Ali (Wings) - The English Digest - June 2009

Editorial June 2009


by Carol Debney, trustee, LIPU-UK

LIPU is currently involved in a battle for birds and wildlife. Nothing new about that you might say, since this is the reason we give our support to the organisation. But, as often seems to be the case, it is hard to make permanent progress when vested interests, Byzantine politics and plain dirty tricks, regularly set out to prevent progress and suborn the law.

In recent months, while translating the Ali and other bits and pieces, the main subject has been the fight against the proposals of Senator Orsi and his henchmen to undermine Law 157 and allow hunting at will. This obscene suggestion threatens everything that LIPU stands for and has worked hard to achieve, and this is the reason that this edition of the Ali includes more on this topic. It’s top of the LIPU agenda just now, so I hope you’ll forgive me for ‘going-on’ about it too.

It is a very serious matter – fighting these proposals takes the valuable time, skills and resources of the professional conservationists from LIPU head office and, of course, money to present the case, fight the politicians and raise public awareness of what is going on. It’s a battle that never seems to be over because someone, who enjoys killing for sport, always refuses to accept that the law applies to him and tries to find a way around it.

Fortunately, LIPU has many high-profile supporters who have expressed their outrage – you’ll see some of them if you take a look at the LIPU (Italy) web site – and their voices combined with LIPU members and great public support is a force to be reckoned with. Let’s hope these voices prevail and this particular battle will finally be over for good.

On a happier note: LIPU-UK will be at the British Bird Watching Fair at Rutland Water in August (21-23rd) so please come and see us if you plan to visit the event. We’ll be in Marquee 4 and will look forward to seeing you.

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To stop the ‘wild hunting’ we have deployed the greatest energy, ideas, people, resources, actions and emotions. Certainly we have won the first act! And consequently we are happy and proud it’s been thanks to this great unity of our forces that we have done it.

Everyone of us has had the courage to say what he thinks of the proposal to liberalise hunting in our country. And in this ‘special hunting’ we must give strength to these voices. We must amplify our voices to reach far away so that we may convince those who are undecided and remind them that the alarm is not yet over.

April 22 was a memorable day. Environmental and animal associations and LIPU, led by Danilo Mainardi and Giuliano Tallone, members and supporters, testimonials, parliamentarians came and went to the Chamber of Deputies. It was more than a press conference, we said “Pay attention, we represent the majority of the Italians that do not want to liberalise hunting”. We are really so many!

It is thanks to the help and support of those who love nature that we will go forward. We will be there, an important obstacle to Orsi’s draft law which is even now making its way through the Senate.

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Danilo Selvaggi, Rapporti Istituzionale LIPU

The opposition to the reforms of Orsi and the short cuts attempted by pro-hunting parliamentarians continues. But LIPU succeeded in the defeat of the ‘no limit’ hunting change to the Community law.

It has been a real uprising, newspapers, television, radio, internet, celebrities from science, culture and entertainment – and lots of the public – many members and friends of LIPU. All against the plan of the “Orsi Law” and against the ‘wild hunting’. Everyone is indignant at this umpteenth attempt to increase the, already too many, concessions that favour hunting.

The result is that Senator Orsi’s text, that has been deposited formally in Parliament, has been held back and for three months has remained idle in the Commission of the Environment of the Senate, waiting for better times. So, a dangerous escape? Not at all, in fact.

A short-cut for the shotgun

The many difficulties encountered by Senator Orsi must have encouraged the pro-hunting MPs to find short-cuts. Therefore, if the proposal to upset Law 157 openly finds strong opposition – why not try to change it in ‘the dark’, by stealth?

And so the story of the Community law is coming out. They have tried the reform of 157 in another Bill! What is the Community law? It is a sort of ‘omnibus’ law in which they insert changes that will be useful when responding to the infringement of European laws and procedures.

Among these, in article 16, are the replies that Italy must give to the infringement procedure 2131 of 2006 on the application of the Birds Directive. One should bear in mind that this infringement procedure (which is now before the Court of Justice and is therefore close to judgement) is largely dedicated to the theme of hunting.

In essence Europe accuses us of hunting illegally and excessively. Now, what have some MPs done, in particular Senators Valerio Carrara and Sergio Vetrella? They have inserted a rule that extends the present limit of 1st September – 31st January for the hunting season. That is, they have proposed the lengthening of the hunting season – to end in February, when the birds are facing their most sensitive journey towards their breeding grounds (and theoretically are highly protected), and to start in August when the animals are caring for their young and many people are enjoying the countryside for a well-earned rest.

No limits for hunting? Parliament says No!

The Carrara-Vetrella amendment has been really serious, both as a parliamentary trick and for the substance of what could really happen. For it hides the improper legislation that has sought to extend the hunting season to a kind of ‘no limit to hunting’ and to cancel one of the pillars of Law 157 with its inflexible limits of 1st September – 31st January.

But here also LIPU and the whole world of environmentalists have stirred up a campaign of denunciation and protest exposing the gravity of the matter and finally achieving the result. First the Commission of Agriculture and European Politics, then all the assembly of the Chamber, have approved our reasons and cancelled the Carrara-Vetrella amendment, rejecting this new attempt for ‘wild hunting’.

A long and difficult challenge

Another serious setback, for the supporters of hunting, in parliament. However no-one resigned! At the time of writing, the Orsi text has resumed its journey to the Senate. The struggle is far from finished. We will need to act again, write to MPs, talk to the press and involve the public. We will need to remind everyone in Italy that hunting is for five months of the year. Other matters which must be addressed include the protection of numerous other species and the question of entering private property while hunting. If therefore, the law changes, it must change to offer greater protection of nature and also for the security of the citizens. It is this the Italians ask – the exact opposite of the wishes of Senator Franco Orsi .

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by Marco Gustin, Head of Species and Research, LIPU and Claudio Celada, Director of Nature Conservation, LIPU

The first report into the state of bird conservation in Italy has just been published. The research was carried out by LIPU on behalf of the Italian Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea.

From Lisbon to Helsinki, more than 40,000 species (animal and vegetable) are classified as threatened, while about 16,000 are threatened with extinction. This is a bleak picture. In response to this severe decline in biodiversity, the European Union issued the Birds Directive in 1979, and the more general Habitats Directive 13 years later.

The right to conservation

The first right of wild birds, acknowledged in the Birds Directive, is the right to conservation. In every country some areas are more significant than others in the long-term preservation of a given species and need special protection. This applies in Italy just as much as elsewhere. BirdLife International, the largest international bird-protection network, represented in Italy by LIPU, has made an invaluable contribution to the “right to conservation” with the Important Bird Areas programme (IBAs). The criteria for selecting IBA sites are internationally agreed, standardised, quantified and thus scientifically defensible. These sites have become key reference points in the development of the Natura 2000 network, and especially in the creation of ZPS – Zones of Special Protection. Today there are 591 ZPS in Italy, protecting more than 4.3 million hectares of land.

Step one – a comprehensive map

The Italian Ministry of the Environment is committed to the European Action Plan for biodiversity, and from 2005 has joined in IUCN Countdown 2010 – Halt the Decline of Biodiversity. It is pledged to the full implementation of the Natura 2000 network, the Habitat Directive (92/43/CEE) and the Birds Directive (79/409/CEE). To further the objectives of article 17, in 2005 the Habitat Committee issued guidelines requiring member states to report on the current “state of conservation” of species and of habitats. This can be measured by comparing the count of a species or population of wild birds with the favourable reference value – the population size necessary for the long-term survival of a given species. This typically uses the single-population probability of extinction within a hundred years as a measure.

This research, carried out by LIPU for the Ministry of the Environment, has been published in the first report into the state of conservation in Italy. The study covers more than 100 breeding and over-wintering species listed in Annex 1 of the Birds Directive, and seeks to provide thorough, accurate information on their distribution and their current state of health. As well as analysing the primary threats to individual species, it establishes “target” populations: the minimum population required to avoid extinction of each species within the next few decades. The study shows that some species of birds are seriously threatened – some are reduced to just a few dozen pairs, some are threatened by human disturbance, pollution, and the introduction of non-native predators. Pressures can even come from management of woodland. At the same time there are many immediate measures that can be taken to reverse his trend. Projects to protect, conserve and re-introduce species – applied in time, and carried through with determination, give very encouraging results.

Know their environment

One of the most effective ways to protect birds is to preserve their natural habitat. Research shows this to be the first step on the path to conservation. Whenever a habitat starts to show worrying signs of degradation, the species inhabiting it will nearly always show an equally worrying state of conservation. Protected areas, especially when linked together into a network, make a valuable contribution to habitat recovery, and the recovery of species that live there.

The method

A key feature of the research carried out by LIPU is the establishment of a precise investigative method, as required by the Community Directive. Key concepts include the so-called “favourable reference value”, “abundance”, and “bio-geographical characterization” using significant geographical subdivisions. In Italy: these are the alpine, continental and Mediterranean regions.

The results

Healthy; Threatened; Data Deficient. These are the possible categories that species can be assigned to in this study. Unhappily the results confirm the worries expressed by LIPU for many years. Out of 75 non-passerine species breeding in Italy (including species protected under the Birds Directive): only seven are in a favourable state of conservation; 35 are in an inadequate state of conservation; and as many as 33 are in a bad state of conservation.

The health of the luckier species (particularly Little Egret, Purple Heron, Honey Buzzard, Peregrine, Black-winged Stilt, Boreal Owl, Grey-headed Woodpecker) is a broad reflection of the health of the habitats where they live and reproduce. We can observe that local improvement in a population doesn’t always match a general trend whenever the species is highly fragmented and local populations number just a few dozen pairs (often concentrated in a very small number of sites, as in the case of some water birds).

Among the non-passerines most at risk, the study has identified Galliformes, (rails & crakes; 5 out of 7 in a bad state of conservation, 2 inadequate); and the Manx Shearwater, which appears to be struggling in all Mediterranean countries. And the Passerines? Out of 13 species considered, as many as 11 are in a bad state of conservation. This result alone is sufficient to show that we should worry about these species, frequently ignored by initiatives.
What makes a bad situation worse is that, for many of these species, Italy hosts a large percentage of the world’s breeding population, as is the case, for example, of the Marmora’s Warbler

What next?

First of all we must protect habitats. The degradation, destruction, and excessive fragmentation of habitats where birds live and nest are the major threats to species survival. Strengthening the network of protected areas, including co-ordination at an international level, is one of the most effective ways of protecting species and habitat in our country.

Other threatening factors, which require urgent counter-measures are: pollution, introduction of non-native species, hunting and poaching. Even apparently harmless activities, such as rock-climbing and low-altitude flying can cause intolerable disturbance to species, including very rare ones such as Audouin’s Gull and Egyptian Vulture. Further research is required, including in-depth studies of the different populations to determine just how much biodiversity has been irreversibly lost, and above all, how much can and must be done to protect wild birds in our country.


New responsibilities for the “Great of the Earth”

Claudio Celada, Director of Nature Conservation LIPU

LIPU has been present at the work of G8 Environment and Agriculture and preparing for the next meeting at L’Aquila, LIPU has given evidence of the necessity of focussing on the safeguarding of biodiversity at global level. On the horizon is the meeting at Copenhagen, where “After Kyoto” will be discussed.

The meeting of G8, which will be held in July at L’Aquila, will in reality be a “G17”, with the presence of the so-called emerging economies, such as, China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. The meeting at L’Aquila has been preceded by a series of G8 related topics. LIPU has followed the work of G8 Environment and of G8 Agriculture, presided over respectively by the Minister for the Environment and the Guardianship of Earth and Sea, Stefania Prestigiacomo, and the Minister for Agricultural Politics, Food and Forests, Luca Zaia.

Following the foundation worked out by Birdlife International during recent years, LIPU has wished to show the importance of treating themes such as climate change, security of food and the crisis of biodiversity in integrated form and with equal worth. We wanted to show in an appropriate document, available on our site, how it is no longer possible to delay conversion of today’s agriculture to a model more respectful of the environment, protecting soil, water and biodiversity and long-term agricultural productivity and security of food supplies.

Only agro-ecosystems in a good state of conservation will be able to adapt to climate change. Moreover, we can no longer ignore the impact which our style of life and our diet, including the excessive consumption of meat and milk, has on the environment, especially in the developing countries.

Within the ambit of G8 Environment, the ‘Map of Syracuse’ a document which affirms in principle the necessity and urgency of defending biodiversity has been approved, and the strong bond between this necessity, that of stemming global warming, and social themes of global scope and of the ever more dramatic existence of poverty.

Marco Lambertini, Director General of Birdlife International has commented positively – as have the other non-governmental organisations present – on the approved document, but has pointed out the exigency of establishing concrete and measurable objectives within precise time-limits.

Meanwhile, we look forward to a meeting which, it already appears, will be the most important of recent years for the future of the planet. At Copenhagen, in fact, under the aegis of the United Nations, the Great of the Earth will discuss ‘After Kyoto’, and will be called upon to take important, and above all, binding decisions to cure the fever of our planet.

LIPU and Birdlife International recognise the importance and the urgency of a drastic reduction in deforestation, whether in terms of reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases, or in terms of protection of biodiversity, and of the indigenous populations which survive with ever more difficulty in the tropical forests.

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“Counting” sea birds: the method, the results

The census-taking on the sea has been done, scrupulously following the scientific protocol indicated by Birdlife International. This is an important role for the many surveyors involved, many of them volunteers and members of LIPU.

Censuses at sea

To identify the potentially important areas for sea bird species, Marine IBAs, we started with census-taking at sea. The censuses have been made using the transect method – taking a stretch of sea by boat, counting all the birds seen. The surveyor, positioned on one side of the boat, noted all the birds on the water or in flight, indicating whether they were within 300m of the boat or further away.

Those seen within the 300m limit enabled density-values of the species to be taken (number of individuals/ km2). Those individuals seen more than 300m from the boat were used to obtain indicators of abundance (number of individuals/km). During the transects, information concerning the behaviour of the birds was gathered. The presence of marine mammals, the presence of swimming creatures and other matters was also noted. On average, 15 censuses a month were taken which covered a total of 11,709 km. During these counts, 58 different species of birds were seen, of which 22 belong to the marine environment. Four species of whales and the common sea turtle were also seen.

Environmental variability

The types of environment in the areas explored have been gathered from various sources. For example, distance from the coast, distance from the nearest colonies, depth of the sea and the gradient of the sea floor, concentration of chlorophyll-A and the monthly temperature values on the sea surface.

The density values gained were analysed statistically and as a result, mathematical models have been created with which it was possible to predict the density of the birds, so as to be able to identify the areas important for particular species of sea-birds.

Computations from the coast

Other counts have been made of sites on the coast, in relation to their position and geomorphology, where Cory’s Shearwater might be concentrated during their displacement from the Mediterranean. These counts have been made with reference to the Straits of Messina, the Cape of Murro di Porco (Sicily) and the Cape of Otranto (Puglia). For each site, the counts were made during the months of April – May and August – September, with two observations per week.
During these counts, the number of individuals observed and their direction of flight was noted, giving information of daily and monthly movement of Cory’s Shearwater at these sites. With these preliminary data, it appears that there is probably no constant passage of Cory’s Shearwater from Italy to the Balkans via the Cape of Otranto, but rather a daily coming and going of Shearwater from their colony, north of the Cape, to the feeding-grounds.

Studying Scopoli’s Shearwater

In order to further our knowledge of the feeding areas of Scopoli’s Shearwater, research has been carried out on the island of Linosa which holds one of the largest and most important Mediterranean colonies of the species. This research has revealed vital information regarding the movements of breeding individuals from the colonies to feeding areas at sea.

The research was carried out using telemetry with devices attached to the backs of the shearwaters to track flight paths and to reveal the main feeding areas. There are several devices with which to record the position of a bird and the choice of which to use depends on various factors. For example, the weight of the device, the weight of the bird, the ecology of the species and the specific aim of the research, time etc.

For this project, we used GPS-loggers and compass-loggers. GPS-loggers are among the most accurate of instruments available; they receive signals from a series of satellites that record the position of the bird. The various positions are then stored in a memory contained in the device. Since the GPS-logger also memorises the speed of the bird, it is possible, in many cases, to distinguish the feeding areas (where speed is low) from simple flight paths (where speed is high). To recover data, the instrument is removed and the information is loaded onto the computer.

Compass-loggers, on the other hand, are devices containing two compasses, a clock and a temperature gauge. Thanks to the interaction between these instruments, it is possible to reconstruct the movements and direction of the bird. Compass-loggers are less precise than GPS-loggers as far as position is concerned, but are useful for the understanding of behaviour. Compass-loggers have always been removed from the shearwaters and neither GPS nor Compass-loggers have ever been re-attached to the same individual.

Research figures and data

This research was carried out between May and August 2008. During this period, 721 Scopoli’s Shearwaters were ringed and telemetry devices were attached to 76 individuals; this was made possible by the help of many volunteers and, in particular, the indispensable experience of Salvatore Bonadonna from Linosa.

Many flights were recorded both during the period of incubation and during the rearing of the young. In detail, we have 29 flights obtained during the period of incubation (14 GPS and 15 compass) and 29 flights during the rearing of the young (18 GPS and 11 compass). Four individuals returned with devices from which it was impossible to obtain any information, while 14 individuals returned without the devices.

Flight duration varied from one or two days to a week; the longest recorded journey was 20 days during the incubation period.

One particular record, most interesting because it could open up the possibility for collaboration with non-European countries, was the journey of a male bird during the incubation period that flew from Linosa to the Libyan coast and back: 1,348km in six days with an average of 224.7 km a day.

With the data obtained from telemetry, it is now possible to determine the feeding areas used by Scopoli’s Shearwaters during the breeding season and to estimate, using specific analyses, the feeding areas of Linosa’s population of Shearwaters.

The IBA coasts

Four types of pelagic IBAs are identified by Birdlife International. A useful starting point for identifying them is the IBA coasts that often host important colonies of marine birds.

On the basis of the methodology established by BirdLife International for a potential IBA coast to be identified, it is necessary to verify some criteria inherent in the birds’ populations.

These criteria are represented by determining minimum values in the numbers of birds present in the area. Such numbers are fixed in relation to the species, to the abundance of the European and national populations of the species and in relationship to the topology of the IBA coast.

They include

• marine areas in proximity to the nesting colony
• areas of gatherings of non-breeding marine birds
• areas far from land in which the pelagic birds assemble regularly in large numbers
• IBA ‘bottle neck’ areas that constitute, because of particular geomorphological characteristics, an ‘obligatory’ passage for the birds.

The Tuscan Archipelago – a refuge for small migratory birds

The IBA 096 “The Tuscan Archipelago” is located in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the Tuscan coast and comprises seven of the larger islands: Elba, Giglio, Capraia, Montecristo, Pianosa, Giannutri and Gorgona, and two little islands, Deboli and Palmaiola.

The IBA, which measures 28,000 hectares represents, especially in spring, an important stop off area for hundreds of thousands of small migrating birds such as the Marmora’s Warbler and the Spectacled Warbler. If in spring the migration of passeriforms is explosive, in autumn it becomes important for the soaring, spinning passage of raptors.

In the coastal waters and on the rocks, the Shag is often seen diving for food or basking in the sun. Other important species that can be seen in this IBA are the Yelkouan Shearwater that, at night in late winter, emits a song similar to a lament, and the Scopoli’s Shearwater that glides between the waves to find food and breeds on islands off the Tuscan coast. The IBA hosts many other species, such as the rare Black-eared Wheatear, Red-rumped Swallow, Peregrine Falcon and Audouin’s Gull. This gull nests on the islands of Elba and Giglio, where it can be seen fishing on the sea. The waters around the archipelago are part of the international sanctuary for the marine mammals that shelter here, above all in the summer months when an extraordinary number of cetaceans can be seen.

The islands of San Pietro and Sant’Antioco – breeding colony of Eleanora’s Falcon

IBA 191 ‘Islands of S Pietro and S Antioco’ comprises a small archipelago (of originally volcanic islands) situated off the south-west corner of Sardinia. This IBA has a remarkable variety of natural habitats which provide an unusual, wild aspect. The LIPU reserve of Carloforte is situated on San Pietro.

The archipelago represents an important resting and nesting place for many bird species. The rarest and most important of these is the Eleanora’s Falcon that breeds exclusively on the vertical sea cliffs of islands in the Mediterranean.

Every summer over 100 pairs of falcons arrive from Madagascar to nest on these islands. From the middle of June, the cliffs are alive with their calls and courtship flights, with their swooping dives on prey and the phases of the breeding of these splendid raptors. It is possible to see other species too, such as Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Raven and Peregrine.

Above the clear sea, circles the rare Audouin’s Gull with its coral pink bill, while below, there is a
Shag resting on a rock. In the thick brush of the Mediterranean shrubs, a variety of small passerines such as the Sardinian Warbler, the Marmora’s Warbler, the Subalpine Warbler, and the Blue Rock Thrush finds refuge.

The Archipelago of Tavolara, Capo Cerasi and Capo Figari

On IBA 174 ‘Archipelago of Tavolara, Capo Cerasi and Capo Figari’ one finds the most important breeding populations and important global levels of Yelkouan Shearwater. However, the Shag and the Audouin’s Gull return annually to nest on the island of Molara.

This Sardinian paradise comprises the Marine Protected Area of Tavolata Punta Coda Cavallo, 15,000 hectares of sea and about 40km of coastal territory, considered to be among the most beautiful in Sardinia. The coast is characterised by the ancient granite shaped in the Paleozoic age and is rich in Mediterranean shrubs, such as Juniper, Arbutus, and Phillyrea that fall down to the sea.

It is a fascinating landscape with a very high level of biodiversity that gives this archipelago an important natural value. Since 2004, it has been in the care of the Consortium for Management of the Area of Marine Protection. This consists of the three coastal communities of Olbia, San Teodoro and Loiri Porto San Paola.

An absorbing challenge and mysteries still to be revealed

The Mediterranean is a sea where a large part is still to be explored, much of it in respect of marine birds. The ambition is to put in place conservation measures at an international level. The identification of IBAs is a most important first step.

With the project on the Marine IBAs, LIPU has undertaken an absorbing challenge from a scientific point of view which involve many conservation challenges. With regard to the scientific aspect, there are many mysteries to uncover about the birds of the Mediterranean marine environment.

Censuses in the sea involve leading edge technology, like the miniaturisation of satellite devices which can reveal the habits and movements of species such as the Yelkouan Shearwater and Storm Petrel. It takes long hours in the open sea in summer and winter to complete the collection of data that describes the marine environment and the birds that inhabit it.

The second challenge, for some the most important, is that the marine IBAs contribute to the future security of the Mediterranean. The present levels of fish, the damage caused to fish by trawlers, the increased intensity of commercial traffic and pleasure craft may cause one of the richest ecosystems of the planet to collapse.

It is time to reverse the damage. The marine IBAs have the ability to show precisely the many difficulties that are also happening on the land. It is necessary to set up the conservation measures for these parts of the sea through a rigorous and well considered approach.

The Yelkouan’s Shearwaters of Linosa – the most important Italian colony – are dependent on the coastal waters of Libya and Tunisia for their food during the breeding phase of their life cycle. This is a reality that we cannot ignore. But in the marine environment the national borders are transient. The salvation of our “little albatross’ will depend on the capacity for international cooperation to act in this complex Mediterranean sphere. The project to defend the marine birds must continue, LIPU can do it thanks to the help of all its members

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Emilio Nessi , an Italian journalist famous as an animal rights campaigner died in March 2009. This appreciation is written by Paolo Baldi, a journalist from Brescia, who also works as a LIPU volunteer in the anti-trapping campaigns and writes in support of conservation and the environment.

Farewell to the journalist: Nessi’s Ark has lost its helmsman

He made for an unsettling breed of journalist, choosing to work in areas that would otherwise scarcely have gained any attention; and this he did to the end, confronting vested interests through legal challenges and prosecutions, in a life consumed at the pace that comes with riding the wave of the crushing deadlines of the freelance. He brought to light intolerable truths, the power of his words and images unmasking all manner of cruelties and giving great service to those without a voice. And now that Emilio Nessi is no more, through the sudden failure of his generous heart, the broad coalition uniting animals and those who work to protect them is left with a deep sense of solitude, conscious of his irreplaceability.
We could say that Emilio was an ‘activist’ loaned to the cause of animal rights: he was already rubbing shoulders with journalism when in the 1980s he worked in the fire service in Milan, giving photos and invaluable inside knowledge to the Corriere della Sera, the daily for which he worked for some time. Then came the definitive leap, and already expert in the use of still and video cameras, he added to his portfolio the task of a chronicler. From then on he never ceased, quickly gaining the esteem of a wide range of people from those in everyday life to volunteers for wildlife and environmental organisations and workers and officials of the State Forest Corps.

His daily battles involved him with prison-like kennels and livestock markets, with poaching and the traffic in protected species, with the slaughter of African sea-lions and the vile military use of cetaceans. For this he travelled the length of Italy and half the world. In the course of his wanderings, his descriptions provided shocking content in a series of televised items as well as in newspapers and magazines. He also spent some considerable time in the province of Brescia.

Nessi indeed performed outstanding work in aiming a national media spotlight, on numerous occasions, to the horror of the illegal slaughter of our bird life and, moreover, to the odious and unsporting form of hunting practised in this province. This too was a work of long standing in which he related the work of LIPU in combating the practice (for which he was given national recognition by that organisation), then opening up the debate by going beyond the print media and into the air waves, always on Raidue and LA7, giving space to the campaigns of the WWF and the Lega Abolizione Caccia, as well as the work of the Forest Service. But he also came face to face with the troubled relationship of Brescia with the animal world, with involvement also in the campaign for the protection of the amphibians of Lake Idro, with the breeding of dogs destined for vivisection, with strange and unpredictable relationships between humans and snakes and with donkeys burned alive for sport.

Emilio, however, was also a poet, and could tellingly depict the other side of an otherwise completely human-centred world. He published unforgettable books such as the excellent “Theo, the gift of the gods”, the tale of the bonds between a child and a monk seal pup, and perhaps reaching a peak in “Nessi’s Ark”. In this last work, based on his splendid photographs, he had gathered ten incredible stories of women who had dedicated their lives to animals, from the biologist caring for White Storks poisoned by the dumping grounds of Sinai, to the German woman who became a hermit nursing injured sloths back to health in Amazonia.

Generous by nature to all living beings, Nessi died, aged only 59, in the night hours between Thursday and Friday to leave a state of profound grief in the hearts of those fortunate enough to know him, but also the joyful memory of that incredible thatch of white hair, whether appearing behind a video camera zooming onto a rank of archetti, re-emerging from the fencing of a kennel or popping up among the pink dolphins of the Amazon. “Farewell then dear Emilio: the race is still on, and those who care for animals will not let fail the witness you have borne.”

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I have three very welcome contributions from members in this issue – please keep them coming it is always nice to know that I don’t have to write it all!

Margaret Denby writes again, about House Martins in Italy.

In your December 2008 issue you published a little true story by me, connected with birds in Italy - a good story!

Now, I’m going to tell you another, true, Italian bird story – but, this time, a very bad one.

Every time we were staying in our house in Italy (in a tiny village called, wait for it, San Massimo) my husband and I would drive to an Umbrian vineyard to buy their wine, made on the premises. Once we went in April or May when the house martins had nested under the eves of the sheds and the fledgelings had appeared. But there were smashed nests and dead and dying baby birds all over the ground, and the parent birds were flying around, obviously distressed.

My husband and I protested and were told by someone working there that they “had to get down the nests as there was so much dirt under them”.

We left – after expressing our feelings of horror and outrage as well as we could and while at the same time trying not to cause anger which would have been, we felt, counter-productive – without, needless to say, buying any wine. And, we never went there again.

All of which shows how necessary an organisation like LIPU is.

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From Graham Bell of Northumberland:

All who read Ali will be shocked to read of the scale of bird shooting and trapping in Italy, the selfish attitude of illegal hunters and the reluctance of the authorities to take a firm stand.

But it is no use being shocked unless we also DO something about it, and show our support to LIPU in their commendable efforts to improve the situation. Much has been achieved so far but more money is needed and individual donations to LIPU are hugely appreciated, but not everyone can afford to help in this way, so may I suggest a simple and effective alternative way?

Most readers of Ali are members of a local bird club, natural history society, wildlife trust or similar organisation. Why not suggest to the committee that they adopt LIPU as a relevant project to support as a sideline to their organisation’s other regular activities in the current year – relevant because birds are international and the migrants that pass through Italy are on their way to the rest of Europe, including Britain: they do not belong to the hunters.

I realise that club funds are normally too low to allocate much money directly to LIPU, but even the occasional, one-off raffle, produce table, book sale, bird quiz, pledge auction, sponsored bird count, open garden or coffee morning can raise cash and awareness surprisingly quickly – and be fun to do. My own club, the North Northumberland Bird Club easily raised over £700 in one year by doing just a few of these sideline activities. If all local groups did something similar, even on a small scale and just as an adjunct to their year’s programme, the total moral and financial boost to LIPU would be enormous and hugely effective.

Please, go on, give it a try – we cannot let the Italian hunters win!

Graham Bell

Chairman, North Northumberland Bird Club


Orbetello Reserve, Tuscany, on the west coast of Italy, was not new for me. Indeed, when in Rome 24 years earlier, my son and I had begun to build Italian ‘life lists’ there. I still recall our first Golden Oriole and Kentish Plovers during that visit; then we had no car and had even slept at the strange old house on the causeway where WWF sometimes allowed visitors to stay.

Now, 24 years later, it was April again, and I was birding Orbetello again. But 2008 was a cold wet Spring, the trees had no orioles or warblers singing yet. The refuge was closed, but with special permission from the manager, I was allowed in with a German group that had made the necessary ‘advance reservations’; we saw Great Spotted Cuckoo and Short-toed ‘Snake’ Eagle, the latter shutting its wings in fine display dives. At one point the guide pointed way up in the sky at tiny specks that he explained to us were ‘Bald Ibises’, a name that drew a complete blank in bird database in my head. They had risen so high that I could barely tell they were ibises, let alone what kind. A species I had never even heard of, right in the reserve. What was going on?

A brochure back at the visitor centre clarified matters; in the wild Bald Ibis is one of the most endangered birds in Europe. There is but one known breeding group found somewhere in Northern Morocco. Apparently, the birds I had seen at distance had been hand reared in Austria from zoo based parents. Then they learned to follow a micro-light aircraft from Austria to their new wintering grounds where I now stood. High up in the sky they had looked wild enough to me to count on my Italian list; but, by the rules I play by, I had to see them well enough to identify them myself, and I had not.

So, cancelling other birding plans, next morning I returned to Orbetello, first enjoying the Little Gulls along the sea at the Bosco di Pataivella, a pine forest, now part of the reserve. Returning to the main reserve, I found the entrance road open, but all trails closed again. It was windy and a light rain had begun. Not easily deterred where rare birds are concerned, I set up my telescope in the sheltered overhang of a barn like building.

After an hour’s wait, the ibis flock took off from the marsh, flying roughly in my direction and disappeared behind trees. At last I could see their scruffy necks and dull red bills. I had my ‘tick’, but the ibis had much better views in store for me! They reappeared from the trees, so close that I had to abandon the scope for binoculars. Then to my astonishment and joy, they were too close for my binoculars too, flying right over my head, as if in greeting, and landing on the roof of my temporary shelter. So here they were, 15 of the rarest birds in Europe! Wild in the sky yesterday, tame today; I didn’t care. It was a spiritual apotheosis to be visited by such primitive and grand creatures, none of the other kinds of birds I have identified in the wild ever did anything like that!

Now the ibises flew down from the roof and searched for food in the dirt of the car park right beside me, probably seeking a hand out of food, which I knew not to give them. In the excitement of the moment, I dropped my Collins Bird Guide in the dirt, and was too busy digitally clicking away to retrieve it. To my surprise the only adult in this group of young birds strolled over to examine the book. When a second younger bird arrived the adult put his foot on my Collins Guide as if to say, ‘whatever it is, it is mine’. Then both birds together examined the Guide very closely, resulting in the picture below, for which I like the caption:

“… I feel sure our picture is in here somewhere!”

Then two people emerged from a large camper van, newly arrived in the car park; my private reverie with the Bald Ibises was at its end. I explained to the newcomers that these were potentially wild birds and that we must not feed them. After watching from more at respectful distance, the flock took off again for the marsh, hopefully seeking their proper food, and we all left them in peace.

To this day the visit of the Ibis remains a most sacred interlude in my life long chase for yet another ‘new bird’. Thank you WWF and LIPU. Thank you re-introduction programmes. You are making a better Italy.


The killing grounds of Messina

That should really be the former killing grounds because LIPU can celebrate a major success here during the spring migration. The “protection” camp is still there but the emphasis of the work has changed dramatically.

Instead of facing very real danger, and watching as thousands of birds are blasted from the sky, our volunteers are still showing a presence and deterring any resurgence of the poaching, but they are also contributing to our knowledge of the flight paths of these birds on their great migration. This year, the camp ran from 20 April to 20 May and although it was concentrating on raptors a total of 31,769 migrating birds was observed.

The teams were based on five sites around Sicily, the islands of Pantelleria, Marettimo, Panarea, Ustica and on the Strait of Messina.

Honey Buzzards used to be the main target of the poachers as they said that a man who failed to shoot a Honey Buzzard in the spring would be cuckolded by his wife! Thousands were shot in the dark days of the last century but this year 28,421 were recorded flying safely through to their breeding grounds in Europe, that’s 89% of all the birds observed.

This is excellent work which has a real importance to the future of the birds, not just in ensuring their safety from the poachers, but also the building of science-based data which will be used to make the strongest case for conservation.

The last thing to say about this is that it was entirely funded by you – the members and friends of LIPU-UK as it has been for many years – my thanks to you all.

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Our presence at the Birdfair will have a new format this year; trustee, Carol Debney, who wrote the editorial for this issue is co-ordinating the stand and Shirley and I will be there on the Friday only this year. I look forward to meeting any visitors to the fair on that day.

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There have been problems with my mail and some has been returned to senders marked, “Gone Away”; I haven’t gone away and the Royal Mail are investigating. If mail is returned please try again and we hope all will return to normal very soon. Thank you.

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Translation of this issue has been done so well by:

Cicely Adelson, Caterina Paone, Peter Rafferty, and Carol Debney who co-ordinated the work – my thanks to all.

Line drawings are used courtesy of the RSPB and the photographs are © Ned Mueller and David Lingard.

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Translation of this issue has been done so well by:

Cicely Adelson, Caterina Paone, Peter Rafferty, and Carol Debney who co-ordinated the work - well done.

Line drawings are used courtesy of the RSPB and the photographs are © Ned Mueller and David Lingard.