Animal protection groups in Italy are braced for a bitter struggle with members of Silvio Berlusconi's party who want a wholesale liberalisation of Italy's hunting laws.
Led by Franco Orsi, a senator from the Liguria region and a keen hunter, the hunt lobby wants to expand the open season so that bird shooting can begin as early as August and continue through February.
They are also keen to expand the areas where hunting is allowed, to include hunting nature reserves, and to permit people as young as 16 to shoot, among other measures. Mr Orsi says he wants "a serious hunting law".
"We would like to go hunting according to European rules, from 1 August to 28 February," he said. This is the period during which hunting can take place in France, Greece and Portugal.
Sara Fioravanti, a spokeswoman for WWF Italy, said: "The season has to be shorter here because Italy is the motorway for migratory birds, there is a huge flow of birds flying down the peninsula on the way to and from Africa and shooting must be banned during the period when they are migrating."
Wildlife protection organisations claim 11 bird species, including the tufted duck, pintail duck, and lapwing, are already at risk of extinction because Italians shoot "too much and badly".
Yesterday, 20 of the organisations made a joint appeal to throw out an attempt by the hunt lobby to abolish the beginning and end dates of the hunting season, which would allow Italian regions to set their own dates, with potentially devastating consequences for migratory birds. Parliament's decision will be known today or tomorrow.
Although the hunters enjoy robust support within Mr Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, a new opinion poll commissioned by WWF indicates that in the country as a whole, they are a small minority – 69 per cent of those polled opposed all the liberalising proposals, 86 per cent rejected an expansion of the hunting season and 93 per cent opposed the shooting of migratory birds.
Ms Fioravanti said: "We hope that in this time of crisis, after the earthquake in Abruzzo, the government will not allow the hunt lobby parliamentary time to push through this bad law."
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