Derogations for bird hunting in Italy
With the EU Birds Directive coming into force in 1979, most songbird species were protected under nature conservation law. Only five species of thrush, starlings and skylarks were allowed to be hunted - a great step forward compared to the previously completely unregulated songbird hunting. However, Italy has taken its time in transposing the Directive - it was not until 1992 that the rules were applied. But the hunters did not want '"beloved" prey such as wagtails, finches and sparrows to be taken from their grasp. Every year, derogations to the Birds Directive have been used to obtain permits to shoot the protected birds. Together with our Italian partner associations, CABS have fought against this practice for over 30 years - and won in the long run. In 2013, the law made the continuation of such derogations impossible.
Derogations 1992 to 2010
The EU Birds Directive gives Member States the possibility to allow the shooting or trapping of protected bird if it is for the preservation of a "tradition", only "small quantities" are affected, if there is "no other satisfactory solution" and if sufficient control of the requirements is ensured. Some Italian regions - notably Lombardy, Tuscany and Veneto - started to make use of this loophole in 1992. Every autumn, under pressure from the Italian hunting lobby, they approved the hunting of brambling, chaffinches, hawfinches and tree and meadow pipits.
The regions have made very clear what they mean by "small quantity": at the end of the 1990s around 10 million protected birds were allowed to be hunted each year in Lombardy, Tuscany and Veneto. And the enforcable restrictions that the EU Birds Directive provides for such derogations were only on paper. The Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) and its partners Lega Abolizione Caccia (LAC) commissioned a legal team to challenge the national law at the time the first derogation permit was issued, and we won immediately. The law was declared unlawful and had to be withdrawn. However, during the weeks of negotiation, the hunters were able to legally target EU-wide protected birds to their heart's content.
In the years that followed, it evolved into a cat-and-mouse game: The regions always issued a new derogation shortly before the start of the open hunting season, and we had to take legal action against it. They were then able to hunt until the final judgement and the politicians already had the derogation drafted for the following year. In 2009, Veneto took this kind of legal manipulation to the extreme: within a few months they allowed approved hunting for protected brambling and chaffinches three times, each time the permit was annulled by the court.
Derogations for bird trapping
The regions of Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia Romagna and Tuscany, which have a deep-rooted culture in terms of hunting, have also allowed bird-trapping with nets every year. Because the hunters need live decoys to hunt songbirds. There were also exemptions for the large trapping grounds, in which hundreds of thousands of thrushes and finches could be caught. The birds spent the rest of their lives in small cages in front of the camouflage capanni hunting hides in order to lure others of their kind in front of the bird hunters and their shotguns.
We have also taken legal action against these regulations, and here too the judges had to overturn the laws, the nets were brought down. Until the next time.
2010: European Court of Justice condemns Italy
In 2010, the European Court of Justice sentenced Italy for continuing this illegal licensing practice. The main reasons for the judges in Luxembourg were the lack of controls and the apparently large quantities of birds being killed and taken from the wild. In fact, for the first time, Lombardy did not grant a derogation this year, only to approve the hunting of five protected bird species again in 2011, albeit with a bag limit of "only" 33,000 birds. We also took legal action against this law and won.
The renewed shooting derogation issued by Lombardy in 2011 prompted the EU Commission to threaten Italy with severe penalties. Under this pressure, there were no further hunting permits in autumn 2012. But the plans to allow finch hunting in 2013 were already on the table.
2012: Campaign against the hunting derogations
At that time, Italy's nature and animal welfare associations, including the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), formed an alliance to declare war on the shooting derogations. With lawsuits before the courts, a major publicity campaign and several meetings with the EU Commission, we were able to increase the pressure to such an extent that in autumn 2012, Brussels called on the Italian government to end the regional derogations in national legislation. Rome then passed a law in 2013 that essentially bans the regions outright from issuing shooting derogations in future.
Since 2013 there has been no more shooting derogations for hunting protected birds in Italy!
In a further decision, the government in Rome has also banned the operation of large 'rocolli' trapping sites. Since 2015, these have also been prevented from opening under derogations.
No all-clear despite all the successes
Pro-hunting right-wing populists of the separatist "Lega Nord" party, were behind almost all regional shooting and trapping derogations during the last few decades. The splinter party, once limited to only a few regions in northern Italy, is now called "Lega" and is now one of the most influential political forces in the country. Its anti-EU policy manifests itself above all in efforts to further undermine the EU Birds Directive. It wasn't until 2019 that the Lega again allowed bird-trapping with nets and once again the hunting lobby is calling for the hunting of brambling and chaffinches to be approved in national law.