Animal rights groups hoped the raid would put a new focus on illegal activity in what is the most egregious songbird killer in Europe.

Last week, a court in Brescia held the first hearing of a local who kept 788 dead songbirds in his freezer. This included robins, which are illegally sold to restaurants for 3 to 5 euros. They are especially valued for their thin bill, which is considered edible for some.

In Italy, animals can only be hunted with a license and there are penalties for hunting and selling protected species. For years the issue has been at the center of a political conflict between animal rights activists, who are often backed by progressive politicians – who have called for stricter restrictions – and hunting associations and conservative politicians who want to make hunting easier.

Animal rights activists point out that songbirds are in danger across Europe and that 40 once common migratory bird species are disappearing.

“There is a general biodiversity crisis,” said Annamaria Procacci, board member of ENPA, Italy’s animal welfare league, and former Green Senator.

“And then there are people who enjoy it.”

Mr Massardi, the official who labeled the protected blackberries a delicacy, is a hunter who has proposed removing the protection for some songbirds, including those on Friday’s menu. He said he wanted to save tradition.

He acted “in the name of the Brescian spit,” he said, a typical dish made from impaled slices of pork, chicken, rabbits and songbirds. The chaffinch and the blackberry, he said, give the skewer an unmistakable bitter taste that he has not enjoyed in 10 years.