones used by marine species, and neither does it guarantee that the size of the area that requires protection around the nesting colony is taken into account in an appropriate manner. For this reason BirdLife International has developed a specific programme for the identification of marine IBAs based on telemetry studies. This programme and the use of new technologies are helping to fill some of the gaps in our knowledge regarding the ecology and behaviour of marine birds, and is identifying – around the world – the most important sites for the long-term survival of these species.

A European Requirement

The location of breeding colonies of marine birds in Europe is relatively well-known and some already benefit from some sort of protection. However, the spatial ecology of these birds is less well-known and we know very little about the most important feeding zones in the sea. Identifying marine IBAs and completing the Nature 2000 Network so that it includes marine habitats are important tools for safeguarding pelagic birds. Confirmation of this priority can be seen in the fact that the first objective of the biodiversity strategy of the European Union to 2020 is to respect the Habitat and Bird Directive in its entirety, including the Nature 2000 Network in marine areas. In this regard, the Italian strategy on biodiversity also includes among its top priorities the rapid completion of the Nature 2000 Network.

LIPU and Cory’s Shearwater

This project originated in 2002 when LIPU, in an effort funded by the Ministry of the Environment, identified terrestrial IBAs at the national level. As part of that study, LIPU also identified certain marine IBAs, which included sections of marine areas around the country’s major seabird colonies.

However, the 2002 project did not provide an exhaustive list of all marine IBAs due to a lack of studies on the behaviour of marine and pelagic birds. To solve this problem, in 2008 LIPU – commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment and of the Tutelage of Land and Sea Areas –launched a national-scale pilot study to identify those IBAs that would benefit marine birds; a study that employed BirdLife International methodologies. Following this initial pilot programme, from 2009 to 2014 LIPU, in collaboration with the ISPRA and thanks to the support of LIPU-UK, continued to identify marine IBAs, focusing its telemetry studies on Cory’s Shearwaters.

From 2008 to 2013, a total of 188 individual Cory’s Shearwaters from four Italian colonies (the Arcipelago delle Tremiti, the Arcipelago di La Maddalena, the Arcipelago Toscano and the Isola di Linosa; see the maps inside the back cover) were followed using GPS loggers for a total of 219 feeding trips. Data collected were used to identify new marine IBAs essential for the conservation of Mediterranean Cory’s Shearwaters from the four Italian colonies and which also benefit other species of marine birds.

Marine IBAs are also a scientifically based reference point for the growth of SPAs. Hence, details of the borders of these IBAs have been sent to the Ministry of the Environment and the European Commission, asking that they be converted to SPAs. A delay in completing the Nature 2000 Network at sea would mean that seabirds lack protection.

1) IBA 221 – Isole Pelagie: includes the Isle of Linosa, which is home to the biggest colony of Cory’s Shearwater in Europe; the Isle of Lampedusa, where there is a colony of Cory’s Shearwater and Storm Petrels; and the Isle of Lampione. The European Shag, once present in this area, has now disappeared from these pelagic isles.

2) IBA 222 – Meddle Adriatico: IBA 222 is composed of the Tremiti Isles and two distinct areas of sea – the southern part, which extends from northern Puglia to the southern coasts of Abruzzo, and the northern part, which includes a large portion of the Marche coastline. This IBA includes colonies of Cory’s Shearwater and Manx Shearwater on the Tremiti Isles.

3) IBA 223 – Northern Sardinia: This IBA is composed of two coastal areas of northern Sardinia and by a large portion of the sea adjacent to the north-east coast of Sardinia, which includes the Bocche di Bonifacio. This IBA includes breeding colonies of Cory’s Shearwater present in the La Maddalena Archipelago and Manx Shearwater and European Shags. The northern borders of this IBA coincide with the southern borders of the Corsican IBA 266 ‘Détroit de Bonifaccio et Iles Lavezzi’.

4) IBA 096 – Tuscan Archipelago: This includes the islands and a large part of the sea already included in the National Park of the Tuscan Archipelago. IBA 096 includes breeding colonies of Cory’s Shearwater present in the Tuscan Archipelago, and colonies of Manx Shearwater, European Shags and Audouin’s Gull.

Cory’s Shearwater

This is a migratory species that nests exclusively in the Mediterranean Sea and winters on the western side of the southern Atlantic Ocean. The global population is an estimated 140-220,000 breeding pairs, 179-193,000 of which breed on the Isle of Zembra, in Tunisia. The colony on the Isle of Linosa, with its 10,000 pairs, is the second biggest in the world and the most important on the European level.

Towards the end of winter, adults start to arrive in the areas surrounding the breeding colonies and start to prospect the site, a process that continues more or less regularly until April when the breeding season actually begins. Incubation of the eggs takes approximately 50 days with both parents alternating sitting and feeding at sea. During the foraging trips, shearwaters cover several hundred kilometres, even reaching areas 400 kilometres away from the colony. After the eggs have hatched around the middle of July, the parents brood the chick until it is able to control its own body temperature. The offspring is fed by both parents until it fledges around the middle of October. Each parent returns to the nest to feed the chick almost exclusively on moonless nights, probably to reduce the risk of predation. While waiting for the right conditions to return to the nest, adults float on the sea (a behaviour known as ‘rafting’) until dark, at moon- or sunset.

Types of Marine IBA

The four types of marine IBA recognised by BirdLife International are:

1. Sea Extension of Breeding Colonies of Marine Birds

These IBAs include the marine environment in front of and around a breeding colony, which is generally used by the species for social interaction, for rafting and for feeding, in particular in the early stages of chick rearing. The size of these areas depends on environmental factors, such as sea depth and primary productivity, and on the ecological requirements of the species that occupy the colony. In the majority of cases the colony itself is identified as an IBA.

2. Non-Reproductive Coastal Aggregations

These marine IBAs, generally found quite close to the coast, are used by large number of sea birds while feeding or moulting. They can include, for example, aggregations of grebes, divers and ducks, but also shearwaters and other Procellariiformes.

3. Migration Bottlenecks

These are IBAs located along the main migratory routes, and which due to their geographic characteristics – they may, for example, be straits – lead to a concentration of the migratory flux in a small area: a so-called bottleneck.

4. Pelagic Areas

These IBAs include parts of sea away from the coat where pelagic birds regularly feed (or use for other reasons) in great numbers. These zones normally coincide with oceanographic characteristics, such as underwater mountains, ascending currents and continental platforms, and their biological productivity is always high.

* * *


The Wings of Hope – Concluding LIPU’s Educational Project with Taranto’s schools.

Hope is about living in the open air, about watching wild birds in one’s own garden doing what they do in peace. In two words, it is about ‘feeling alive’. LIPU has sought to give this hope to the hundreds of children who live sad and difficult lives in the Tamburi district of Taranto, next to the steel manufacturing plant of Ilva. To forget the dioxins and the heavy metals, the buck-passing by the authorities, the promised benefits that have yet to materialise, LIPU’s nesting boxes and bird feeders arrived and, with the teachers and their pupils, helped to create bird gardens, giving voice, colour and life to places exhausted by development that is dangerous for everybody. Manuel Marra and Francesca Martoccia, LIPU volunteers from Taranto, are among those who set up the project ‘Let’s Give Wings to Hope’. The project, developed by LIPU’s educational section with the financial support of the Waldensian Church, has been granted funds from the ‘8 per thousand’ (the Italian version of the UK National Lottery Fund). ‘We contacted the treasurer of the Commune of Tarento’s Education Department, who then published a circular supporting the project’, Manuel explains. ‘We started off with the schools of Tamburi district, which are next to the Ilva plant. But then the project was extended to other districts in the old city and the suburbs, and to the district of Talsano.’

The project was designed to include numerous activities. Teachers and pupils learned about urban wildlife, particularly about birds, and also about ways of setting up and managing bird gardens. The youngsters also produced feeders using recycled materials, and cut-outs of birds to colour in class. Next, while setting up the bird gardens the children got involved in gardens, flower beds, yards and ponds and the natural plants and seeds essential for both birds and butterflies, and put up wooden nesting boxes and feeders.

Finally, the long-awaited moment arrived: the opening – which took place from 16 May to 7 June last year – of eleven bird gardens in as many centres and schools in the city. The smiles on the faces of these children have been the project’s most wonderful outcome. Let us hope that bringing back the birds with their plumage and their songs may stand for the promise of a more peaceful future.

* * *


By Vittorio Giacoia, Site Manager, Gravina di Laterza

LIPU will continue to manage one of the most spectacular oases in Italy into 2017; and visitors are invited.

Over the past 17 years, LIPU has welcomed almost one hundred thousand visitors to a unique and extraordinary habitat – the Oasis of Gravina di Laterza, located in the ‘heel’ of Italy, part of the regional park of Terra delle Gravine and famous for its wide ravines. The countryside here is home to Egyptian Vultures, Black Storks, Red Kites, Lanner Falcons and Eagle Owls, and also to wolves, crested porcupines, badgers and many other species. This natural treasure of undisputed importance hosts the last remaining specimens of a flora and fauna that have become extinct elsewhere. During its tenure, LIPU has implemented many projects, working with the local council, the province, the region, and with other conservation organisations and associations, and helped establish the special importance of this habitat both nationally and internationally.

Colourful pollen and a heavy scent drift through the Mediterranean macchia as we walk. Ever elusive, a Cetti’s Warbler calls from within thick vegetation; ever present, a Sardinian Warbler, alarmed by our approach, flies from shrub to shrub uttering its distinctive call. We are now following an ancient mule track, for five kilometres from the visitor centre to ‘Lamia Forniello’, a seventeenth century farmhouse formerly used by shepherds as a shelter and dwelling. The path heads south, keeping to the eastern edge of the ravine, and offers spectacular panoramic views.

A world of chalky rock, where thick vegetation covers the walls exploiting the tiniest of cracks to anchor itself, enveloping the wavy edge of the ravine like a glove. Green is the dominant colour in this countryside, with an almost infinite array of shades: from the dark green of Holm Oak to the lighter and brighter Hornbeam. The powerful caw of the Raven, the melodious call of the Blue Rock Thrush and the plaintive mewing of the Buzzard echo from one rock face of the ravine to the other, amplifying the sound – a natural resonator.

After a four-year wait, LIPU has renewed its management agreement with local and provincial councils up to 2017. This long-anticipated event has been made possible by LIPU members and donors, who enthusiastically embraced the campaign we launched two years ago. The agreement contains detailed regulations regarding the management of the Oasis and will make it easier to improve pathways and visitor arrangements.

How to get there

To reach the Oasis, follow the SS7 from Taranto, past the towns of Massafra, Palagiano and Castellaneta. Eight kilometres after Castellaneta, turn left and follow the signs to Laterza. After crossing the town you will arrive at the Oasis, which lies to the south.

* * *


By Andrea Mazza, LIPU Press Officer

30 Years of LIPU di Rende in Calabria

A flight of thirty years. This slogan perfectly describes the long journey taken by LIPU di Rende from 1986 until today. The slogan will also accompany all the initiatives planned for this year.

Let us go back thirty years to Arcavacata, home of the then relatively young University of Calabria. A group of young people, each a little over 20 years old, had the idea of starting a movement related to environmental issues, in particular wild birds. In order to fulfil their dream they chose to establish a branch of a national association, LIPU. Passionate about nature, excursions, birds and animals they chose the Cattle Egret as the symbol of their initiative. From that moment on, they set out on a long journey that would yield results that no one, not even those young people, would have believed possible.

LIPU di Rende was one of the first naturalist associations active in the area of Cosenza in particular and in the Calabria region in general, and is now one of the longest running.

Thirty years of stories, people, faces and emotions. This is LIPU di Rende – a mountain path walked by thousands of people, all convinced that a fairer environment, sustainable and respected by man, and a home for birds and animals, is possible. All of the group’s activities, ideas, projects implemented and battles won – and sometimes lost – had one objective, to safeguard nature.

Many families, students, teachers and young people have attended at least one lecture, liberation of convalescent birds, or excursion. And all – above all those children, now adults – remember these events as having stirred their interest and emotions.

It is difficult then to recall a single story, person or particular event because so many stories are intertwined, have reached their end, or have been revived.

Our thanks go out to the many colleagues and volunteers whose support has kept LIPU di Rende running and able to protect our beautiful, threatened region (Roberto Santopaolo, LIPU di Rende spokesman).

* * *

LIPU Launches a Health Protocol

What if a bird is found covered in oil? This is an important question, made more important still following the Eni Civitavecchia oil pipeline disaster, which caused severe damage to biodiversity and the environment in November 2014 (and regarding which LIPU filed a complaint to the public prosecutor of the Republic of Civitavecchia last April). In order to mitigate the damage caused, in particular to wild birds, LIPU has decided to publish a protocol that describes first aid measures to be taken, health-management procedures for sick birds, and the necessary materials required at rescue centres.

* * *

Activity Suspended at Mugello Raptor Recovery Centre

Activity at LIPU’s Mugello rescue centre has once again been suspended. This decision was taken as a result of the lack of support received from the Tuscany region and the local health authority. Despite commitments to support LIPU volunteers and workers in the region throughout 2015 and 2016, only half of the resources promised have been provided over the past year. And with an even further reduced contribution, the Tuscan centre has admitted more than 1,000 animals, with almost 80 per cent being either cured and returned to the wild or still in rehabilitation. Head of the Vicchio centre, Paola Beati, explains: ‘The decision to suspend activities will be costly; however, without the necessary funds, continuing our endeavours is impossible.’

* * *

The First Bird Garden Is Born in Molise

The first bird and butterfly garden in the Campobasso region has opened in Palata. The project, implemented by staff from the Oasi LIPU di Casacalenda at the local comprehensive school, has brought to life a disused green area at the school, using plants to attract animals that live in urban centres. More than 50 plants from 13 different species have been planted by pupils at the school, coordinated by teacher Nicolino Rulli and volunteers from the Oasi. Feeders and nesting boxes have also been put up. Thanks to the work of the school’s head teacher, Giovanna Lattanzi, LIPU has been also been engaged in a technical advisory capacity for the recovery of green spaces at three other schools in the region. This will be financed by Pan European Structural Funds, 2014 – 2020.
For further information, contact Carlo Meo on +347 6255345.

* * *

Nine Thousand Raptors over the Straits of Messina

More than nine thousand birds of prey, of which 95 per cent were Honey Buzzards, were observed by LIPU volunteers during an anti-poaching camp in Calabria. From 23 April until 7 May, the camp – consisting of eight volunteers plus a staff member as coordinator – aimed to prevent the poaching of birds of prey in this high traffic area during the spring migration. Three incidents were reported to the anti-poaching operation of the State Forestry Corps and the volunteers also constantly updated all those involved in the operation on the size and direction of flocks that were migrating.

This year, the number of birds making the passage was reduced due to adverse weather conditions, with strong winds that pushed the birds of the Tyrrhenian Sea far from the Calabrian coast, and on other days caused them to fly at greater altitudes than normal.

Besides the Honey Buzzard (8,664 specimens observed), the most numerous species were the Marsh Harrier (127 specimens), the Black Kite (67), the Red-footed Falcon (37) and Montagu’s Harrier (28). Fifteen storks were also spotted – ten white and five black.

Among the rarest species were a Griffon Vulture, three smaller eagles, three Long-legged Buzzards and a Lesser Spotted Eagle.

* * *

BirdLife Nature Guidelines Report

From Nature Alert to Action is the title of the report produced by BirdLife Europe on the ‘Fitness Check’ related to the EU Directives for Habitats and Birds. This process began in 2015, with the aim of evaluating the efficiency and coherence of the Directives with respect to the conservation objectives of European biodiversity. The report, which is available in English and can be found at, explains that while the Directives themselves are adequate, the main obstacles to them being achieved are enforcement, investment and political integration.

* * *

Less Hunting, More Protection

In letters, supported by technical documentation, sent to the European Commission and the Italian Ministry of the Environment, LIPU has outlined the poor organisation of many regional hunting calendars and the need for action in this regard. Removing certain species from the list of those that may be hunted (starting with the Skylark) and reducing the hunting period permitted for various species (in particular thrushes and woodcocks) during the period of pre-breeding and migration towards northern Europe are both extremely important if the best conditions are to be secured for these birds.

* * *


Progress in Sicily

By David Lingard

Last year we were unable to join the celebrations in Rome of the 50th anniversary of LIPU’s founding, so this year my wife, Shirley, and I were determined to attend the Assemblea, or AGM, held in Comacchio in the Po Delta – one of the best areas for birds in northern Italy. The event took place on the same site as that used for the International Birdwatching Fair 2016, which was well attended on both days – although, of course, not on the scale of the fair held at Rutland Water.

Among our LIPU colleagues, we were happy to renew old acquaintances and make new friends, but everything has a cost and I was asked to say a few words during the conference about skylarks. This was a modest contribution to a very strong case calling on the Italian government to remove the skylark from the list of species that may, legally, be hunted. The conference launched the LIPU campaign to ‘Save the Skylark’, and we hope it will gain all the support it will need.

After the Fair it was an early start to drive in torrential rain to Bologna for a flight south to Catania in Sicily, where we were to visit LIPU reserves and see evidence of the projects we are supporting. We travelled with Claudio Celada, LIPU Conservation Director, and were looked after wonderfully by Loredana and Giuseppe Rannisi of LIPU’s branch in Catania.

LIPU is protecting four of the nesting sites of Bonelli’s Eagle in Sicily – in partnership with other groups a total of over 40 sites are monitored. The eagle is ‘declining drastically’ according to Birdlife International: only 600 pairs are thought to exist in Europe and North Africa with the majority in the south west of the region. The eggs and young are highly prized by Middle Eastern falconers and we were told that thieves can expect to receive
€ 5,000 for each bird and this poses a real threat to the survival of the species in the region.

The location of known nest sites is a closely guarded secret, but we saw one nest on the top of a concrete column supporting a long road viaduct, and – as I write – the news is that the two young have fledged and are the first of this year’s birds to leave the nest for their life in Sicilian skies.

The protection project employs one co-ordinator who works full time through the season and is supported by volunteers who may be on site for just a few days or perhaps over a week. Some nests have surveillance cameras which send an alert to the guardian’s mobile phone when there is activity at the nest. Thus he can both monitor the adults arriving with food, usually rabbit, and any unwanted visitors.

Before leaving Licata on the south coast we visited the reserve at Gela – a lake surrounded by greenhouses and in the shadow of a huge petrochemical refinery. We were shown an excellent visitor centre by the warden, Emilio, and – from one of the hides – a good range of birds, but then it was time to set off for Catania.

On the following day we drove to the south-eastern tip of the island and Pantano Cuba, a wetland we had been keen to buy a few years ago. Our ambition was dampened when it was announced that the area was to become a Regional Nature Reserve and that our intervention was no longer necessary. Imagine our horror when we discovered that two years ago the hunters’ association took the regional authorities to court on a point of law and that the designation of ‘Nature Reserve’ was reversed. A nature foundation in Germany quickly stepped in, however, and bought the lake and some of the surrounding farm land so the pantano is again protected and has been saved – for ever.

Seeing the pantani in this corner of Sicily brought home to us the clear importance of these coastal wetlands. For the spring migrants crossing from Tunisia and arriving tired and hungry these areas offer fresh water, food and shelter; in the autumn, birds leaving for their winter quarters have this last refuelling stop before setting off on the sea crossing. A total of 10 pantani in the area, together with the Vendicari wetlands just around the corner on the east coast, represent an ecological system whose importance cannot be overstated and whose protection must be a high priority. They are Ramsar sites, IBAs, SPAs, and yet all can be hunted unless brought into private ownership, fenced and posted with notices prohibiting any hunting.

We met wardens Carlo and Egle who explained what had been done and their ambitions for the future then drove around the coast to see the other wetlands – a tour that was both moving and thought-provoking.

After the pantani we were invited to the LIPU reserve of Saline di Priolo, and the warden, Fabio, showed us round a very impressive wetland reserve which was similar to Gela in that it is situated in the shadow of a huge power station. Flamingos have adopted the reserve which is good for attendance figures and public support but not so good for the largest colony of Little Terns in Italy, which are disturbed by the big pink ‘bullies’. After a brief diversion to Melilli to visit a Lanner Falcon site, we returned to Catania.

On our last day we were driven north to the very place that caused me and many others to join LIPU – the Straits of Messina, the bottleneck where migrating raptors, storks and other species have to cross from Sicily to Calabria, the ‘toe’ of Italy. We met Andrea Corso, whom I first met in Parma sixteen years ago – he was sitting beside his telescope in the sunshine counting the birds as they passed, and being employed to do so! This wonderful job has, of course, a serious side with two distinct aims. One is to count and log the movements to build up a data set of the way migrant species move through Sicily and this LIPU project has been supported by the UK branch for many years now. The second aim is to use modern technology to share the information with other volunteers from the WWF, CABS and other groups, as well as the anti-poaching teams on the other side of the Strait. Andrea showed how he could enter his sightings into his mobile phone and they would be sent to over 30 people simultaneously, something which would have been impossible only a few years ago.

LIPU-UK has supported the anti-poaching patrols around Messina and in Calabria since our foundation by Roger Jordan in 1989 and I was proud to see how the work of these enthusiastic people has calmed what used to be a battle ground – no shots at all were reported that day. The visit was important in that we were able to see how well our ‘investment’ in the protection and conservation of birds in Italy is being used, and to meet many of the people who make it all work. I can only say that we were inspired and totally satisfied by what we saw and I haven’t even mentioned Sicilian food!

* * *

The long term future of LIPU-UK

The day to day work of being the UK Delegate to LIPU is not taxing, although at times it might be time consuming, and it has given me a great deal of satisfaction over the years. I have been helped by my wife, Shirley, our loyal band of translators and have enjoyed the support of a board of trustees since we were registered as a charity in 2000.

I am concerned for the future of LIPU-UK when I am no longer able to perform these day to day tasks and I must ask again if there is anyone who would be willing to consider taking on the mantle. I am still fit and well but I know that I’m not as dynamic as I once was, and I would rather see a gradual transition than have the trauma of having to find a successor forced on the trustees by circumstances I’d rather not imagine.

At this stage there would be no commitment whatsoever, but if you think you might want to be involved please get in touch and we can talk over the options in slow time. Thank you.

* * *

The image of Cory’s Shearwater on the back cover is used with the kind permission of Michaeli Mendi. Those of the Pygmy Cormorant, Great Reed Warbler, the Messina group are by David Lingard.

* * *

I am grateful, as always, to my team of helpers who have translated and helped edit this issue: Barbara Avery, Dave Brooks, Abigail Cummings, Daria Dadam, Caterina Paone, Peter Rafferty and John Walder.

* * *