The Hoopoe

The Hoopoe - January 2003, incorporating Ali Notizie

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DARK TIMES FOR ITALIAN NATURE

It has been a terrible year for birds in the Mediterranean with every step forward seemingly being followed by three back. The present government has no interest in preserving the environment and is simply concerned with business, industry and the interests of its supporters.

In the last Ali Notizie I promised to bring you good news in this newsletter but I am sorry to have to admit that this is impossible at the moment.

LIPU and other Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have fought a desperate rearguard battle to stop the government granting derogations to the regions which will allow them to change their hunting laws and thus avoid the limitations of European law enshrined in the Birds Directive and other laws. They have lost those battles and the present situation is described in detail by Ariel Brunner of LIPU's Conservation Department in following pages. The prospect is not good but I would not call it bleak - even in the present slide back through the progress made over decades, there are some positive things onto which we can cling.

We are not alone - there are many environmental NGOs in Italy and all are united in their commitment to oppose the government. Any minor differences of outlook or interest have been put aside for this struggle which is much more important than individual aims or ambitions.

Much has been said over the last year of legal cases and actions in the courts. It gives me enormous joy and encouragement to know that most of the lawyers involved are giving their services either freely or at a substantial discount. That surely means that we are not alone, that the ordinary people of Italy feel as strongly as LIPU does - that the state of the natural world is worth protecting and that they will stand up and be counted in this struggle.

I am very aware that there is a risk with almost constant bad news that people might think that all is lost and there is no longer any point in supporting LIPU, but surely the opposite is true - our support is even more vital than ever. There is no place for despondency and the need is real, please help us take the support for our friends in Italy to even greater heights than before because this year is very, very important to the future of birds flying in and over Italy.

RAYS OF HOPE

Although the situation is serious at the moment, it is important that we don't lose sight of the successes - even though we wish there were more of them.

Basilicata

Later in this issue you'll read of the progress of the legal campaign to stop the encroachment of concrete on the last strip of coastline of Basilicata in the south. It does look as though we've won this one and local awareness has been raised so much that further attempts to build holiday villages will not go unnoticed.

Brescia

A German group has, for the last couple of years, been extending the work of LIPU by patrolling the valleys of Brescia collecting traps and spoiling the evil plans of the trappers in that area - as I said, we are not alone, every volunteer can help here.

Between 14 September and 20 October they collected 9600 traps, 57 nets and freed 25 decoy birds. Add this to the average figures of the LIPU team of 11000 traps, 100 nets and 1000 birds freed and one can see the scale of the task facing these brave people.

Herons

Lynette Webb wrote from Dorset reminding me that Virgil, in his Aeneid, advises, "Don't give way to misfortunes, but carry on however Fortune allows you.". She continues, "The town where my father was born had this very quotation as its motto, surmounted by a heron. He always regarded herons as a good luck omen; to me they are a symbol of hope. Remember that whenever you see a heron!".

Conservation News from Italy

HUNTING UPDATE

A personal update by Ariel Brunner, Conservation Dept

Dear David,

As you know the main battle on the hunting front has been fought this year on the derogation law. Unfortunately we have lost, and the new law allows the regions to derogate (claim exemption from) the Birds Directive as to hunting season and huntable species. They won't even need to ask for authority from the national wildlife institute (INFS). We'll see the implications of the new law next year. Meanwhile, many regions have passed (illegally) laws and provisions that already anticipate the new law.

A short list:

Emilia Romagna: Hunting allowed for starling, house sparrow and tree sparrow,

Liguria: Starling and chaffinch,

Lombardia: Starling, house sparrow, tree sparrow, chaffinch and brambling,

Puglia: Hunting allowed in February,

Sardinia: Hunting allowed in February,

Tuscany: Starling, house sparrow and tree sparrow

Veneto: Starling, house sparrow, tree sparrow, chaffinch, brambling, collared dove, cormorant

We (working with the other NGOs) have managed to block the regional laws in courts in Puglia, Lombardy and Sardinia.

Lombardy has passed a new regional hunting law that include such jewels as the crime of "disturbance to hunting activity", levying heavy fines on whoever disturbs a hunter during his activity. This fine is higher if the "disturber" is a voluntary game warden!

But the worst is still to come. Last week a bunch of proposals have been presented in parliament asking for complete revision of the nation hunting law.

It's a real nightmare.

Wild animals will stop being the property of the state. Migratory birds will become "res nullius", belonging to no one - therefore non-existent from a legal point of view. Sedentary fauna will become property of the local hunting commissions, independent bodies whos' boards will be composed of one member for every hunting association (including local, tiny and ad hoc ones), one member for the farmers' unions and one for all the environmentalist NGOs (combined). In practice sedentary birds will become property of the hunters unions!

Then there are proposals for hunting from August to March (plus various loopholes for the rest of the year).

Lots of species added to the huntable list including such grotesque cases as the Wryneck! All hunting offences will become administrative contraventions instead of crimes: ie shooting an eagle owl will bring the same consequences of double parking your car or speeding too much on the highway (and you've seen Italian highways and parking lots…).

We are working very closely with the anti hunting panel that includes most Italian environmentalist and animal welfare NGOs to prepare what looks ever more like the "mother of all battles".

Of course apart from hunting we are facing a new law enabling the government to sell state property including natural and cultural heritage sites in order to finance the big infrastructures such as new highways, the Messina strait bridge and the Moses project in Venice lagoon.

Then there's another law under discussion that would open up protected areas to hunting and deregulated building. And the list can go on...

Dark times for Italian nature.

DEFENDING WILDLIFE

by Rino Esposito

Illegal hunting is on the increase, as practised by the hunting fraternity in general - born of ignorance and of the well-founded belief that there is little fear of being caught - as well as by specialists seeking economic gain, out of tradition or simply as a challenge to authority.

During the seasons of migration, millions of robins, wrens, nightingales, blackcaps and other small birds are ensnared while crossing the Brescia Valleys, to turn up later as "polenta e oséi", a popular regional dish.

Along the Straits of Messina, birds - raptors in particular - are massacred by gunfire from concrete bunkers, some even built on rooftops. In Puglia, within nature reserves like the salt-works in Margherita di Savoia, frequented by large numbers of wildfowl, and on the lakes of Lesina and Varano, birds falling prey to illegal hunting include short-eared owls, marsh harriers, cranes and stilts. The list goes on and on. In the Venetian lagoons, the victims of this senseless persecution are grebes, herons, divers and cormorants, killed in order to supply the lucrative market of the taxidermist. On the delightful islands in the Gulf of Naples, quails and turtledoves, peregrine falcons and kingfishers come under fire. And we must not omit to mention the orgy of bloodletting inflicted on waterfowl by the Camorra. This is perpetrated from bunkers belonging to this unholy gang along the coastline in the province of Caserta, and results in the mass slaughter of flamingos, stilts, garganey and teal.

To counteract this widespread lawlessness, every branch of the police is deploying its forces, each with specific surveillance tasks. LIPU's Anti-poaching Division co-operates in these operations, creating and co-ordinating plans of action in the main trouble spots.

Manning look-out posts is one of LIPU's main activities. The one we have set up on the Calabrian slopes opposite the Straits of Messina is a good example. No less important is the work done by our volunteers, who patrol and deal with offenders, like the group led by LIPU Inspector Piergiorgio Candela in the Brescia valleys.

Then there is the legal work and lobbying, our environmental education campaigns, the promotion of nature walks and birdwatching in areas where hunting is widely practised, thus peacefully patrolling the territory

An important example of our legal work is represented by Operation 'Free Flight' aimed at protecting the avifauna along the littoral west of Caserta.

LIPU has 100 volunteers working as rangers to protect birds and the environment. They are always ready to take appropriate action when warning signals are received. They are trained to uncover illegal trafficking in protected species, bird snares, poaching and other environmental offences. Surveillance work requires volunteers of a certain calibre and commitment, and those working for and representing LIPU also fulfil public duties as administrative and judicial officers, albeit with limited resources, for which they require considerable training in ecology and the law. They also need self-control and strong nerves.

But let us see what it really means to be a ranger for LIPU by listening to some of our more active volunteers describing their experiences.

Fulvia Mamone Capria

Youth Defending Nature

It was 1986. I was thirteen, with my LIPU membership card in my pocket. As an aspiring ornithologist, every Sunday I would go to my favourite place - the bird market, which was held in a run-down corner of Naples. I would spend the morning going up and down the lines of narrow cages, watching sadly as, trapped inside, birds flapped their wings. I asked myself what I could do to relieve this horrible suffering. I would have liked to free them all but, with the cash I had on me, I was never able to give back freedom to more than a few. And so I used to make my way home with the vision etched on my mind of the massacre that was going on in the full view of all, including the law enforcers, but with everyone seeming to pretend that nothing was wrong.

I realised that for me to go on buying caged birds in order to free them was mistaken, even if done in good faith, for it simply encouraged people to capture more of them. So I decided to write to LIPU and ask them to get involved, and offered to identify some of the poachers myself. I was only a boy and I was frightened. I'd already been threatened by some of the traders for having begged them not to sell blind birds or to catch fledglings, but I consoled myself that what I was doing was right.

It didn't take long for LIPU to reply. They said they had alerted their rangers in Naples, who would soon be inspecting the market and removing any protected species they found. A few days later, I was told that all was ready for the big raid. With my parents' permission, one Sunday morning I was back again, this time in the company of rangers and fifty or so Carabinieri. Police cars and jeeps blocked all escape routes. A number of rangers who had mingled with the crowd arrested the most suspect traders, while I, protected by a group of policemen, walked around the stalls, nervously pointing out where birds were kept hidden.

And the end result of the operation? 2200 birds taken away for release; 40 people accused of trading in protected species. Today, that thriving but hellish market has vanished, and for this we are indebted to the persistence of the rangers: young people constantly facing danger, whose courage and determination, since 1985, have played a vital role in the struggle against cruelty to animals in and around Naples, removing wild creatures from captivity and returning them to their rightful place. Thanks to that experience at the market, I have become one of them.

Giorgio Paesani

I am admiring the flocks of woodpigeons heading towards the ridge. I can hear the voices of hunters shouting to each other as they lie in wait, and then the guns start firing. Flight patterns break up, bodies fall. The ones still in the air turn back, but return a little later to face the execution squad for a second time. Each hunter fires one - two - three - four - five - six shots.....three is the maximum permitted.

That did it for me. I can't stand people who think they can do just as they please, flouting the law at others' expense, not to mention the environment and its natural inhabitants. And it annoys me when they think they can always get away with it. Which is the main purpose of our rangers, to undermine this feeling of impunity.

When we arrive somewhere and start looking around, and after we've taken the first culprits by surprise, the others have probably had enough time to cover up anything illicit they've done, but still they're aware they can't do whatever they like.

Creeping up and taking by surprise, even in places that are hard to reach, is an important skill that has to be learnt. I remember the police roadblock with the Carabinieri and when we felt we were drawing a blank, and when it all changed with the sight of three poachers loaded down with small birds. Apart from the fact that they were all charged, it was the effect it had on all hunters that was significant. They no longer felt immune around their homes or in their own cars.

One night there was a serious risk of a punch-up, but since then, even the stronghold of the illegal fishing fraternity is a different place. When you think about it, even the Straits of Messina, the Brescia Valleys and the Domitio Littoral near Caserta, for 'some characters' are not as they used to be.

So who is twisting my arm? It must be the awareness that conservation also means ensuring that the laws designed to protect the environment are to be obeyed, inconvenient though this may be, but in some areas and in certain cases, acting on this awareness is the only immediate remedy.

Cristina Nera

Three years in the field

I became a ranger for LIPU because I could no longer stand by while raptors with gunshot wounds were being delivered by their kind rescuers to Bosco Negri, the LIPU refuge near Pavia and my place of work for the past nine years. I wanted people to respect the laws on animal welfare; I wanted to be in the 'front line' and make hunters aware that we were indeed breathing down their necks, to make them fear our sudden appearance just as they were, perhaps, getting ready to slaughter a protected animal.

I am the only voluntary environmental ranger in the province of Pavia. I'm usually out working with three bright and motivated local policemen. When we first went out into the country together, hunters were reluctant to show their permits to a woman, but after two years of reporting them and taking action against them, I'm treated with more respect.

In this province throughout the migration seasons, hundreds of hunters from Bergamo and Brescia turn up for their regular massacre of passerines. Our job is to find the temporary camps they set up in the plains. Here we find dead birds hidden in ditches, under straw and vehicles. The first time I was asked to identify the species that had been felled, they were reed bunting, but it took me some time to come up with a name, so badly had they been torn apart. I was extremely upset.

We also keep an eye on fixed firing positions, from where waterfowl and passerines are shot, the latter mainly in the mountains where the magnificent landscape is suddenly made less appealing by the crack of gunfire from hunters as they emerge from their huts to bring death to chaffinches, brambling, hawfinches and tits, which are attracted by the chirps of their kin in cages hanging from trees.

In the evening, we set about issuing penalties to local hunters who shoot wildfowl after dark. Next week, we're going to try something new: wild-boar hunters are going to be kept under a watchful eye.

So far in my career, I've concentrated on birds, but when within the space of three days I witnessed the deaths of a fallow deer and a roebuck (one year old, it died in front of me as the vet tried to save it), I decided to join in the fight against that barbarity as well. I've made up my mind and I'm going to haul them in, even if it involves spending nights hiding in the woods waiting for them to return to claim their next illegally butchered prey.

ANTI-POACHING

Brescia: In the front line

Serious attacks on LIPU volunteers

Since time immemorial in the valleys of Brescia province, poaching using "bow" traps has been common practice: these deadly devices are made with a branch of hazel or a steel wire bent like a bow and held under tension with a second thread and a wooden twig fixed to one end. As soon as a small bird alights on the twig, attracted by berries, the twig gives way and the bow springs back violently making the noose jerk up over the feet of the bird, breaking them and causing terrible agony. Every year, timed to coincide with the autumn migration, and in the face of the rulings of the legal authorities, of repeated questions in parliament, public indignation expressed in many reports on television and in the press, hundreds of thousands of snares are set throughout the woods of the magnificent valleys of Brescia.

This illegal activity takes place untroubled in the almost complete absence of any intervention on the part of any of the local forces set up by the authorities to control the area: even today there are those who justify the unauthorised use of bow traps in the name of traditional customs of the Brescian valleys.

Only in the autumn of 1986 did the full gravity of this illegal activity become completely public thanks to LIPU's Poaching Surveillance Group sent into Brescia in response to numerous complaints from members of the public. The volunteers, under the command of Inspector Piergiorgio Candela, were able to confirm the presence of snares and bow traps containing dying robins everywhere they looked. Thanks to their report to the Judicial Authorities they obtained permission to check on dozens of restaurants in which they found thousands of Robins, Wrens, Blackcaps, Nightingales, Dunnocks, Tits and other insectivorous birds already prepared for cooking on the spit.

The local press began to be interested in them, followed by the national and foreign media (including the BBC) and reactions were not long in coming. Volunteers were shot at and beaten and some had to be treated in hospital. Tyres were slashed and there were protests from some mayors and from the people behind the poachers.

Piergiorgio Candela, held responsible for "interfering with the traditional use of bow traps for catching robins for the oven and for acts of repression against the poachers" was wounded twice in September 1995 by gunshots to the head and the left arm.

Other such serious acts of intimidation, clearly Mafia inspired, have occurred without fail each autumn while those responsible remain, equally without fail, unpunished. Until, that is, the latest episode, which took place on the 6th October last at Laverone, in the Sabbia Valley (a few kilometres from Lake Idro). Inspector Candela and his colleague Ida Carlini who on this occasion were accompanied by the journalists, Paolo Baldi and Emilio Nessi, were assaulted by a well known poacher from the area who tried repeatedly to hit them with a scythe and a billhook (an outrageous and repeated attempt at murder). He also damaged their vehicle, breaking the windscreen, the rear window, the side windows, the radiator and slashing two tyres. A very serious event, made worse (and assisted) by the failure to act on the part of various local officials. On this issue there have been many questions in parliament and repeated injunctions from the Attorney General urging the forces of law and order to intervene seriously in order to put a stop to such criminal activity.

There are positive signs however coming from the special Anti poaching Group of the National Forest Rangers which has for years been sent into the Brescia valleys under the general direction of the Ministry, provoking hysterical protests from the powerful godfathers of the poachers.

All the forces should be united to restore the area of Brescia to legality and security, not only for our volunteers and for birdlife but also for the citizens and the families who would like to be able to enjoy their own natural heritage in freedom. They want woods in which it is possible to go for a healthy stroll without having to suffer the awful vision of snare wires festooned with dying birds and without the fear of violent attack from poachers angry at being disturbed.

Two operations

Thanks to the enthusiasm and the research carried out by our member in Latina, Giovanni Peretta, as well as that of the LIPU delegate, Gastone Gaiba, an important anti-poaching operation was set up by the Boat Commando section of the Customs and Excise of Formia under the direction of Lieutenant Luigi Vitiello. Two poachers from Naples were stopped and charged while they were shooting waterbirds from a boat at the mouth of the river Garigliano. Their guns, boat and the illicit bag were all confiscated. The operation took place at 5 o'clock in the morning using both a rubber boat and a decoy car belonging to the Customs.

On the 20th October, in another instance, LIPU Wardens and National Forest Rangers from provincial headquarters in Naples raided the market in Naples, confiscating around 300 birds including Goldfinches, Blackcaps, Chaffinches, Serins, Robins and Linnets. Both the accused were freed on bail but three snares were confiscated. All the birds were ringed and set free in the wood at Capodimonte.

THE LAST BEACH

A decisive step has been taken to save "the last beach". The Regional Administrative Council has welcomed the help of LIPU against the "megavillage" project at Scanzano Jonico.

The "Last Beach" campaign organised by the Committee for the defence of the Jonica Lucana coastline and by LIPU, to defend the last 40 kilometres of untouched coastline in Basilicata has obtained an important result. The Regional Administrative Council of Basilicata has welcomed support against the move to change the Local Development Plan of Scanzano Jonico, which allowed for the construction of a tourist megavillage by a multinational company. This is a decision which brings considerable satisfaction to those who for years have been contesting the attempts by the multinationals to cover the coastline of Basilicata with concrete and wipe out one of the last corners of unpolluted nature in the country. Now the other side has only until 31st December to appeal to the Council of State, and so this decision by the Regional Council should be the final word on the matter.

Greater Protection

The Regional Council (TAR) has welcomed our support. It has concentrated on the first of the numerous critical points of our evidence, holding it to be sufficient to stop the development. It judged that a simple administrative decision of its President, to such a change of the Countryside Plan for the area, to be illegal. This change, were it to be necessary, would have to be made through the deliberation of the entire council based on a detailed technical study by the experts and an ad hoc commission.

However, if ever this were to happen it would become evident that the project was even then illegal, given that the area in question is in need of further protection. In fact, within the zone several SICs (sites of community importance) have been designated by the selfsame Region together with the European Union. These areas form part of the great European natural network known as Natura 2000 and are closely monitored by the EU.

Tourism and Oil

"The area threatened by CIT Holding's project", to quote LIPU's Director of Conservation, Claudio Celada, "is of the greatest natural significance given the presence of habitats under threat throughout Europe and being also on a major bird migration route. The regional countryside plan should therefore keep this in mind and always seek to improve and not make worse the level of protection

The Regional Council has taken note of how the Region had failed to pay due regard to these aspects and had strayed down the road of illegality, aimed at increasing profit rather than seeking to promote actions aimed at the protection and development of the land under its jurisdiction, as is provided in the regional law which it would appear it is trying to evade. The violations were so serious that the Ministry of the Environment, on the 16 September last, had written a letter in which it was inviting the Region of Basilicata to provide clear information on the projected works with the aim of avoiding legal procedures for non-compliance on the part of the European Union against the Italian State. The threats to these sensitive places, the mouths of the rivers Bradano, Basento, Cavone, Agri and Sinni, as well as the forest of Pantano di Policoro, come from the tourism sector as much as from that of oil, as the case of the Agri Valley bears out. As an alternative to these shenanigans LIPU proposes a round table on sustainability involving all the people who live their daily lives in the area. The "Last Beach" campaign has been financed by funds derived from the Panettoni Operation of 2001 and so our thanks go to all those who have contributed by buying LIPU's cakes.

BIRDWATCHING

WINTER WATERFOWL

by Guido Premuda

The fog floods over the marsh and dissolves the shapes of the landscape, and cold pricks the face like a shower of tiny needles. Alas, there comes the echo of shots. At last, the sun begins to burn the mist away. Down below, in the middle of the reed bed, where the ice had left a window of open water, a few dark shapes can be made out. Winter ducks. And this is the best time to see them, because as well as the resident and commoner species, there are wintering birds from northern Europe.

From the behavioural point of view, ducks can be divided into two main groups: dabbling and diving ducks. In all species the more striking plumage belongs to the male, while the females are cryptic and plainer.

Dabbling ducks

Dabbling ducks chiefly frequent fresh shallow waters, ponds and marshes, where they are able to reach the bottom to feed, staying on the surface and immersing the body, with the tail left curiously aloft.

The Mallard is the best known, the commonest and the most hunted! The iridescent green of its head has an almost regal look, until one hears its the jeering bray of its call. The Gadwall is less eye catching, though its grey tones are elegant even so, and finely and subtly marked on close examination. The long neck, small head and long tail of the Pintail make it surely the most slender and elegant of the dabblers. The Shoveler has bright and strongly contrasting plumage, and is named for its huge broad bill. The Wigeon is smaller, but the smallest is the Teal, with its bandit mask and readily identifiable vertical takeoff from the water when alarmed.

Diving Ducks

Diving ducks on the other hand are usually found in deep water, often lakes where they feed by total immersion at depth.

Commonest is the Pochard, with grey and brown plumage, while the beautiful and noble Red-Crested Pochard has a more easterly distribution, and is rare in Italy in winter. The Tufted Duck is a familiar winter species, with an attractive black and white plumage and the quiff of feathers on the head of the male. Other Aythya ducks are the little Ferruginous Duck, with its beautiful tobacco-coloured mantle, and the Scaup, a rare visitor from northern Europe.

One might discuss the sea ducks further, all members of the diving group, and coming from the High Arctic to winter in the Mediterranean basin, on the lakes of northern Italy or on the coastal lagoons. The Eider, a large black and white duck, is concentrated on the coasts of the upper Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas, while the Goldeneye, with its white cheek patch, is found on the great Alpine lakes and the coastal lagoons.

The blackest of ducks are the Scoter and Velvet Scoter. The prize for attractiveness and elegance among sea ducks belongs surely to the Long-Tailed, and the male's winter livery, black and white with that long fine tail.

Mention must be made also, when talking of the true ducks, of the sawbills, Red-Breasted Merganser, Goosander and Smew. One should also beware of confusing the common Coot with ducks, in reality a rail, despite sharing their habitat and many aspects of their behaviour.

IN THE COUNTRYSIDE

The varieties of birds in agricultural habitats are many, but some are decreasing.

by Marco Gustin.

It is occurring in many European countries, in the warmer south of our country and in the north: many bird species associated with the countryside are in drastic decline. In England, several species, generally regarded as common, such as the house sparrow and the starling, are now on the red list, a catalogue of the more threatened species.

In Italy, the decline of countryside species is evident, mainly those frequenting low plains. Some examples: The Wryneck (Jynx torquilla), that derives its name from its curious habit of elongating and slowly twisting its head, and probably a defence mechanism, pretending to be a snake, has drastically diminished because of the disappearance of the frameworks of sticks and stakes once used to support vines, and its important foodstuffs, such as ants. It is the only migrant woodpecker that leaves our countryside in winter for Africa. It has a straight and powerful flight, quite different from the typical undulating flight of the woodpeckers.

If you modify the environment, there are consequences. Hedges, for example, are becoming more rare, and yet in these tiny worlds small birds find food (buds, berries, and insects), shelter, and a place suitable for constructing their nests. No hedges, no Red-backed Shrikes (Lanius collurio), no Lesser Grey Shrikes (Lanius minor) or Stonechats (Saxicola torquata). All these species are declining, alarmingly. Like the Wryneck, the Red-backed Shrike and the Lesser Grey winter in Africa but when they return to our latitudes they find an agricultural habitat ever more compromised and unwelcome.

The two shrikes are characterised by a strong beak, the terminal part being hooked, and though this is not always seen, they have their own peculiarity, that of stringing their prey on thorns and twigs and even on barbed wire. The disappearance of their prey, mainly Coleoptera (Flying beetles), Lepidoptera (butterflies), Hymenoptera (wasps) is one of the key factors that has contributed to the decline of the shrikes in the rural areas given over to intensive farming.

The pollution of agricultural land and the disappearance of stubble or of land left fallow has brought about a decline in the Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra) population. This smallish bird looks like a large sparrow, with a camouflaged, unobtrusive appearance. It nests on the ground, frequenting open countryside, but countryside rich in hedges and ditches. Unfortunately, today, the ditches are often places for chemical weed killers or converted to concrete pipes. So we have fewer and fewer sightings of our typical countryside birds; the agricultural environment certainly does not encourage them.

Agricultural productivity has accelerated markedly in the last decade, extensive farming with intensive techniques, the massive use of fertilisers and pesticides have all significantly reduced the number of breeding species. Therefore, LIPU is in favour of the Medium Term Reforms of the CAP proposed by the European Commission to allow an increase of funding to those farmers who wish to return to an agricultural system that is more respectful of the environment and that will bring back the biodiversity of the Italian and European countryside.

THE SALT FLATS OF PRIOLO

33 hectares of Nature saved from the scrap heap.

by Carmelo Iapichino

The latest of the Nature Reserves managed by LIPU, the salt flats of Priolo is surely one of the most unusual of protected areas: 33 hectares of wet land left over from a vast salt marsh surviving in the heart of an oil refinery plant, the largest in Italy, that stretches from Syracuse to Augusta, in the south east of Sicily.

It is an area that has featured in the annals of environmental pollution and degradation and yet one that retains surprising natural elements. This last part of the salt flats was about to be filled in, when LIPU intervened in the nineteen eighties and prevented its disappearance. Between a power station and a beach, that was until a few years ago a bathing resort, the saltings have been a Nature Reserve since March 2001, and have been entrusted to LIPU. In contrast to the surrounding territory, they retain a strong educational potential. LIPU's first undertaking in the schools was to contact more than three thousand pupils, in one year, using instructional materials, including a beautiful video. It was shown for the first time last February in the presence of Danilo Mainardi, the LIPU president, and more than two hundred other people.

Shelter for many species.

More than 220 species have been recorded to date in the Reserve; the major concentration of birds is mainly in the autumn, with hundreds of sandpipers, slender billed gulls and grey herons. A large number of Caspian Terns have made it a stopover point, probably the most important for them in Italy, so much so that they have been chosen as the Reserve's symbol.

Every year there are breeding Black-winged Stilts, dozens of Kentish Plovers, up to forty Little Terns and, irregularly, certain species of duck such as Ferruginous Duck and Shelduck.

Rarities are not lacking, above all amongst the sandpipers. On the Saline the only Italian sighting of the Greater Sandplover has been recorded, and the only European record of the Pintail Snipe. Several times the Terek Sandpiper and the Broad-billed Sandpiper have appeared, and also the American Pectoral Sandpiper and the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. On the adjacent peninsula of Magnisi, a future archaeological park, nest several pairs of Stone Curlew and many Calandra Larks.

Reclamation of the land

The founding of the Reserve at Priolo was very much of an event. At this spot began our attempts to change what had really become a rubbish tip: the removal of tons of refuse, and the restoration of a green strip, (thanks here to the help from a work co-operative of handicapped people), the restoration of a perimeter fence, the installation of entrance gates, the putting up of notice boards.

Then came lots of promotional initiatives culminating in a well-attended classical music concert at the end of summer. Interest is growing and new initiatives are being set up in the area. The industrial company ERG has almost 'adopted' the Reserve and is now completing the first few stretches of proper pathway and the construction of three observation hides; with the IAS purifying plant, they are setting up a means to refill the pools in periods of drought. They have teamed up with the municipal workers of Priolo. Items such as gates and other new installations are being done together.

But jobs to do still exceed jobs done! Programmed for the future is the total enclosure of the area to discourage vandalism and the recent inevitable poachers, the removal of an old abandoned oil pipeline that crosses the reserve, and the construction of new pathways and suchlike.

Translation of this issue by: Bryan Lewis, Alan Morgan, Peter Rafferty, John Walder and Brian Horkley.

A RETURN TO NEWS FROM LIPU-UK

REGIONAL GASTRONOMY

by Brian Horkley, of LIPU-UK

In a small, fairly isolated restaurant, in a valley near Brescia in northern Italy a party of six await the arrival of the main dish, wine opened, glasses charged.

In comes the waiter bearing a large serving plate, piled with a steaming portion of golden polenta, topped by thirty skewered small birds, crisp and ready to be eaten whole.

It is "polenta e osei", a dish of boiled maize flour, polenta, and served with small songbirds, sometimes grilled or sautéed, eaten bones and all, sometimes stewed in wine. The birds are flamed to remove feathers, and have their eyes, beaks and feet removed. Traditionally they are not eviscerated, but can also be cleaned and stuffed. It is a dish that has been highly regarded for many years in the sub-alpine valleys of northern Italy, for instance around Bergamo and Brescia.

In many of these localities overhunting and antihunting laws have reduced the availability of small birds, the principle ingredient. To the east, in Friuli, north of Venice, for example, this has undoubtedly affected Livenza's annual Sagra degli Osei, a festival held every third Sunday in August for 721 years. There the songbirds have been replaced by pieces of other meats. However, there is still a demand for the traditional dish, satisfied by unscrupulous poachers and restaurant owners.

In the distant past the annual harvest of small birds was no doubt a welcome addition to the frugal diet of many poor country people. Those days, however, have long gone and spurious claims to maintaining tradition can no longer be supported, when environmental issues and protection of wildlife have become more urgent.

In the Bresciano valleys the season extends from September to December. The main species caught are robins, wrens, nightingales, blackcaps, goldcrests and other species of small birds. Two to three million birds may still be taken in a single season, each one worth about one pound sterling when sold on to some restaurant still willing to serve their illegal meals.

Several methods are used to capture the birds. Some are caught in traps, the notorious "archetti", where they hang for hours by their broken legs. They will then be "harvested", throttled and sold to owners of some "typical" restaurant establishments where the menu includes spit roasted dishes, mainly of robins. This happens in San Zeno, the Val Trompia, the Val Sabbia and above the lake at Iseo. Mist nets are also employed, slung between poles and stretching for hundreds of metres, catching everything unfortunate enough to fly into their path.

Shooting is another popular activity. Some birds are used as "richiami", live decoys, to attract their unsuspecting fellows. Birds condemned to be decoys must live in tiny cages where they can hardly even open their wings. To make them sing in autumn these poor victims are kept in the dark all summer, to deliberately upset their biological clock. When they finally see the light of day - in September - they are convinced that it is still spring and they start to sing, bringing down other birds onto the hunters' guns. But the hunters do not stop there, many blind the birds to make them sing all year, or tie them to poles, which are shaken to make them flutter about and attract other birds.

Two hundred goldfinches in tiny cages, piled up in a warehouse in Pozzuoli, many of them blinded to make them sing better, many of them already dead. That was the horrifying sight that met LIPU investigators and Finance Guards. The birds had been unlawfully taken from the wild and after many had died from heat, lack of air and maltreatment, the remainder were to be sold at high prices for their singing qualities.

Although the total number of hunters has decreased, there has not been a corresponding decrease in illegal activities. LIPU's Anti-poaching Unit operates in Brescia. In a single season the Unit, composed of four volunteers and co-ordinated by Piergiorgio Candela, confiscated 11,000 traps, with more than 1000 robins and hundreds of other dead small birds, removed more than 70 nets and recovered almost 400 birds from traps or which were being used as live decoys. The presence of the Unit is a substantial deterrent, hindering the poachers and preventing the placing of thousands of traps. Its activities are certainly not welcome in these valleys, and Piergiorgio himself was shot and wounded in 1995 and has since been threatened again.

Over a thirteen year period the State authorities and volunteer organisations have confiscated more than 400,000 archetti, some indication of the size of the problem.

For more than twenty years, with admirable willpower and the support of LIPU, Piergiorgio and his wife Ida Carlini, and other volunteers, have given up their holidays to spend the most critical months of the year, in autumn, patrolling the mountains from dawn to dusk, by almost impassable tracks, in the search for traps.

For years poaching has been little contested by those authorities which are responsible for surveillance. In 1999, however, there was an important change: the Provincial Administration of Brescia for the first time took an official position against poaching, putting their own rangers into action in the worst affected areas. For a time it looked as though the situation might be brought under better control.

However, in April 2002 news was released of disturbing developments that could lead to trattorie and restaurants being able once again to legally serve robins and chaffinches. The Italian government is preparing to present modifications to the hunting and conservation laws. It would allow shooting of small migratory birds that are presently protected by the EU. Individual Regions would be able to authorise their own hunting lists for any period of the year. Thus "polenta e osei" could once again become entirely legal, both to supply and to serve.

It is evident that the struggle to protect robins, chaffinches, bramblings, blackcaps, goldfinches, buntings and others is not yet over. That struggle is set to continue in Parliament, and on the ground, where environmental activists will continue to face the difficulties, indeed the dangers, of facing up to poachers who will be encouraged by the track that the government seems intent on taking.

LIPU-UK is entirely opposed to these proposed changes and stands in support of LIPU and other environmental organisations. The hunting lobby in Italy is extremely powerful but individual members of LIPU-UK, being full members of LIPU, can combine with all the other organisations to bring pressure in support of the real victims, the principle players in "polenta e osei".

THE LIPU ANNUAL APPEAL- 2002

Thanks to all our members and friends for the success of our fund raising in the last year. We received valuable support from the following charitable trusts and it is with sincere gratitude that I thank the following for their generosity.

The A S Butler Charitable Trust gave £100; the W A Clare Lees Trust, £260; the G W Trust, £150; the Peter Smith Charitable Trust for Nature, £1250; the Udimore Trust, £50 and the Valerie White Memorial Trust donated £500.

Members holding fund raising "events" include David and Shane Bryan with their car boot sales and gardening which raised £150 for LIPU; Doreen Hatton sent £10 from her home collection box; Pip and Jane Harwood donated £96 from plant sales, Simon Henderson raised £93 from a sponsored bird race; and Mike Shepherd gave the fees from many talks to the total of £185 - thank you all.

Organisations helping us included the Gwent Ornithological Society who gave us £25; the Stewartry branch of the SOC who raised £40 at their annual film show and the Worcestershire Conservation Volunteers who donated £150.

The LIPU reserve at Santa Luce will be able to show more to their visitors after I presented the staff with a telescope kindly given us by Mr E Fonge of Northants.

Finally, I am very happy to thank the Anglo Italian Society for the Protection of Animals (AISPA) for its very generous support throughout the year. We continue to work well together for the best of causes.

THE LIPU-UK ANNUAL APPEAL - 2003

The projects which we have chosen to support in the coming year break new ground in some areas, while returning to the very real battle on the hunting front in both Calabria and the valleys of the north, as has been so graphically described in this edition..

After discussion with our friends in Parma we agreed to support and fund the following four projects:

1. There seems to be a resurgence of the trapping of songbirds in the northern valleys and we cannot reduce the commitment to the spring migration of raptors and other birds across the Straits of Messina. This major project will, therefore, be our first commitment.

2. In common with most similar organisations LIPU has appointed an Agricultural Officer, Patrizia Rossi, who will work with farmers to make their work more friendly for the surrounding wildlife. Initially she will be concentrating in areas surrounding existing LIPU reserves and we will help fund this ground breaking work.

3. After much work by LIPU Italy has a network of 192 Important Bird Areas (IBAs). In order to upgrade the most deserving of these to Special Protection Area (SPA) status they must be systematically surveyed and the resulting data prepared and collated. This new fledgling project will also receive our support as an investment in the future.

4. LIPU, like all similar organisations, is only as strong as its membership and in recent years the cost of major publicity campaigns has not been justified. We have agreed to help with the printing costs of new recruitment material as the most cost effective way of reaching the greatest number of potential members.

As in the last two years we intend to devote all funds raised over and above these firm commitments to the Oasi fund which is being held for the future purchase of suitable habitat for a permanent LIPU nature reserve. Thanks to your generosity in previous years we have not only met our agreed commitments but have steadily built up the Oasi fund to its present level of £34,000 - a splendid achievement.

I am sure you will agree that these projects are really important and deserve our support and I hope you will support our appeal this year with all the generosity of previous years.

To keep postage costs to a minimum, your donations will not be acknowledged unless this is requested - please accept our sincere thanks for your support.

2002 PRIZE DRAW

Thanks to the many people who took part in our draw last year, again it was a huge success rasing almost £2250 for conservation funding in Italy.

The winners were:

1st - Ann Posselt of Chichester

2nd - Chris Holdsworth of Kinross

3rd - Tom Mortimer of Harlow

4th - John Lauder of Oxford

5th - Mike Goodwin of Ayr

Congratulations to the winners and commiserations to those who did not win - better luck this year!

Special thanks to all those who added a donation to the cost of the tickets - it has all been allocated to this year's appeal.

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Most of the line drawings in this issue were used with the kind permission of the RSPB.


STOP THE MASSACRE

APPEAL 2003

LIPU-UK will continue its struggle against the killing and cruelty towards birds which still goes on in Italy and intends to support LIPU in 2003 in the following projects:

Please help us - make a donation of any size to LIPU-UK

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