The Kentish plover

A story of subtraction speaks to us of hope and protection

Mondragone, province of Caserta. We are at the bathing establishment from which we start each time to carry out the monitoring of the Kentish plover, a small bird in strong rarefaction throughout its range, disappeared already from some European countries and strongly threatened in Italy, where the concreting of the coast, the rarefaction of the dune and the intense exploitation of the sandy coast have reduced it to extremely small and point populations. In Campania we talk about just a dozen breeding pairs located in a handful of kilometers of coastline. The manager of the beach establishment is a family man and a hunter, as is his father before him; but unlike what we expected when we “presented” the Kentish plover that nests near his establishment, he showed interest.For three years he has been telling us when beach cleanings are planned with mechanical means (extremely dangerous for the species), he informs us of any critical situations and reports particular sightings of other sensitive species such as beached turtles or cetaceans and so on. As he himself had the opportunity to say “he had never looked at them in that light”. The story of subtraction that I want to tell is not that of the father, who also would have reason to be told, but that of the son. Michele, this is his name, is 9 years old and spends many days with his father and his aunts at the beach club, where he can be outdoors, play, ride a bike and swim. Like his father he has a keen interest in the natural world and is an excellent observer and it would be expected that, living in this social, cultural and family context, he will soon take up the gun in turn. But not today. Today we are the ones who, on the contrary, take up binoculars, cameras and GPS devices. Michele, as if waiting for us, comes to meet us and asks us if he can come with us. Almost immediately we catch sight of the first Kentish plover, who soon lead us to the discovery of the first nest of the day.We did not expect it in the middle of summer but it will be a day full of surprises: in the end we will discover three new nests for a total of nine new eggs. Michele takes little time to learn to recognize animals and in a short time he turns into a hound, so much so that he will be the one to sight the third nest. During the approximately three kilometers traveled we also come across a large group of seagulls resting on the seashore and a quick glance reveals that among the majority of real seagulls Larus michahellis rest three seagulls Ichthyaetus audouinii, a much rarer species than it nests in a few points in the Mediterranean basin and fall into the category “next to the threat”. Within a couple of hours Michele has identified four new species of birds that share the territory with him, he has seen with his own eyes how simple carelessness on our part can be deadly for these and other species, he has refined his spirit of observation, he has known the phenomenon of migration and the methods of wildlife monitoring, he has learned many ethological characteristics, he has experienced the taste of research and discovery, he has learned to have patience, he has given meaning to fatigue but, above all, he has discovered a new way of relating to nature; has seen an alternative, a new direction to channel this passion for the natural world in a more peaceful, more constructive, more beautiful and more useful way. He conducted an educational experience. As soon as we arrive at the Lido, Michele, visibly moved, tells everyone present of his discovery, or rather that of the last nest that, among other things, stands just outside his father’s bathing establishment, in an area belonging to the Army Italian; so, worried that the military will soon be cleaning the beach, is aware that we will have to inform them about the presence of the nest, which must be careful not to crush it.  Michele has already made that leap of conscience that charges him with responsibility and that, further on, will make him question with respect to ways of relating to nature, to other species and to the environment. Michele, perhaps, has now been removed from the use of the rifle, small illegality, violent love and certain acquaintances. In the moment of greetings Michele looks at us with questioning and hopeful eyes and asks us: “When are you coming back?”