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Killing Fields Forfeit

Mafia bird hunting park seized

The ecological protection unit of Italy`s Carabinieri has raided a chain of artificial ponds created for illegal hunting by the Camorra, the Neapolitan counterpart of the Mafia. Thirty-five people face enquiries. Rifles and tape recorders used to play bird calls were seized. LIPU (BirdLife in Italy) hopes to see the ponds converted to a bird sanctuary, with the concrete bunkers built as shooting blinds used as birding hides.

The 40 ponds, in an area surrounding the town of Villa Literno, not far from Naples, were dug to attract migrating birds. LIPU estimates thousands of waterbirds and raptors were tempted within range of the guns, including flamingos, egrets, Black-winged Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits and Marsh Harriers.

The Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela dell`Ambiente was set up to deal with environmental crime such as illegal waste disposal, which now rivals drug supply as a source of revenue for organised criminals. This is not the first time artificial lakes have been found in the Campania region surrounding Naples, though in the past they were used for dumping toxic waste.The ponds seized by the Carabinieri were partly on land owned by the Campania region, and partly on private land from which farmers had been driven by force. Huge quantities of water were diverted to fill them. Hunters were charged from 7,500 to 15,000 Euros to rent the bunkers for a season.

Unfortunately in this area of the country, poaching is widespread and often practised as a deliberate challenge to state authority, said a LIPU spokesperson. It is also a way that organised criminal gangs use to control the territory to the detriment of law-abiding people.

Altero Matteoli, Italy`s Minister for the Environment, has announced a plan to try to change those traditions and attitudes, by transforming the area into a nature sanctuary. LIPU has proposed that this take the form of a protected area managed by professional staff, with nature trails, information boards, and other facilities for visitors. LIPU has worked very successfully with school children elsewhere in Italy, introducing them to enjoyment of the natural world, and raising awareness of environmental problems and what individuals and communities can do about them. A sanctuary would also provide jobs for young people.In the meantime, LIPU is demanding to know how it was possible to ravage such a large area, destroying its natural habitats and killing so many protected birds systematically, without any reaction from the authorities. When so many offences were being openly committed, what were towns, provinces and region`s supervisory bodies doing? asked Giuliano Tallone, President of LIPU.

In future, LIPU warns it is essential that the authorities start checking the area year after year, so that a perception that the rule of law is established starts spreading among local people. The first test of any change in attitude will be this year`s spring migration.

4th July 2014