Nets, traps and snares
Legal and illegal trapping methods in Italy
Italy implemented the EU bird protection guidelines in 1993 and thereby accepted one of the most important pieces of European nature protection legislation - the ban on bird trapping. Sadly however millions of wild birds still die in Italian trappers’ nets and traps, most of them illegally, but many of them with official approval. In North Italy in particular hundreds of thousands of birds are still trapped today, as also along the south Italian coast and on Sardinia and Sicily.
In the Southern Alps in Lombardy, above all in Brescia province, an ancient trapping method is still extant today - bow traps. These treacherous devices are exceptionally brutal in their effects. A small stick and a cord keep a wire bow under tension. Birds are lured by rowan berries to perch on the horizontal stick. This causes the bow to spring apart and the bird’s legs are caught in the cord. They then hang head downwards with crushed legs until they are killed by the trapper. The main victims are Robins and Wrens.
The traps were once widespread throughout Europe and were used in Germany until the end of the 19th Century. Since then they are no longer used for trapping except in Brescia, North Italy, where the tradition persists although it has been banned for decades. Since the mid-1980s CABS has conducted bird protection camps in Brescia in order to get the poaching situation under control. We have been successful as the number of bow traps that we find has dramatically decreased from year to year. In the foreseeable future they will disappear for ever!
You can read more about bow traps here.
Snap traps operate on the mousetrap principle - when a bird, lured by a mealworm or rowan berry, brushes against the sensitive release mechanism, the clamp snaps shut and crushes the bird. Death is usually instant.
Snap traps have been used illegally for many years on the south Italian coast, above all in spring. Since the 1990s this type of trap has also been used by poachers in North Italy, mainly in autumn. The victims vary, according to locality. On the coast the main fatalities are insectivores such as Wheatear, Whinchat, Redstart and warblers. When used in the mountains in autumn they catch above all Robins, thrushes and tits.
Operations by CABS and its partners have resulted in the almost complete disappearance of snap traps along the south Italian coast. Several hundred of these traps are however found and dismantled every year during our bird protection camp in Lombardy.
Bird trapping with horsehair snares is still widespread today on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. In the Garrigue undergrowth trappers set out traps made up of four very fine snares. Individual snares are also placed on the ground and the trappers use the berries of the Strawberry Tree Arbutus unedo.
While feeding the birds stick their heads through the snare and when trying to escape die from self-strangulation. The main victims are thrushes Robins and warblers. Common Kestrels and Sparrowhawks, which have attempted to take the birds caught in the traps and are also ensnared, are also regularly found dead.
The use of horsehair snares, like the other types of bird traps described here, is also illegal. In parts of Sardinia, where our annual operations take place, the use of snares is markedly in decline. In Abruzzo, where they could still be found in the 1980s, they have now disappeared.
Cage traps are used above all in North Italy. Baited with food or live decoys they attract small birds that venture into the inner part of the trap. There they activate a locking mechanism. The traps are constructed to trap only one or two birds at a time as the poacher wants them alive for use as decoys. Some birds also end up as domestic cage birds. The main victims are finches such as Serin, Goldfinch and Siskin; sometimes Robins are specially targeted. Cage traps are set out primarily in gardens in North Italy where they can easily be concealed and are hard to find. Dozens of these traps are nonetheless located and confiscated in the course of our bird protection camps.
As a rule the mist nets used for trapping are two metres high and between five and 35 metres long. They are set out in specially cut rides forest rodes and usually baited with berries and decoy birds. They are sometimes found in private gardens when the poacher feels secure from discovery.
The trappers’ main objective is to catch decoy birds for hunting from hides. They therefore target mainly the four huntable thrush species, as well as Chaffinch and Brambling when special permits to shoot these species are issued. Some trappers however specialise in trapping Robins and Dunnocks (using these species as decoys) destined for the cooking pot.
The use of mist nets is illegal but still widespread in North Italy. Here, where hunting with live decoys is a long-standing tradition, there is a constant demand for living thrushes and larks. This demand is met by illegal net trapping. Use of nets is rare in Southern Italy and on Sardinia where the birds caught are killed and eaten.
In the Naples area mainly Goldfinches and other finches are caught to spend the rest of their lives in cages as domestic pets.
During the CABS BPCs throughout Italy more than 200 nets are found and seized annually. Over the past few years we have found ever fewer nets on Sardinia - in 2009 not a single example!
In some provinces of Lombardy and Veneto the use of clap nets is still officially permitted. The installations, mostly found on fields and pastures in the Po Plain, are several thousand square metres in area and have two nets each some 50 square metres in size kept under tension by large metal springs. On the edge of the installation the trapper lurks in a shed and trips the nets manually. They then clap together over the Lapwings and Starlings lured by food and live decoys. By this means a complete flock can be caught at the same time. The trapped birds are either sold to hunters as decoys or are killed for the pot.
On Sicily smaller clap nets are used illegally to catch finches. The nets, only a few square metres in size, are manually tripped from a trapper in a hide close by. The trapped birds end up in pet shops and some of them are smuggled into Malta for sale on the black market
Legal mass trapping installations
The demand for live bird decoys in North Italy for thrush and skylark hunting is so large that the provinces again and again permit the operation of gigantic trapping installations(Roccoli), in contravention of EU legislation. The installations, the size of a football pitch, consist of a beech hedge surrounding nets several hundreds metres long. Migrant birds are lured by a rich store of food and dozens of decoy birds in cages and become trapped in the nets. State licensed trappers gather in the birds hourly. As European law does not permit their sale, the birds are given to hunters on payment of a high ‘administrative fee’.
The official figures for of song birds - trapped in these installations in contravention of EU law - is some 50,000. Every autumn CABS seeks an injunction against the operation of the installations - and wins on almost every occasion