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24th CABS Bird Protection Camp in Brescia (Italy) autumn 2010

Final report


1. Introduction

CABS team member with bow trapsCABS team member with bow trapsThe northern Italian province of Brescia (Lombardy) has for years been one of the hotbeds of poaching in Europe. Nowhere else in the EU are so many bird hunters and poachers active. And nowhere else is the use of so many different types of illegal bird traps as widespread as in this small province on the fringe of the Southern Alps.

The Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) has been active in Brescia since 1984 and conducted its 24th international bird protection camp (BPC) there from the 2nd October to 6th November. Some 67 nature and bird lovers from Germany, Great Britain, Ireland and Italy took part in the longest operation in the Committee’s history. A total of more than 2,100 traps and nets were seized and 53 poachers were arrested.

2. Course of action

In the 1980s dismantling and destruction of illegal traps and nets was at the forefront of our operations. Since the end of the 1990s however the focus of our work has shifted to close cooperation with the police. Our aim nowadays is no longer to dismantle as many traps and nets as possible, but rather to assist the authorities to bring poachers to justice.

A Song Thrush is freed from a netA Song Thrush is freed from a netWith this aim in mind we deployed three to six teams daily, each of two to three CABS members. As the poachers are aware of our presence in Brescia, and strangers are regarded with utmost suspicion, the teams were compelled to move as much as possible off-track and to remain well concealed in the countryside.
As in previous years the teams used rental cars with Italian number plates. In the remote parts of the province German registered vehicles are liable to attract attention and this can thwart police operations and lead to incidents with poachers.

When traps and nets are found, the most important task of the conservationists is to leave the site as unobtrusively as possible and to find a good approach route that can if necessary be used at night and without showing lights. In our evening briefings with the police the results of our searches were presented and, in the course of the next few days, the police patrols were guided in to the trapping installations.

As in previous years, in order not to alarm the poachers, we led the police to the trapping sites almost exclusively in the pre-dawn hours. This year we were also on combined operations with the police in daylight hours for the first time.
Contrary to our misgivings this latter strategy was successful, as long as our teams and the police officers took great care not to be seen on the way to the trapping sites.

The police concealed themselves near the traps in order to catch the poachers tending them red-handed. In about two thirds of such cases the trapper was arrested after a wait of only a few hours. Other sites had to be kept under observation for several days before it was possible to catch the offender. If we suspected that our teams had been seen by the trapper in the vicinity, we were forced to dismantle the traps and nets immediately. A police ambush was only considered when we were sure that the trappers had not been alarmed. This year’s BPC, which lasted for 36 days, was the longest in the Committee’s history. After five weeks of hard work we could be relatively certain that we had searched the majority of the potential trapping sites in the some 2,600 square kilometre alpine region .

3. Results

In autumn 2010 the participants in the Brescia BPC searched a total of 182 sites in the mountains between Lakes Iseo and Garda. Some 77 old sites were found abandoned; nets and traps were found at 105 locations.

Total results autumn 2010:

  • 1,228 bow traps
  • 802 snap traps
  • 115 nets

A bow trapA bow trapWe reported the locations of 77 illegal trap and net installations to either the state forest police or the provincial police. The officers arrested 53 poachers and seized 781 bow traps, 596 snap traps and 53 mist nets.
At 24 trapping installations police ambushes were unsuccessful. In these cases either the CABS team or the concealed police officers were spotted by the poacher. The 254 bow traps, 26 snap traps and 26 nets at these sites were dismantled by the police.
CABS members dismantled all traps and nest found at 28 other locations because they had been seen by the poacher. This accounted for a further 193 bow traps, 180 snap traps and 36 mist nets.

4. Analysis of the results

Bow traps

Bow traps, once in use throughout Europe for bird trapping, are now only used in Brescia. This brutal type of trap was widespread up until the mid-1990s but its use is now declining more and more. During the 2001 CABS BPC lasting three weeks 12,104 bow traps were found. This autumn, with almost twice the time available and considerably more activists, we found only 1,228 bow traps, a decrease of 90 %. This development is directly related to our change of strategy. Since we began, in cooperation with the police, to catch the offenders red-handed instead of simply dismantling and destroying the traps, poaching has gone markedly into decline.

Snap traps

Black Redstart in a snap trapBlack Redstart in a snap trapAt the same time as the use of bow traps began to decline the Brescia poachers started to use small iron snap traps. These traps are much more difficult to find, which gives the trappers an advantage. The disadvantage is - in contrast to bow traps - that they cannot be made at home but must be illegally purchased.

Snap traps were found for the first time in Brescia in 1998. Up until 2008 their use had increased. Two years ago we found 949 snap traps - a new record. This unwelcome development seems to have been halted - at least for the time being. In 2009 we found only 340 snap traps - this year the figure was 802. We have no logical explanation for last year’s low numbers; on the other hand an increase since 2008 has not been observed.

Nets

The number of nets found in Brescia fluctuates greatly from year to year as the following overview of the time frame from 2005 to the present day shows:

Year Nets
2005 174
2006 109
2007 133
2008 106
2009 167
2010 115

These fluctuations do not necessarily mirror the actual use of nets but are related to our operating methods. Nets are used primarily in the east of the province. The more teams we send into this area the more nets we find. Nonetheless the eastern part of Brescia was thoroughly searched in 2010. One reason for the decline in nets in comparison with the previous year could be the success we had in the Lumezzane area in 2009. Last year a high numbers of poachers were caught red-handed at their nets in this area and this has perhaps caused them to be more cautious this year. Our impression that the use of nets in many areas of the province has decreased, and is only widespread in a few remaining areas, has been confirmed.

Live decoy birds

Nets are particularly effective when live decoy birds are set out in close proximity. In the west of Brescia province live decoys were never used with nets; in the east this practice is still prevalent.
Nonetheless we have noticed a decrease in the use of live decoys:

Year Total of decoys Decoys per net
2005 139 0,8
2006 92 0,8
2007 120 0,9
2008 85 0,8
2009 59 0,4
2010 56 0,5

We assume that the confiscation of so many decoy birds, as a result of our operations over the past few years, has been a such a big set back for the poachers that they do not want to risk this level of damage to their trapping effort. At the same time it has become more difficult to acquire decoys birds on the black market.
This result is doubly gratifying, as fewer birds must suffer loss of liberty in far too small cages, and at the same time the effectiveness of net trapping is reduced. This year school classes were invited to attend some of the releases of decoy birds into the wild.

Poachers arrested

This autumn our information led to the arrest of 53 poachers. This manifest measure of success has only been exceeded once before as the table below shows:

Year Poachers arrested
2005 17
2006 18
2007 35
2008 57
2009 42
2010 53

The constant increase in the number of arrests is above all related to the change in strategy described above in Para. 2.
During the early years of our cooperation with the police only a few trapping sites - usually those with particularly large numbers of nest and traps - were handed over to the police for action. At this time many of our volunteers were not persuaded of the rightness of this strategy. The new procedures were gradually accepted over time as they clearly led to tangible results.
In 2005 we reported about the half of all trapping installations found to the police. In 2007 the figure had risen to 55 % and last year (2009) about 65 %. In 2010 we led the police to almost three quarters of trapping sites found.
The increasing professionalism and experience of the CABS team members, together with the almost faultless and well-exercised cooperation between police and conservationists in the meantime, have of course contributed significantly to the success of the BPCs.

5. Police operations

Three different police units took part in the operations against the Brescia poachers: The local forest police are spread across several offices in Brescia and are active throughout the year in the trapping areas. Their main task is not anti-poaching operations, but they participate in the autumn operations. Most of the information from CABS teams on the location of trapping sites was passed to the forest police. The special anti-poaching unit of the forest police, consisting of more than 60 officers from all over Italy, was active on operations in Brescia in the time frame 30 September to 28 October 2010. Their sole task is to combat illegal bird trapping. The provincial police are also responsible for poaching but, due to the presence of the forest police, were less often called on for support. Nonetheless their officers also caught poachers acting on information provided by CABS teams

6. Partner organisations involved

Coal Tit as live decoyCoal Tit as live decoyThe CABS BPC was closely coordinated with its Italian partner organisations Lega Abolizione Caccia (LAC) and the Centro Soccorso Animali (CSA) in Modena.
The LAC were involved in the operations with a large number of volunteers, and kept up their efforts on the weekends following the camp.
Our colleagues from the CSA were primarily involved with the care of the more than 300 confiscated decoy birds. These were taken to the wildlife rehabilitation centre in Modena where they will be prepared for their release into the wild in spring 2011. For the first time we worked together with the game wardens from the Lega Italiana Protezione Uccelli (LIPU). This mainly involved exchange of information on trapping sites and the planning and execution of individual police operations.
In addition the World Wildlife Fund Italy (WWF) game wardens (see Para 7.), who receive financial support from CABS, were active in the Brescia area.

7. The work of the game wardens

The volunteer WWF game wardens conducted large scale and very successful bird protection operations in Brescia up until 2007. This incensed the politically influential hunter lobby. The Lombardy regional government has therefore fundamentally altered the responsibilities for monitoring of hunting, thereby rendering the WWF wardens almost powerless.
Up to 2007 over 50 wardens were active on 30 days a year. In this year only 11 were available and these operated from 2 to 17 October and the weekends following up until mid-November.
Despite the lack of personnel these volunteers work extremely effectively. They conduct random checks of hunters, above all on the pre-alpine plateau around the provincial capital Brescia, and this year charged 45 hunters with poaching offences. These had primarily shot at protected species (above all Chaffinch and Brambling; but there was also a case with 20 illegally killed Reed Buntings) or had hunted with illegal electronic decoy devices.
One bird trapper, who had set out a net in Val Sabbia, was arrested by the wardens in cooperation with the police.

CABS covers the accommodation and fuel costs of the WWF game wardens

8. Hunting permissions 2010

Lucky bird - In 2010 Hawfinches were not huntable in LombardyLucky bird - In 2010 Hawfinches were not huntable in LombardySince 1995 the Lombardy regional government has permitted the hunting in autumn of Chaffinches and Bramblings that are strictly protected under EU legislation. Last year (2009) special permissions were even granted for hunting of pipits and Hawfinches. The permitted quotas for the 2009/10 season in Lombardy alone amounted to 497,350 Chaffinches, 94,600 Bramblings, 50,000 Meadow Pipits and 3,000 Hawfinches.
Since the mid-1990s CABS has preferred charges in the regional administrative courts against this illegal practice. The regional government’s permissions have been overturned by the courts on almost every occasion. As the Lombardy government repeats this relaxation for hunting of protected species every autumn, in 2008 we also filed an official complaint with the European Commission. In 2009 the Commission took the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which finally in July 2010 condemned Italy for permitting this illegal practice.
The consequence was that, for the first time in 14 years, Chaffinches and Bramblings and other protected species could not be legally hunted. The birds were also protected in the Tuscany, Liguria and Marche regions; only Veneto ignored the ECJ ruling and opened the season for finch shooting. As a result the region was again condemned by the ECJ in October 2010.
CABS has filed complaints against the illegal permissions to hunt protected bird species for over a decade, and invested more than 50,000 Euros in lawyers and court costs, in order to put an end to the hunting of finches. The coming year will show if the lull in hunting is permanent. The developments in 2010 are in any event a wonderful success for bird protection in Europe.

9. Costs of the BPC operations

The total cost of operations is around 23,000 Euros and is financed in the first instance from private donations. The Karl Kaus Foundation for Wildlife and Nature provides a generous grant towards the funding of the BPC.
Additional legal costs amounting to some 6,000 Euros, for the process in the administrative courts against the shooting of protected species and the hunting permissions granted by the regional authorities, are also incurred.