Brescia: The stronghold of bird poaching in Italy
The Brescian Alps, situated between Lake Garda to the east and Lake Iseo to the west, is one of the most significant flyways for migratory birds in Europe. In autumn, after the birds traverse the already snow-covered Alps, they find a landscape with olive groves, flowering meadows and berry-rich woodlands. However, the region also has the highest density of hunters and poachers in Italy. No where else do so many hunt birds and use such a variety of traps.
20.000 licensed hunters
When the hunting season begins in September, more than 20,000 hunters in Brescia are out with their shotguns and hungry for their quarry. They occupy Alpine passes everywhere, roam through meadows and fields or operate thousands of huge hunting sites with camouflaged hides and countless live decoys in the forest. 36 species are officially huntable, but due to the absence of large wetlands in Brescia, songbirds are hunted almost exclusively.
In addition to the species which are allowed to be shot, many protected birds are also shot and illegal electronic decoys are commonly used. Also, live decoys with fake rings are regularly found during inspections, as well as hunters who have shot far more birds than the daily bag limit allows.
Migratory birds as a plaything of politics
Brescia is at the heart of the Italian hunting and shooting industry. Particularly in the Val Trompia, weapons and ammunition factories are found one after another. The right-wing populist Lega -vocally pro-hunting - has been the elected party of almost every municipality here for decades. To win votes here means above all else, pandering to the desires and the hunting and weapons industry. Brescian politicians have a lot of influence in Rome, their resistance against strengthening regulations within hunting law and their advocacy for exemptions and derogation permits for EU-wide protected species determine the hunting policy of the whole country. In addition, separatism is widespread in northern Italy and is working towards independence from the rest of Italy. Right-wing extremist politicians use the hunting restrictions laid down by national and international nature conservation law to incite hatred of Rome and Brussels. In this way, hunting and bird-trapping are stylised into a tradition, and migratory birds become the plaything of politics.
One region - four hunting seasons
In most poaching hotspot areas within Italy, there is typically only one traditional hunting season. In Brescia, however, hunters and poachers are active throughout the year. In spring, nets are set up to catch song thrushes or - a little later in spring - freshly fledged thrushes. In August, the poachers trap and kill pied flycatchers and redstarts with snap traps. Autumn is the 'official' hunting season, when most poachers also have their peak season - no wonder, as a good three quarters of the bird trappers are also licensed hunters. In winter, fieldfare are also caught with nets on snow-covered mountain passes.