Brescia is a province located in the foothills of the Alps in the Lombardy region. It is a stronghold of hunters that make the most of the prolific migrations of small passerines that every year make their way through the mountain passes. Today there are about 8000 small hunting huts dispersed in this area from which, about 24,000 strong, the Brescian hunters re-vendicate what they call a traditional hunt for these small birds, such as the Chaffinch, Meadow Pipit, Robin, Hawfinch and Brambling, some of which only weigh 20-30 grams. However in 1992 the new hunting law banned all these species from being hunted in the Italian peninsula. This was a big blow for the hunting community that reacted by using their strong electoral weight to sway local elections in favour of candidates that that would come towards their demands. By doing this they obtained specially crafted legislative waivers that made the most of loop-holes in National and European Law and permitted hunting of these species for traditional use. Today this game of tugging at political waistcoats (as defined by a hunting lobbyist we met) is though disappearing as the Italian crisis has moved its interests away from the hunting issue..new strategies have to be thought out..
One of the only chances the hunters associations have is to make a claim at the Eu Commission stating both the ecological stability of some of the populations they wish to hunt and local traditional narratives (these have for example been used in France and Spain to allow certain types of hunting that would be otherwise deemed illegal). As some explained to us hunters in Italy were late to realize the importance of scientific evidence to backup any of their requests and today they are trying to fill the gap by partnering up with local universities and launching large scale and expensive monitoring projects, such as the recent radio-tagging of 20 woodcocks to study their migrations. Still, this might be too late. For too long the hunters associations have been sucked in by political immobility, happy to give their vote to the best offer without working on a strategic, national and united front that would make them stronger in front of the EU Parliament. The second problem is related to the traditional claims that are made by the hunters of the Brescia region and many others in the Italian peninsula. But what is a tradition exactly? Some of the environmentalists denounce these practices as brutal and argue they where only in place because of the hunger that claimed many victims in these poor regions, today there is no need for this. In The Invention of Tradition, Hobsbawm and Ranger argue that traditions which appear or claim to be old are often quite recent in origin and sometimes invented. We have spoken to people that go further and associate a tradition as a right, the line is subtle here and many of the extremist fringes of the associations use such claims as a lever to force the hand on local politicians and create discontent and anger in some of the rural populations.
The situation is different here from many of the areas we visited in these last four weeks. The hunters are still strong in these valleys today, we do not get a feeling they are going extinct or giving up what they think is a right. The Northern League (Lega Nord, in the picture), a party that makes claims for independence of the Northern Padania from the rest of Italy, is still strong and makes many proselytes among the ranks of upset hunters. One must not forget that these same valleys are the home of Italy’s largest weapon makers (Berretta supplies the US Army) who have an obvious vested interest in defending the hunters of the region. This is not an easy one, we know that for sure. But strong of the experience garnered in these last weeks we will try and add something to the intricate situation that has come to be in the Brescia valleys..