Ali Notizie - The English Digest - June 2005

Editorial June 2005

JUST 13 YEARS OLD

Some years ago I was completing a course to allow me to teach adults; I wouldn't last five minutes in a classroom of children, but I digress; we had explained to us the "Gestalt experience" when all the unconnected threads come together to make a whole and the picture is suddenly clear. In my time in the RAF it was known as a BGO - a blinding glimpse of the obvious, and last week I had one of these as I listened to BBC Radio 4 as the Crossing Continents programme reported on the illegal hunting of birds in Italy

Julian Pettifer asked a senior officer of the Corpo Forestale, the Forest Guards or police, why the law was so hard to enforce and the answer was, for me a BGO! It was that the people have not yet accepted that the law has changed, and the law we speak of is the one over which so much time and effort has been spent in its protection in the last couple of years - Law 157/92. Law number 157 passed in 1992, and before that what protected the wild creatures of Italy?

Nothing, nothing at all!

Like most laws it may not be perfect but it represents such a huge step for the fauna of Italy that LIPU has been fighting tooth and nail to prevent any changes to this law, changes intended to weaken its strength. Indeed LIPU was involved in the drafting of the law and was able to influence many of its clauses, and all of this was just 13 years ago.

Since then Italy has been dragged, often, it might seem, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century with some regions doing well and others doing the least they think they can get away with. More and more pressure has been exerted by LIPU and other NGOs to make the authorities conform to the requirements of the Birds and Habitats Directives and the IBA scheme has been implemented in accordance with internationally agreed criteria. The next step is to have the regions upgrade the status of these areas to ZPS, or in English, Specially Protected Areas when, at last, the birdlife in the area will be protected and hunting, trapping and persecution will be a thing of the past.

Italy is not alone by any means, in dragging its feet over this issue, many other European governments are just as lax, but Italy is the country we care about and we shall be watching for speedy and determined progress in this vitally important process.

Can we therefore feel positive about the present situation? I would offer a cautious, "Yes" to this question, because, despite the obvious problems we can truly say that enormous progress has been made in the last thirteen years.

Certainly, I would not like to think of how things might be for the wildlife of Italy had not that imperfect, but precious, law No. 157 of 1992 been passed...

AGRICULTURE KEEPING IN STEP WITH NATURE

from the President of LIPU

A meeting in Brussels, an agreement with the National Federation of Italian Farmers (Coldiretti) and a photographic competition. These events are linked in a way that can lead to healthier, safer and more compatible agriculture that will protect people and animals. The wing beats of a Blackcap, the majestic outline of a White Stork, the intense gaze of a Barn Owl, the song of an Ortolan Bunting… Take a careful look at the photographs in the Italian edition of Ali, as they come mainly from the photographic competition "Countryside Alive", organised by LIPU to underline the relationship between the agricultural environment and the natural life of birds. This is a wonderful initiative which culminated in the awarding of prizes to the winners by our Honorary President Danilo Mainardi. These photographs show the winged protagonists of our countryside, and also the relationships between man and nature, which are not always favourable to the environment and to wildlife. The photographs also express the hope of a better balance which would favour and value our specific agricultural produce, the beauty of the countryside and the tremendous value of biodiversity.

At such an important time for European and Italian agriculture, which can be seen in the recent reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, we decided to strengthen the agreement with the Federation of Italian Farmers, the largest association of agricultural workers in Italy, in order to make consumers and nature lovers aware and conscious of the need for an agriculture which is in harmony with man, nature and birds. We have often found ourselves over the years side by side with the Federation of Italian Farmers in requesting European and national regulations which would provide for a different relationship between agriculture and nature. This would pay attention to people who make a living from the primary economic sector, but also to the environmental consequences of this activity. More than a simple slogan therefore, but concrete facts aimed at greater protection of people and of the environment. For this reason on 23 April last we signed an agreed Protocol between our two organisations which foresees many actions: the production of safe, high-quality agricultural products, an initiative which favours food safety; protection of the environment and of biodiversity; attention to safety precautions on the use of GM crops; and the adoption of agro-environmental measures to be used for the protection of birds.

The LIPU Oasis festival saw the active participation of local Federation of Italian Farmers' businesses which, offering their typical products inside our protected areas, had a real presence on the ground.

The success of the event, with thousands of visitors who appreciated the coming together of nature and agriculture, clearly shows that peoples' real needs are being met.

But the actions of LIPU and of BirdLife International to make agriculture more compatible are not limited to the agreement with the Federation of Italian Farmers. 60,000 postcards were sent at the end of March by linked associations to Mariann Fischer Boel, the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. The aim of the campaign was to call for the European Union to make a greater commitment to more environmentally friendly agriculture, by increasing funds to farmers who would contribute to the safeguarding of biodiversity by adopting sustainable practices.

But why are we so interested in agricultural topics? Read the information that has recently been published in "Birds in Europe", the largest study on the state of birds in Europe, and you will find the answer. Just by undertaking to influence agricultural policy and practice we can favour conservation and the return of native species to our countryside, since over the last twenty years their numbers have diminished dramatically with falls of 25% in Swallows, 84% in Tree Sparrows, 48% in Yellowhammers and 74% in Corn Buntings.

Can agriculture and bird watching get on together? The answer can be found in the approximately 75 million official attendances at paying events in the parks, according to the third Italian Tourist Board Report on eco-tourism. The link is called "quality lifestyle", regarding agricultural as well as tourist products. And there were talks on the same subject at Comacchio where from 28 April to 1 May last the second International Po Delta Birdwatching Fair took place.

Perhaps on the 40th Anniversary of LIPU care of the environment and respect for animals will become part of the Constitution. If Article 9 of our Constitutional Charter is really changed, not only will Italy come closer still to the European Union, which has already recognised animals as "sentient beings", but it will take a step towards a vision of the rich world of biodiversity, in which people live in harmony with nature in a fair and responsible way.

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IN FLIGHT OVER EUROPE

This new volume from BirdLife International brings the conservation status of birds in Europe up to date.

by Marco Gustin and Claudio Celada

Last November, ten years after the publication of "Birds in Europe I", the first report on the conservation status of birds in Europe from BirdLife International, "Birds in Europe II" was published. This new achievement of BirdLife (and of LIPU as far as Italy is concerned) gives us a precious chance to make comparisons.

What has changed in the last ten years? What is the status of health (or rather of conservation) of birds in Europe? To answer these questions, the new work, like its predecessor, identifies so-called "priority species" or Species of European Conservation Concern, abbreviated SPEC.

The data were collected through a network of national coordinators, gathering information from thousands of expert ornithologists, including many volunteers, from monitoring organisations and from regional contributors. For each species they have gathered national data on breeding population size and trend (for the period 1990 – 2000). In total 14,000 records were collected, many of which are of a higher quality than in 1994. Together with the existing data for the period 1970 – 1990, the new data was used to revise the conservation status for each species in Europe.

Following the system used in "Birds in Europe I", each species of concern was assigned to one of the following categories:

SPEC 1: species threatened with extinction at a global level.

SPEC 2: species in decline, with a distribution limited to Europe.

SPEC 3: species in decline, with a distribution not limited to Europe.

The principal results.

The information provided by the new edition, which covers the entire continent of Europe from Greenland in the west to the Urals in the east, from Svalbard in the north to the Canary Islands in the south, is on the whole discouraging. Of the 524 species of birds covered by "Birds in Europe II", 43 percent (or 226 species) have an Unfavourable Conservation Status; that is one in two species in Europe is threatened, or at least in decline.

In detail:

7.6% (40 species) are threatened at a global level (SPEC 1)

8.6%(45 species) are concentrated in Europe and are in decline (SPEC 2)

26.9% (141 species) are not concentrated in Europe and are in decline (SPEC 3)

In the ten years, from 1994 to 2004, the number of species of birds in decline has increased from 195 (equal to 38 percent of the total) to 226 species (43 percent of the total). Many species (129 out of 195) continued to decline during the nineties: among these migratory waders and passerines, many ducks and seabirds, and some of the commonest European species such as House Sparrow and Starling. The conservation status of birds in Europe is clearly worse than ten years ago. There are 45 species which enjoyed good health only ten years ago, and which now suffer from falling numbers. Many of those species which were already in decline have seen further losses; amongst these: Bonelli's Eagle, Egyptian Vulture, Saker Falcon, Pallid Harrier, Little Bustard.

On the other hand, only 14 species have been promoted from an "Unfavourable Conservation Status" to a "Favourable" one; including: Peregrine Falcon, Storm Petrel, Gannet, Barnacle Goose, Red-crested Pochard, Griffon Vulture, Bar-tailed Godwit.

The situation in Italy

The data for Italy are currently positive for some species, and severely negative for others, notably those of farmland and those subject to hunting. Regarding Italian breeding species, for those of farmland, meadow and steppe such as Red Kite, Wheatear, Little Bustard, Corn Bunting and Tree Sparrow, the decline is marked and very much linked to the changes in agricultural practices of the last fifty years, with growing intensification at the expense of traditional methods. Four however are declining neither in Italy nor in Europe as a whole, but indeed improving on their conservation status: Storm Petrel, Red-Crested Pochard, Griffon Vulture and Peregrine.

The population of Peregrines in Italy may almost have doubled, from 430-550 pairs in 1994 to 790-990 in 2004. Similarly, Griffon Vultures have gone from 20-30 to 37-42 as a result largely of reintroduction projects.

Red-Crested Pochard has gone from 20-30 to 40-60 pairs, and Storm Petrel from 1500-2000 to 1700-2500.

For some species, an increase in Italy contrasts with European decline: Audouin's Gull, Pygmy Cormorant and three despite being hunted in Italy: Lapwing, Shoveler and Tufted Duck.

Situation of species hunted in Italy

If one looks at the 36 species which may currently be legally hunted in Italy, the picture is disturbing. Not one has improved its status at a European level, while across the 52 countries eight species are now listed as declining which had not been previously: Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Lapwing, Ruff, Snipe, Jack Snipe and Woodcock. Twenty-one of the thirty-six are now listed as having an unfavourable conservation status, against thirteen previously, so now more than half of the hunters' targets are in decline.

When it comes to species hunted notwithstanding the Birds Directive, Cormorant, Collared Dove, Tree Sparrow, Starling, Chaffinch and Brambling, Tree Sparrow and Starling have suffered declines, while Cormorant has improved and the others stayed the same.

The proposals from LIPU - BirdLife in Italy

Despite some positive signs, the progressive worsening in the conservation status of many species is alarming.Given the scale of the problem, there is an even more pressing need for action on the scale already outlined in "Birds in Europe". As to LIPU, we have some well-defined ideas for reversing the trend, for example:

(1) A prompt and determined application of the Birds Directive, beginning with the completion of the list of Special Protection Areas on the basis of those identified as Important Bird Areas, as well as commencing proper management of Natura 2000 sites.

(2) The putting in place of appropriate action plans for single species, drafting those not yet in place and above all applying those we already have.

(3) A restriction of the list of species that may be hunted, given the adverse conservation data.

(4) The integration of biodiversity conservation into the political areas that have an environmental impact: EU agricultural policy, transport, regional and energy policies.

LIPU is working along these lines so that in ten years' time Birds in Europe III may bring better news.

NO TO UNCONTROLLED HUNTING

by Danilo Selvaggi

LIPU's struggle against the attack on Law 157/92 goes on.

After another two years' work in the Agricultural Commission the bill on the reform of Law 157/92 on Hunting has reached Parliament, to be debated in the Chamber of Deputies. This is in spite of the failure of the text to pass through the European Commissions of Justice (which pronounced unfavourably on the decriminalisation of offences) and Politics (which has rejected the extension of the hunting season and the addition of new game species).

On the one hand, in a word, the unsustainable nature of the bill has become ever more apparent, but on the other the strength of the hunting lobby is equally evident. And now with just a few months of the parliament remaining the possibility of the bill having a successful conclusion seems ever more unlikely. In any case LIPU's opposition will not cease until the bill disappears, entirely silencing the supporters of uncontrolled hunting once and for all.

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THE LIPU INTERVIEW

We speak with Luana Zanella

"We must keep our guard up, the next few weeks will be decisive"

Venetian, with a degree in Political Science and long experience in the battles for the environment, peace and civil rights, Luana Zanella is a deputy for the Green Party and a member of the Commission for Social Affairs in the Chamber. Her activities as a parliamentarian cover a very wide range of topics. She is interested in homeopathic medicine and health in general as well as the rules governing the adoption of children and the provision for the disabled. She is also involved in legislation on working life and the food industry. But there is no doubt that her most constant preoccupation is with the environment and the protection of nature. She supports not only the battle against the mistreatment of animals, the struggle against the menace of litter and light pollution but also the commitment to the preservation of the city of Venice and opposition to the numerous anti-environmental laws first among which is the infamous bill in favour of uncontrolled hunting.

"Deputy Zanella, it has not been an easy Parliament as far as the environment is concerned. What with amnesties and attacks on the various environmental laws there has been plenty to do."

There has been a devastating attack, geared to dismantling the successes of the last thirty years of struggle in the country at large and within the institutions. The "Delega" law on the environment, the Lunardi law, the reform of the rules on contracts, the scrapping of the Valuation of Environmental Impact: the reduction of resources destined for protected areas and, to cap it all, the attempt to dismantle 157/92, the so-called Onnis Law. A disaster.

What is your opinion on the hunting bill? What are the worst points?"

It is the worst bill of all to be added to the law on hunting dispensations approved in 2002. The worst aspects for me are those on the extension of the hunting period (a further month and a half) and on the increase of the species which may be hunted, including many whose populations are not sufficiently stable in Italy and which are expressly protected by European Community directive. I also highlight the right of hunters to wander at will and the decriminalisation of hunting crimes. In addition, there is the undermining of the rules and means of control, even the humiliation of the INFS. However it is the reasoning behind the bill which is fundamentally at fault.

"The Onnis Law is opposed by almost all interested parties. Nevertheless, it seems that in spite of this many deputies continue to support it. Furthermore we have noticed a serious strain placed on the rules of parliament. Is it the case that the hunting lobby is still as strong as this?"

Indeed so, it has been a matter of giving in to the lobbying of a handful of deputies, particularly of AN and the Northern League, who, however, represent very powerful interests, namely the hunting fanatics and above all the arms producers. These are organised lobbies and the reason why there is a need never to let down one's guard.

"We were speaking about the INFS, The National Wildlife Institute, and about the serious attacks it has suffered. Not even Science, in a word, can sleep easy in its bed."

This is a really serious matter and I have even protested in a parliamentary question. This is an attempt to reduce the role and effectiveness of the INFS and to call into question its independence the more so now as all the documents of the INFS, founded as they are on science, give the lie to the proposals to change the law. The attack on the INFS is improper and deliberate and we will continue to oppose it.

"But will this dreadful law against wild animals really be passed? And should this unfortunate scenario come about what do you think should be done?"

The next few weeks will be crucial. Of course, after the outcome of the elections and the governmental crisis, it would be mad to involve Parliament in the reform of the law on hunting given the country's priorities. We shall bring it to the attention of the President of the Chamber of Deputies and we hope that good sense will prevail. But if the worst were to happen, then we will have to raise our game and bring the European Union in to the matter and also collect the signatures for a referendum for repeal.

A RESERVE TO PROTECT RAPTORS, HERONS AND DUCKS

by Andrea Mazza

For birds migrating along the coastline between Naples and Caserta the many glittering sheets of water are an irresistible attraction. But having come to rest they may suffer a terrible fate. Poachers lie in wait inside their concrete bunkers, only a few metres from their prey. Six thousand birds are shot here every year, raptors, herons, flamingos, curlew and stilts, to finish up stuffed or just to satisfy a desire to kill. LIPU made a stand here in 1999 and has now managed to create a nature reserve around the pools. After having contributed to the acquisition of some of the pools over recent years, the operation "Free Flight" came to fruition a few months ago.

It has taken four years of work, with input by the legal authorities and by the Carabinieri. The result is that 40 illegal pools have been sealed off, 35 people have been charged, and 5 shotguns and 2000 cartridges confiscated. These illegal "hunting preserves" have been established in an area dominated by the Casalese clan of the Camorra, the Naples Mafia. In the process the environment has been seriously affected and the most basic rules of urban, environmental and hunting practices have been violated. Sand has been illegally extracted and watercourses diverted. Shooting out of season has been commonplace, with the aid of decoys and the planting of reedbeds to simulate a natural environment. The shooting hides on the edges of the pools give the hunters all amenities. In the most luxurious there were beds, cupboards, cookers, stoves and armchairs. A "reserve" might cost between 7,500 and 15,000 Euros a year. They have been developed on land that is partly state-owned and partly private. Gates and fences have often been put up, denying access to even the owners of the land itself.

After so many years of illegal activities we are now waiting for a strong signal from state authorities. LIPU plans to establish a nature reserve, an emblem of sustainable land use, with information panels, footpaths and birdwatching hides. The Minister of the Environment has received the application and has declared an intention to create a reserve. Meanwhile a first step towards legality was taken on 12 May with the inauguration of Variconi birdwatching reserve at the mouth of the River Volturno and within the Foce Volturno and Costa di Licola Regional Reserve. This is the first achievement in the Salvitalia and Volo Libero campaign, supported by Legambiente and LIPU, to restore degraded landscapes.

The coastal pools attract numerous species, including stilts, Redshank, herons and some rarities. The nearby sea and the presence of meadows and shallow water are ideal conditions for many waders and ducks, as well as Marsh Harriers. Breeding species include Black-winged Stilts, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover and Collared Pratincole.

THE MUSEUM OF THE WORLD

At the discovery of submerged wonders….in all senses of the words

by Ugo Faralli and Andrea Fontanelli

If the walls of our farmhouse, looking out onto the tiny port of Massaciuccoli could talk, they would tell us that one evening, some 20 years ago, someone destroyed the building we had prepared to turn into a visitor centre for the oasis. They torched the building and to our dismay, together with the ashes, they left writing on the tarmac, inviting us to leave and exalting hunting and the disobedience of the law.

Today after 20 years, the same walls, rebuilt some years ago, see the staff stand witness to the special day of the opening of the second room in this museum dedicated to the ecology of the marshes within our oasis. The same farm building is a mixture between the 'classic' visitors centre and a museum and it's certainly unique amongst comparable structures. It's uniqueness is in enabling the visitor to move through the museum as if one was immersed in the natural environment, having the opportunity to touch the animals, hear their sounds, admire their colours. But that's not all! The special feature of the museum is in its original design, which probably has no equal in Italy, and in its profoundly educative mission.

A journey through the marshes

In this museum there are no glass display cabinets, or inscriptions or explanatory texts. The visitor, whether child or adult, will be able to move freely as if in the marshes environment, observing the lifelike animals in their natural habitat. The normally difficult to discern details, some unusual or curious, can be observed by way of their magnification, as if through a tri-dimensional microscope. Being able to touch the exhibits allows even people with impaired sight to appreciate form and anatomical details of plants and animals, which would otherwise be overlooked.

Submersed fascination

The second exhibition room has been subdivided into seven different zones with different scales of magnification. Once people get used to the shady hue, they can look through the curtains at the submersed habitat of 'alien' shapes, lit up when a sensor is triggered by the visitor. These are microscopic organisms not visible to the naked eye, such as bacteria and algae.

The journey proceeds by, ideally, following the energy which is extended through the trophic chain of the submersed world. This enables the observation of mosquito larvae magnified 100 times, the metamorphosis of the tadpole into frog at 50 times magnification and the predation of the tadpole by a voracious aquatic insect: the Dytiscus.

The sensation of being underwater is aided by the view of the submersed legs of a little Egret, 10 times enlarged, which is fishing by plunging its blackish beak. But it doesn't stop here! Before leaving one must try to get through, unscathed, from under the claws of the infamous red American Shrimp, which was clandestinely introduced into the lake.

This is therefore an experience that is stimulating and valuable for everyone, whether school children, students, people with physical, psychological or sensory disabilities.

The museum was established because of the positive co-operation between a public and a voluntary agency. The whole structure and the inaugural day were possible thanks to Regione Toscana for their financial sponsorship and to the regional park agency Migliarino-San Rossore-Massaciuccoli for the creation of accessible buildings in the protected areas.

However most of the project was developed as a result of the passion and dedication of dozens of LIPU volunteers who have concentrated their energies and given their free time, over the past year, to reach completion. It is because they strongly believed in this endeavour that it came to fruition. Submersed as it is!!

The inaugural ceremony took place Saturday 19th March and an opening conference was set up in the future Visitor Centre "La Brilla". The conference was attended by many representatives of the Park Migliarino-San Rossore-Massaciuccoli, the Park of Massarosa and the 'Provincia di Lucca', but also by a copious number of enthusiastic LIPU volunteers. They came to admire the fruits of their invaluable work and commitment.

A definitive opening was then staged, followed by a delicious afternoon tea made with organic products from the Park, in keeping with the usual, renowned hospitality of the LIPU Oasis Massaciuccoli.

For further information and visits ring Oasi LIPU Massaciuccoli 0039 (0)584-975567

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FRIENDS OF LIPU -

THE COMPANIES THAT SUPPORT LIPU

by Maristella Filippucci

Among those companies that say they support nature it is not always easy for LIPU to find those that really do have a philosophy linked to nature, even though in recent years it has become ever more important, thanks to the increasing awareness of consumers. The European Environmental Certification ISO 14000 recognises those firms that follow guidelines and guarantee not to emit pollutants. There are examples, too, of signs that show a real sensibility towards nature and wildlife, amongst which is the readiness to undertake projects to manage species at risk of extinction. Swarovski Optik is one such company. They produce binoculars and equipment for nature photography, and have recently made a substantial donation to restore an observation hide at the Oasi LIPU Torrile. The factory is in the middle of a wood in the Tyrol, and there are many opportunities to observe wildlife close by. They have instituted very rigid antipollution measures and have undertaken a series of initiatives aimed at the management of animal species at risk of extinction round the world.

In Italy Swarovski Optik is particularly supportive of LIPU and it is fully expected that the collaboration between the two organisations will continue, with the aim of offering birdwatchers the best facilities to enjoy their passion.

Helping hummingbirds

The most recent project is in South America, in Colombia, and is in support of a project to save the Colorful Puffleg, one of the smallest birds in the world. It is also one of the most threatened as there remain only some 50 to 250 in the world. The habitat they live in is limited to a very wet area of tropical forest in western Colombia. American Bird Conservancy and ProAves Columbia, BirdLife partners, together with Swarovski have acquired an area of 2000 hectares where the hummingbird lives. The acquisition of the area will prevent the indigenous population from proceeding with the massive tree felling that is envisaged, and which would destroy the ecosystem on which the hummingbird depends.

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BIRDLIFE INTERNATIONAL

A Dream becomes Reality. BirdLife Proposes a New Approach to Save the Forests of Indonesia.

Sumatra in the Forefront of Conservation

by Marco Lambertini

Almost unknown before our thoughts turned to the tragedy of the tsunami, Sumatra has, over the last fifty years, continued to suffer a less apparent, but more terrible, tragedy. Its forests are among the world's most impressive and luxuriant, rich in biodiversity.

The discovery of choice woods, mineral resources, and then oil, have unleashed an unprecedented destruction. This became still more uncontrollable when, from neighbouring Malaysia, the cultivation of palm oil spread, a very profitable oil that the cosmetic and food industries of the rich world were eager to acquire in large quantities. And the world's hunger for paper, China's especially, has turned attention to Sumatra's millions of cubic metres of timber. Investments of millions of dollars constructed paper industries right in the middle of the jungle, and the richest tropical forest of the world was turned into paper. The more accessible lowland forests were the most affected: there were more than l6 million hectares of forest before 1900, and less than 600,000 today.

This deforestation brings thousands of species near to extinction every year, and threatens tigers, elephants, gorillas, orang utang and chimpanzees, besides contributing to world climate change.

The BirdLife International Project.

In 1986 BirdLife initiated its own programme in Indonesia which today has established various new protected areas and the growth of an independent organisation for the protection of all Indonesia's Nature.

Three years ago a coalition of partners of BirdLife (with Burung Indonesia at the head) and supported by the Secretariat of BirdLife International, set about saving the last lowland forest of Sumatra. This cannot be done by the "classic" route of proposing a new park or nature reserve. Social tensions, poverty and a thirst for "development" would stifle any such strategy. Now, here is a new idea; to manage in keeping with conservation aims, large forest areas allocated to forestry concessions, where timber may still be extracted.

After two years of planning, reconnoitring and many, many lobbies of the Ministry of Forests in Jakarta on the part of BirdLife coalition, June 2004 showed the first big success: an order of the Indonesian Ministry which allows timber-cutting forestry concessions to be managed for conservation and rehabilitation of the forest.

It is a real legislative revolution for the whole country, and for the first time a hope for all "productive forests", until now destined to follow the economic cycle which saw them irredeemably condemned to total deforestation, before becoming palm-oil plantations. We have identified a large block of forest (more than 200,000 hectares) right in the centre of Sumatra, pure lowland forest, in part still subject to timber-felling, but very rich in fauna and still in a good state, and above all destined for deforestation in no more that 5 years. BirdLife has identified the best area of forest and asked the government to change it to a "conservation concession" under our management. We undertake to pay taxes and licence and to manage and protect the forest. All around the heart of the forest activities will be put forward to involve the local communities, with the aim of producing benefits of work and direct economic returns.

In April 2005 the Ministry of Forests gave out the order with the boundaries of this new forest area of conservation, the first in the country's history. Over 100,000 hectares (three times the size of the Abruzzi park) of forest pulsing with life, which is host to five species of primates, of which two are Gibbon, six wild feline species, including 5% of the tiger population of Sumatra, Tapirs, Asiatic Elephants, and over 400 species of birds, many threatened and in decline. Over 100,000 hectares which will not end up as ash.

A first World BirdLife Sanctuary?

Having gained the legislation now in place to protect the forest, we are working together with the group that will entrust the forest to the management of BirdLife International. The many partners of BirdLife who support the initiative will be able to have a very special reserve of global importance among their own network of reserves and oases.

To acquire the forest we must create an Indonesian legal entity, join the band of trustees, complete certain plans for the site, pay the licence as if we were a named felling company, take about 100 safety measures against fire and illegal activity, in order to maintain the forest and facilitate the regeneration of areas degraded by past productive activities.

Many Partners of BirdLife have already contributed, such as the British RSPB, BL Belgium and Luxemburg, while others intend to do so, such as Germany, Switzerland, Japan and Singapore. Also governments like those of Taiwan and Foundations such as Nando Peretti Foundation and Conservation International are aiming for "zero refuse", producing and utilising totally recycled and recyclable materials. We can make a start in our small way by choosing products and suppliers with less packaging and more recyclable materials, to reduce with a view to eliminating "throwaway" products, reusing and repairing things before thinking about replacing them. The decision of LIPU to print "Ali" on recycled paper and to make it with MaterB goes in this direction, and each one of us can follow this trail, so that the planet's state improves, and the experience of country people and communities which here and there succeed in recycling the greater part of refuse, are no longer "isolated cases" which attract attention, but the general pattern which allows us to breathe.

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MAINARDI'S CORNER

by Danilo Mainardi, Honorary President

Aliens among us - what happens when a new species is introduced into a habitat

A small bird is probably the latest arrival among the alien species present in our country. I say probably, because you never know with these illegals. In any case the whole issue is of interest, and so it is with this little bird. It merits discussion. Firstly, this new one is a relative of the Bearded Tit, coming from the Far East and incautiously released, a dozen or even less, a few years ago, in a well-watered area between Lakes Maggiore and Varese, the Brabbia Marshes which house one of our reserves. And it has done nothing but reproduce, spreading to Lakes Varese and Comabbio, to the Bagnoli valley. Though it suffers in heavy snowfalls, it has kept on expanding its area. You might ask, what is wrong with a beautiful little bird coming to enrich our avifauna? It might however be a mistake, but before speaking of that, we might say something of our mysterious new arrival, and above all, that we don't know exactly what it is. It is of the Paradoxornis genus and the Panurinae family, but of which species is difficult to establish. It is not impossible that it is of a species not previously described, and surviving only in captivity, and therefore precious. The Italian population would then be of special value.

But let us broaden the discussion. Humans have long been apt to spread creatures beyond their natural environment, and we well know something of that. One only needs to recall the damage done by the Danube Catfish to our native river life. Or as another striking example: the introduction of the tree snake Boiga irregularis to the island of Guam rapidly wiped out nine out of twelve of its arboreal birds. The danger of introduced species is connected with the phenomenon of co-evolution and the prevalence of generalist species. When species develop together in an environment they develop a dynamic equilibrium. When a species comes in from outside, they do not possess strategies for co-existing with it. So it is generally the generalists that can get by in a wide range of places. As to Paradoxornis, it does not have the appearance of being a generalist. It is more likely that it has been released into a congenial environment, similar to its original home. That is not to say however that it cannot damage native species by competing for resources.

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NEWS FROM LIPU-UK

John Glazebrook a member of LIPU for many years wrote the following piece and I am happy to include it without any editorial "adjustments". I think the earlier item by Andrea Mazza shows that the area will again be managed for birds but, in the future, by the BirdLife partner in Italy.

Long may the migrants feed here and long may the ringing successes continue. John says:

MAINTAINING A BALANCE

While we all would like to see an end to hunting, this is unrealistic and therefore it is essential that we work with the hunters to ensure that we don't lose the habitats that are vital to our birdlife. Coming down heavily with an iron fist can only aggravate the situation. What would have happened to places like Cley and Hickling in Norfolk if there were no wildfowlers? There has to be a balance between conservation and the hunting fraternity.

A case in question is the Plain of Volturno north of Naples (Caserta). This site was a magnet for thousands of waders travelling north each spring, rich with partially flooded lagoons that were teeming with gammarous on which the birds fed up on and then rested before moving further north. Predominantly curlew sandpiper and little stint, but also ruff, wood and common sandpipers, and rarities like broad-billed, Terek and marsh sandpipers. It also held good numbers of breeding black winged stilt and collared pratincole.

These lagoons were flooded during the winter by the hunters and were used for shooting wildfowl. In the spring the walls of the lagoons were breached and the water allowed to slowly drain off. They then re-vegetated and were grazed by water buffalo which feed on the surrounding rougher grasses. The whole area is surrounded by small scale agriculture where local families grow tomatoes and other vegetables.

I, along with several other ringers from across Europe, have been assisting the Gruppo Inanellamento Limicoli (the local ringing group) since 1993 and in that time they have caught several thousand waders. A number of scientific papers have been written from data gathered from the catches and counts.

During the first few years we saw some very unpleasant sights with black terns and little gulls hopelessly flapping around the edges of the lagoons having been wing shot by illegal hunters and unpleasant confrontations with poachers using nets. But over the years things have visibly improved. The local landowners have tightened up control of their lagoons and with frequent police checks such incidents are fewer and far between. (We have even had the protection of the local Camorra when using their lagoons! They were asked if the ringers can catch why can't the hunters shoot, but the reply was that the only shooting that would be done would be that of the illegal hunters!)

As recently reported, the local authorities and LIPU have been 'in negotiation' with the local hunters and the police have now stopped all activity. The outcome: very few lagoons are flooded in the winter, canals have been dug out and now the "water walks quickly" as my latest e-mail says! This obviously means that there are no muddy pools available for when the waders arrive. With the number of moist areas along the sub-Tyrrhenian coastline virtually all but gone this puts extra pressure on the migrants.

If the hunters are not allowed to shoot on the area, then it will be turned into more vegetable plots and grazing areas for the buffalo and although the mozzarella is the finest available, I for one would rather see the huge flocks of waders whirling over the pools then lifting into the sky, bellies full heading to their breeding grounds way up north.

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Robin Springett sends me this account of a winter visit to Sicily - his last as he has now retired to Devon.

END OF YEAR 2004

BIRDING in SICILY

We went to Sicily straight after Christmas 2004, and stayed at Catania. We had intended to escape the terrible weather we had been having at Naples, and our week started well, with a fabulous view of Etna, but it didn't last as it was our best view of a whole week of storms and rain! We had been to Sicily before, but not in winter, and we intended to go out with a local guide whom we had met before through birdingpal.org one Andrea Corso, who has a website, and can be contacted at voloerrante@yahoo.it or via www.birdingpal.org.

The weather was so bad that we only managed two half days birding on our own, but we did get a full day with Andrea Corso and his local birding group on Lentini Reservoir on a cold overcast and threatening 29th December 2004. We have birded once before at Lentini from outside, as a permit from the water company is required to get in, so this was very exciting. The group was doing a field visit prior to their formal count in early January.

Also joining the party was an experienced birder from Amsterdam, Han Buckx and his son. Han's experience, especially with gulls and duck added a lot to the day. We had to wait rather a long time in the morning for the permit, but we knew from living in Italy that the bureaucracy grinds exceeding slow and small. Apparently, permits can only be signed by the director, and he hadn't turned up for work by 08.00, or even by 09.00, and no one in his office had the balls to phone him at home! He did eventually show up, and shortly before 10.00 the gates of the reservoir were opened to us.

There is a good road all the way round the reservoir, and we spent the whole day going around it. Somehow we escaped the rain, except a brief shower which appeared whilst we were having our sandwiches. With over 12 pairs of eyes, we saw most things I am sure, and left very happy as dusk fell, and the long-promised rain finally arrived. Some highlights included several families of Crane, White Storks, Spoonbills, including one with a NL ring, recognized by Han, and a Little Crake.

Here is our full Lentini list:

Great-crested Grebe; Black-necked Grebe; Little Grebe; Cormorant; Little Egret; Great White Egret; Grey Heron; White Stork (24); Spoonbill (52); Greylag Goose (12); Red-crested Pochard (1F); Wigeon; Mallard; Teal; Gadwall; Shelduck; Pintail (1F); Tufted Duck; Ferruginous Duck; Booted Eagle; Marsh Harrier; Common Buzzard; Kestrel; Peregrine; Water Rail; Little Crake (1); Moorhen; Coot; Crane (17); Golden Plover; Curlew; Lapwing; Snipe; Common Sandpiper; Redshank; Spotted Redshank; Ruff; Little Stint; Dunlin; Lesser Black-backed Gull; Yellow-legged Gull; Black-headed Gull; Caspian Gull; Little Gull (1); Kingfisher; Hoopoe (1); Skylark; Crested Lark; White Wagtail; Yellow Wagtail; Blue Rock Thrush (1); Robin; Stonechat; Sardinian Warbler; Cetti's Warbler; Chiffchaff; Great Tit; Hooded Crow; Magpie; Spotless Starling; Tree Sparrow; Spanish Sparrow; Serin; Linnet; Corn Bunting; Reed Bunting.

On the 30th it rained all day. Next day we found time and some sunshine to visit the LIPU reserve at Biviere di Gela, which is not easy to observe, due to the intense agriculture that surrounds it. Certainly we failed to find a spot where it is possible to view the whole lake, but there are a couple of hides, and an interpretation centre. The lake holds significant numbers of duck, especially wigeon, teal and mallard. We added Common Pochard (60+); Blackbird and a solitary Swallow to the Lentini list. On New Years Day we visited the tiny reserve on the Simeto river mouth. Unfortunately, the access road was flooded, and at least 1 hunter was around the reserve with a gun, and other people were taking dogs for walks, off the lead of course, so the birds were very disturbed. Despite these problems, we found large flocks of Lapwing, interspersed with Golden Plover; large numbers of gulls, and several waders. We added Greenshank and Fan-tailed Warbler to our list, which totaled 72 species in all. Han went next day to Vendicari; not only did he dodge the poor weather in the north, but saw 180 Greater Flamingo, Ringed and Grey Plover. Sadly, this time I missed them!

Despite the wet and cold weather, we had a great trip to Sicily. With Ryanair flying into Catania, and cheap car hire, there is really no excuse not to visit from UK, especially out of the summer season. Bed & Breakfast signs are everywhere, and good birds can easily be seen. At least one day out with Andrea Corso is strongly recommended. He charges €150 for the full day, which if shared with another couple is good value, especially as he shows you lots of places you can visit on your own.

I mentioned earlier the BBC Radio 4 programme, Crossing Continents; for those who missed it here is a synopsis from the BBC web site:

ITALY'S FIGHT AGAINST ILLEGAL BIRD HUNTS

By Julian Pettifer

Italian environmentalists face a battle to stop the hunting of protected birds, a pursuit considered acceptable in many areas despite its illegality.

On the rugged, volcanic island of Ischia on the Bay of Naples, I visited a camp where volunteers from WWF Italy have been trying to stop the trapping and hunting of birds on their migratory journey from Africa to Northern Europe. Leading the team was an enthusiastic amateur ornithologist from Milan, Daniele Colombo. Daniele and his friends gave up their holidays to perform a depressing and often fruitless task.

I joined them at their headquarters one morning as they surveyed the evidence of their night's work.

From the early hours of the morning they had been patrolling the cliffs and hillsides, searching for traps and snares and hoping to intercept hunters armed with shotguns.

They had enjoyed some success. Laid out on a table were about 50 small spring-loaded traps. Daniele explained how the traps do their deadly work.

He pointed out that each trap was baited with a maggot or a worm, still wriggling on its pin. Hungry and exhausted birds, desperate for food, take the bait and spring the trap which captures them around the neck, killing them instantly.

At least half of the traps held pathetic little corpses.

Closed season

"Today all of them are whinchats," Daniele told me, "they are the most numerous victims. But we also find pied flycatchers, nightingales, stonechats, redstarts, robins, thrushes and various warblers."

I remarked that most of these are very small species, weighing only a few grammes, but I was assured that nothing is too small to be trapped and eaten. "Hunters with guns are after larger quarry," Daniele said. "Target number one is quail, but they will also shoot doves, oriole, hoopoe and even birds of prey."

Some of these species can legally be hunted at certain times of the year but not during the closed season.

According to the European Union Birds Directive, the closed season must cover the breeding season, and for migratory birds, the spring migration to their breeding grounds. The use of traps, bird lime (glue), nets, live decoys and poison is forbidden at all times.

Elaborate traps

Daniele summarised the activities of his team during the previous few days.

As well as confiscating hundreds of traps, with police assistance they had seized three guns, two of which had had code numbers erased to avoid identification of the owners. He also showed me 10 electronic decoys they had found. These are used by the hunters to broadcast bird calls which attract unwary migrants towards the guns.

Some of this equipment was very elaborate. One set-up, discovered in the middle of a steep cliff, had an antenna, a remote control and 200 metres of cable leading to the loudspeakers.

As well as WWF, other conservation organisations are working to stop the illegal slaughter.

The Lega Italiana Protezione Uccelli (LIPU) has more than 100 volunteers in different parts of Italy as illegal hunting is by no means confined to Ischia.

In fact, it is even more organised in northern Italy where songbirds fetch a high price in gourmet restaurants.

Big business

In the Breschia valleys, LIPU has confiscated more than 50,000 traps set to capture robins and other small birds. In recent years, 600 mist nets have also been removed, and 6,000 trapped birds have been freed.

When I travelled from Ischia back to Naples I came across another example of how thoroughly established illegal hunting is in Italian culture. One of the problems with law enforcement in Italy is that no fewer than five different police forces are supposed to regulate hunting and enforce the law.

I had an appointment to see General Fernando Fuschetti of the Forestry Police who wanted to show me what he regarded as one of his recent successes.

He took me to a wetland near Naples where his men had raided and shut down a string of 10 hunting ponds.

"These ponds," he told me, "have been run by an organised crime syndicate for poaching wildfowl during the closed season."

Challenging attitudes

The business had allegedly been turning over millions of Euros for the bad guys. There was certainly plenty of evidence of their activities. The ground was covered with spent cartridges and the ponds littered with scores of decoys.

They had constructed elaborate concrete "hides", furnished with all mod cons: armchairs, fridges and even a TV so that they could enjoy their "sport" in comfort.

While the general was very proud of what he regarded as a victory for law enforcement by closing them down, another police officer I spoke to - from a different force - was highly critical of what he regarded an assault on a revered local institution.

Similar attitudes can be found elsewhere in southern Europe, in Malta, Greece, Cyprus Spain and Portugal.

It will take more than the Birds Directive to change them.

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Line drawings in this issue are used by courtesy of the RSPB.

Thanks to our team of translators who were: Cicely Adelson, Barbara Avery, Ambra Burls, Caterina Paone, Peter Rafferty, John Walder and Brian Horkley

LIPU-UK ANNUAL DRAW

Our fund raising efforts have been more successful than ever before as we approach the end of our financial year. Thank you to all who contributed to the annual appeal, made other donations and who bought draw tickets.

It's now that time of the year again for the annual draw which receives more support from Carl Zeiss UK who are offering a pair of superb binoculars as a major prize. Thank you again, Carl Zeiss.

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LIPU-UK

Autumn Draw

2005

Last year's prize draw again raised over £2,350, a very valuable contribution to our annual fund raising towards bird conservation and protection in Italy.

We are again holding a draw this Autumn with an exciting list of prizes. We realise that some people are not keen on this kind of fundraising, so please discard the enclosed tickets if you prefer not to participate.

The closing date is Monday, 31st October, 2005 and the ticket counterfoils and money should be returned to David Lingard (whose address is on the tickets). Cheques should be payable to LIPU-UK. Please don't bother to return the unsold books.

We really appreciate the efforts of members in trying to sell as many books of tickets as possible to help our vital fundraising. Note that the ticket price this year is still 50p, and that the books contain 10 tickets each, thus coming to a nice round £5.

Each member (unless you've expressly asked not to receive them) should find two books enclosed, but please don't hesitate to contact David on 01522 689030 should you need further books.

THE PRIZES:

The Star Prize is a cheque for £500.

A pair of Zeiss 8 x 32 FL binoculars (courtesy Zeiss UK)

£100 worth of Mixed Fine Wines from a leading wine merchant.

A framed and signed cartoon originally published in the Times (courtesy Barry Fantoni, LIPU-UK trustee).

One year's subscription to Bird Watching magazine (courtesy of Emap Active Ltd.) - this monthly publication is an excellent read with amazing pictures.

A LIPU birding vest.