ITALY’S FIGHT AGAINTS ILLEGAL BIRD HUNTS
ITALY’S FIGHT AGAINTS ILLEGAL BIRD HUNTS
2005-06-05 at 10:41:00 am #9422Italy’s fight against illegal bird hunts
Italian environmentalists face a battle to stop the hunting of protected
birds, a pursuit considered acceptable in many areas despite its illegality.
On the rugged, volcanic island of Ischia on the Bay of Naples, I visited a
camp where volunteers from WWF Italy have been trying to stop the trapping and
hunting of birds on their migratory journey from Africa to Northern Europe.
Leading the team was an enthusiastic amateur ornithologist from Milan,
Daniele Colombo. Daniele and his friends gave up their holidays to perform a
depressing and often fruitless task.
I joined them at their headquarters one morning as they surveyed the evidence
of their night’s work.
From the early hours of the morning they had been patrolling the cliffs and
hillsides, searching for traps and snares and hoping to intercept hunters armed
They had enjoyed some success. Laid out on a table were about 50 small
spring-loaded traps. Daniele explained how the traps do their deadly work.
He pointed out that each trap was baited with a maggot or a worm, still
wriggling on its pin. Hungry and exhausted birds, desperate for food, take the
bait and spring the trap which captures them around the neck, killing them
At least half of the traps held pathetic little corpses.
“Today all of them are whinchats,” Daniele told me, “they are the most
numerous victims. But we also find pied flycatchers, nightingales, stonechats,
redstarts, robins, thrushes and various warblers.”
I remarked that most of these are very small species, weighing only a few
grammes, but I was assured that nothing is too small to be trapped and eaten.
“Hunters with guns are after larger quarry,” Daniele said. “Target number one
is quail, but they will also shoot doves, oriole, hoopoe and even birds of
Some of these species can legally be hunted at certain times of the year but
not during the closed season.
According to the European Union Birds Directive, the closed season must cover
the breeding season, and for migratory birds, the spring migration to their
The use of traps, bird lime (glue), nets, live decoys and poison is forbidden
at all times.
Daniele summarised the activities of his team during the previous few days.
As well as confiscating hundreds of traps, with police assistance
they had seized three guns, two of which had had code numbers erased to avoid
identification of the owners.
He also showed me 10 electronic decoys they had found. These are used by the
hunters to broadcast bird calls which attract unwary migrants towards the guns.
Some of this equipment was very elaborate. One set-up, discovered in the
middle of a steep cliff, had an antenna, a remote control and 200 metres of
cable leading to the loudspeakers.
As well as WWF, other conservation organisations are working to stop the
The Lega Italiana Protezione Uccelli (LIPU) has more than 100 volunteers in
different parts of Italy as illegal hunting is by no means confined to Ischia.
In fact, it is even more organised in northern Italy where songbirds fetch a
high price in gourmet restaurants.
In the Breschia valleys, LIPU has confiscated more than 50,000 traps set to
capture robins and other small birds.
These ponds have been run by an
organised crime syndicate
Fuschetti, Forestry Police
In recent years, 600 mist nets have also been removed, and 6,000 trapped
birds have been freed.
When I travelled from Ischia back to Naples I came across another example of
how thoroughly established illegal hunting is in Italian culture.
One of the problems with law enforcement in Italy is that no fewer than five
different police forces are supposed to regulate hunting and enforce the law.
I had an appointment to see General Fernando Fuschetti of the Forestry Police
who wanted to show me what he regarded as one of his recent successes.
He took me to a wetland near Naples where his men had raided and shut down a
string of 10 hunting ponds.
“These ponds,” he told me, “have been run by an organised crime syndicate for
poaching wildfowl during the closed season.”
The business had allegedly been turning over millions of euros for the bad
Another police officer I spoke to was highly
critical of what he regarded an assault on a revered local institution
There was certainly plenty of evidence of their activities. The ground was
covered with spent cartridges and the ponds littered with scores of decoys.
They had constructed elaborate concrete “hides”, furnished with all mod cons:
armchairs, fridges and even a TV so that they could enjoy their “sport” in
While the general was very proud of what he regarded as a victory for law
enforcement by closing them down, another police officer I spoke to – from a
different force – was highly critical of what he regarded an assault on a
revered local institution.
Similar attitudes can be found elsewhere in southern Europe, in Malta,
Greece, Cyprus Spain and Portugal.
It will take more than the Birds Directive to change them.