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Stone crush traps in Italy

A tradition thought long-dead still exists in the Apennines

A depressing find - stone crush traps were though to have died out in Italy - but they were found again in the Apennines in December 2011 (A depressing find - stone crush traps were though to have died out in Italy - but they were found again in the Apennines in December 2011 (Stone crush traps are one of the oldest method of trapping song birds known to man. A trap consists of four large flat stone. The centrepiece is a limestone slab some 3 - 10 kilogram in weight. When set the stone trap is a very fragile construction propped up on small sticks, and it is baited with fresh juniper berries. When a bird attempts to take a berry it brushes unavoidably against one of the sticks and is trapped and crushed under the falling stone slab. The main victims of these traps are Thrushes; but Tits, Robins, Starlings, Pipits and other song birds are also trapped in this manner. For a long time it was believed that the Massif Central in France was the last region where this brutal trapping method was still practised and officially permitted - although the trapping method contravenes EU legislation (read more on this here). In the past few years there were just a few reports from Majorca, and in Italy Veneto and Apulia, where the Stone Age traps had been found. But these appeared to be small and isolated cases. The once widespread stone crush traps seemed to have become extinct as a trapping method and, except for the rump occurrence in the South of France, not a problem worth talking about. The situation has now regrettably taken a turn for the worst.

Crushed:  a Fieldfare in an Italian stone crush trap (December 2011)Crushed: a Fieldfare in an Italian stone crush trap (December 2011)In 2010CABS staff were tipped off about stone crush traps in the north-western Apennines to the north of the port of Genoa. Over a long period of time a local animal lover and found and repeatedly destroyed these illegal traps. The Committee followed up this tip and sent a team to the Ligurian Apennines in summer 2011 to search for stone crush traps . The trapping season is in winter, but the traps, which are extremely heavy, are left in situ all year round). Seven inactive traps were indeed found and were left standing for later action.

An initial CABS operation in the Apennines took place from 20 - 23 December 2011. The main aim of the operation was to locate active traps and establish the scale of the problem. The German and Italian CABS members had to search complete mountain slopes to get a feel for the habitat and system used by the trappers. As soon as it was clear exactly where the team had to look they were quickly hit pay dirt. The results were much worse than expected. In a very restricted area no less than 82 illegal stone crush traps were found - all active and baited with juniper berries.

On 23 December the trapping site was reported to the environmental department of the provincial police. After several failed attempts a police operation on 17 January 2012 was successful. After eight hours lying in ambush near a trap the officers caught the poacher red-handed and some 200 traps were smashed to pieces with sledgehammers in a hard day's work by six burly officers. An immediate search of the man's property led to the discovery of more than 100 protected and already plucked birds in his freezer. In addition illegal hunting ammunition and wires snares for trapping of Wild Boar were found and seized. The man will be prosecuted for poaching and cruelty to animals and can expect a heavy fine.

Further operations are planned for later this winter or spring 2011 to search for further trapping sites. It is feared that bird trapping with stone crush traps has survived in many other parts of the mountains north of Genoa.

More photos:

CABS team member at a stone crush trap in the Apennines (December 2011)CABS team member at a stone crush trap in the Apennines (December 2011)


No chance: The stone slabs drop so fast that  escape is impossible (December 2011)No chance: The stone slabs drop so fast that escape is impossible (December 2011)


The trapping area in North Italy(December 2011)The trapping area in North Italy(December 2011)


Bright blue berries lure the birds under the stone slab (December 2011)Bright blue berries lure the birds under the stone slab (December 2011)