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Italy - Parliamentary Commission discusses the future of song bird shooting

Shot ChaffinchShot Chaffinch From the 5 June the 14th parliamentary committee of the Italian Senate is meeting to discuss the future of exemptions permitting hunting of bird species protected Europe-wide. A number of North Italian regions, in particular Lombardy and Veneto, declare exemptions every year for hunters to shoot millions of Chaffinches, Bramblings, Hawfinches and Tree and Meadow Pipits. These species are protected throughout the European Union and, according to the bird protection guidelines, may only be hunted in very exceptional cases if damage to crops is proven or to protect the interests of old ‘hunting traditions’. These exceptions are conditional on strict control and killing of small numbers only. The Italian regional governments blatantly ignore these regulations and set far too high bag quotas, block controls by game wardens and have made the exception the rule. For almost 20 years CABS has fought this practice in the courts - usually with success - but with a new and costly court case every autumn. In order to break out of this viscous circle CABS laid an official complaint against Italy with the European Commission in 2011.

Hawfinch as live hunting decoyHawfinch as live hunting decoy Since then the European Commission has put massive pressure on Italy, demanding a rewrite of the relevant legislation. CABS, together with its Italian partners, presented proposals for a solution the problem to the Rome government. The new draft law now under discussion includes a number of our proposals. These include our idea that in future the exemptions must be processed as regulations in the normal way, and not by the issue of special regional laws. This has the advantage that associations (such as NGOs) can official complain about regulations; not however about laws. A further proposal concerns the timing of the exemptions. Until now regional governments have cleverly announced the exemptions only a few days before they come into force. This prevents us taking the matter to court in a timely fashion. The new proposals, if approved, will require regional governments to publish the exemptions in April of every year at the latest (some 6 months in advance), giving the complainants and the courts adequate time to take action.

Our proposals for more effective controls of hunting have however not been included in the new draft law. Even worse is a proposal by regional governments giving them specialist control over the state nature protection authorities (ISPRA). Until now all exemptions for hunting of finches and pipits had to be first considered by ISPRA. Their biologists have almost always refused to give their approval, which made life easier for us in court. The regional governments now want to create their own nature protection departments that, independent of ISPRA approval, can decide whether or not the exemptions to shoot protected birds can go ahead. It must be crystal clear to everyone what the outcome will be when a local nature protection department in the Lombardy or Veneto regional governments have the power to decide on the practice.

The discussions in the Senate committee in Rome are therefore of great importance for the future of hunting in Italy. But the results of their deliberations will have an impact well beyond Italy’s borders, as they will demonstrate whether or not the European Commission is really capable of sustainably preventing permanent contravention of the bird protection guidelines.