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Lake Garda - a poacher's paradise

Illegal - and legal - trapping along the flyways

CABS volunteer removing a net in the Alps (Brescia)CABS volunteer removing a net in the Alps (Brescia)The Brescia Alps, between Lakes Garda and Como, lie along one of the most important European migrant bird flyways. In principle, the authorities have an obligation under national and international law to place this part of the Alps under special protection. Instead of this however, they just stand by and observe how one of the most important European migration routes deteriorates into a paradise for poachers.

As early as the end of September, countless archetti – a metal bow with a snare attached – have been set up on the mountain passes. The bright red berries of the mountain ash attract the birds, mostly Robins, Thrushes and Wrens, into the traps, which are propped open under tension with small sticks. Once the birds land on the trap the tension is released and the trap snaps shut, and the birds remaining hanging in the snare with crushed legs. They often flutter about for hours until they die of thirst or exhaustion; or until they are collected by the poacher.

Since the mid-1980s, nature and wildlife conservationists from all over Europe have combined their efforts to oppose the poachers. With donations from Austria, Switzerland bullfinch in a bowtrap, illegal tradition in Brescia regionbullfinch in a bowtrap, illegal tradition in Brescia region and Germany, CABS finances week-long bird protection camps in which volunteers, and game wardens from the Italian conservation organisations, locate and remove the illegal traps. In addition, members of a special unit of the Italian forest police set ambushes for the trappers along little used tracks.

During the collection of the traps, the operational teams also frequently discover so-called roccoli, trapping areas with fixed nets up to 5 m in height and 400 m long, which block the migration routes in some passes. Although these net installations have officially been banned since 1992, dozens of special permits for their erection are issued annually by local authorities. If the courts, as a result of injunctions sought by CABS, revoke these permits, illegal nets are then installed by the trappers in isolated forest clearings. Italian and German conservationists often remove many more than 300 nets in the Lombardy Alps alone in the course of only a few weeks. These losses are painful for the trappers, as the migrant birds caught in the expensive nets are not for their consumption;Dunnock trapped in a poacher's netDunnock trapped in a poacher's net but rather for sale as decoys to the tens of thousands of hunters in Northern Italy who shoot birds on migration from camouflaged hides.

Hunting with the use of decoy birds is apparently one of the most effective forms of migrant bird shooting. The trapped birds are kept captive throughout the summer in tiny cages in dark cellars. When they are brought out into the daylight in autumn, they believe spring has arrived and they begin to sing. Their calls lure migrant birds of the same species directly towards the hunters camouflaged hides. Perches are set up in line with the gun slits of the hides so that several birds can be killed with a single shotgun blast.