LIPU conference, Pisa

Leaning Tower of PisaOn 20th March I went to Pisa in Italy, not to look at the leaning tower but to talk about house sparrows. The Italian equivalent of the RSPB – LIPU – were hosting a one day conference about the sparrows that are found in Italy and I was invited to share my PhD research findings. There has been a dramatic decline in house sparrows in some urban areas of Italy and my talk was to show that there has been work in other countries investigating this phenomena.

In the north of Italy, hundreds of thousands of traps are set illegally to catch small birds. The birds are sold to restaurants or as caged birds. Also, hunters use them as decoy birds, the use of live decoys being legal in Italy. Many rare birds are shot, including greater flamingos, black storks, ospreys and short-toed eagles. Italy has derogated from the Birds Directive to allow people in some areas to net thrushes, lapwings, quails, skylarks and other species, for use as decoy birds. Italy already has one European Court of Justice judgement against it for permitting three species of wild bird (Italian sparrows, tree sparrows and starlings) to be captured and kept in captivity. In 2002, the European Commission sent Italy a first written warning because it had not amended its legislation in line with this judgement.

At the end of the conference there was a half an hour discussion session in which one attendee talked about how he goes up in to the surrounding hills of Pisa to shoot birds and he shoots about 50 sparrows a year. This was a man who had done this since he was very young and was of a generation who perceived this to be acceptable. However there is hope: the younger generation of Italians do seem to be against trapping and shooting of wild birds and they are the driving force to make changes

Why house sparrow research?

House Sparrow nest boxHouse Sparrows (Passer domesticus) were once a plentiful species but in recent years their numbers have dropped alarmingly, so much so that they are now a red listed species, which means that they are a bird of conservation concern in the UK.

What are the wider implications?
House sparrows have lived alongside man for thousands of years and can be seen as a barometer for the state of man’s environment, almost like a miner’s canary.

Why does it matter?
If House Sparrow numbers are declining what is going wrong with/in our environment?

Why are they worth saving?
House Sparrows are embedded within our culture and lifestyle; they are prevalent in our literature, art and even merit a mention in the Bible. To lose this species would be to lose an aspect of ourselves and of man’s history.

What can you do?
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