Rivista "IBC" XI, 2003, 4

Dossier: L'IBC per l'Europa

territorio e beni architettonici-ambientali, dossier /

"Life - Nature 2000": the wolf of the Appennines, Comacchio salt-pan, Onferno's chiroptera

Stefano Corazza

Life is the financial instrument for the environment set up by the European Union in 1992 and is one of the pillars of its environmental policy, it co-finances projects proposed by member and candidate states in three different areas: nature, environment and third party countries. In particular Life Nature aims to encourage projects containing direct action in the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora as proposed by the directives "Birds" and "Habitat"; these projects support the implementation of nature conservation policies in the European Union, in particular the realization of "Nature 2000" a European network of zones containing the habitats and species of most interest.

The IBC has been given, by the regional government of Emilia-Romagna, at the end of 2001 a specific task for the "planning, management and co-ordination of the projects" in conformity with the EC directives and programmes (Regional Council resolution n.2832/2001). The IBC, in virtue of this capacity, has been attributed three projects to realize, which were presented in September 2000 by the Regional Government of Emilia-Romagna as part of the Life-Nature 2000 programme and which obtained in July 2001 a financial support from the European Commission. The total funds allotted by the EC to the three projects are over 1.3 million Euro out of a total cost of 3.1 million Euro, of which the Regional government of Emilia-Romagna will contribute 1.4 million, while the rest will be covered by the partners.


Life - Nature 2000 project "Conservation of the wolf in the SCI areas of three regional parks in Emilia-Romagna" (LIFE00NAT/IT/7215)

The project "Wolf (canis lupus) preservation action in ten SCI zones of the three parks of Emilia-Romagna" is carried out in conjunction with the regional parks of the Alto Appenino Reggiano (the Upper Appenines in the area around Reggio), called Parco del Gigante, of the Alto Appenino Modenese (the Upper Appenines falling within the territory of Modena), namely Parco del Frignano, and of the Upper Parma and Cedra Valley (100 lakes); it has a cost of around Euro 930,000, of which 45% is financed by the EC. The project, activated in 2001, has a life span of three years and will finish in May 2004. The Regional government of Emilia-Romagna has general responsibility for the project and will make use of its three parks in order to carry it out.


The reasons

The wolf even today is still a species seriously at risk from general poaching and the presumed conflicts of interest with both domestic livestock and hunting, not withstanding the fact that the wolf is recognised at various levels of legislative acts as being a conservationist and administrative priority of our country. Widely found over all the national territory up to the 1920s, the wolf was subject to intensive hunting, which brought about its disappearance from the entire alpine region already by the end of the 1920s. Around the 1950s its presence was also seriously reduced in the Appennine chain, until becoming by the 1970s, fragmented and localized in a few mountain districts in the central-southern region of the Appennines.

As a result of this considerable reduction in numbers the wolf was declared a protected species around the mid 1970s. As from the beginning of the 1980s the wolf became more and more widespread to the point of being present once again in the entire Appennine chain, with considerable branching out in central Italy. Its recent expansion in the North has seen today its re-establishment in the western Alps as well. Reasons for this positive turn of events can probably be found in the new laws, the establishment of protected natural areas, which have taken away large zones from hunting, and above all the reappearance of the main wild prey of the wolf.

However its return to areas which have not seen its presence for several decades has brought to the surface old, but well rooted fears and prejudices towards the wolf, enough to represent once again a considerable threat for the wolf itself. Nevertheless neither the conflicting interests, under an economical aspect, with the rearing of livestock or the potential clashes with the hunting community represent on their own the real reason which has driven the Regional government of Emilia-Romagna and its three regional parks, namely of the Gigante, of the Frignano and the 100 lakes to present to the EU a proposal for a suitable project for the preservation of the wolf. The most important reason has been the recognition of not having enough knowledge of the exact presence of the wolf in the area of the three parks and above all an admission of not having ready at hand any administrative tools capable of granting an adequate level of protection of the species and, at the same time, easing the conflict with the livestock-breeding interests.


The objectives

The principal aim of the project is to research the possibility of a co-existence between humans and their activity in the area and the wolf with its territorial, reproduction, hunting and refuge requirements. This objective is carried out through related operations over a vast territory, taking in the Appennine area of three provinces, namely Modena, Parma and Reggio Emilia. In particular it is a question of putting into effect a three year campaign of monitoring with the aim of:

1) Creating an information system (GIS), consisting of strategies for the gathering, registering and processing of data relative to the three regional parks;

2) Developing plans for operating through a proposed marking off of zones most suitable to the preservation of the wolf and the SCIs (general and sector-specific) and regulations pointing in the direction of a more efficient policy of conservation;

3) Agreeing on time scales, identify strategies and ways of gaining the consensus of the social groups most directly involved and present in the whole area of the project (hunters, shepherds, livestock farmers, foresters, farmers, local administrators etc.

4) co-ordinating anti-poaching teams , professional and voluntary, present in the project's area.

Specific objectives of the monitoring are the estimate of the numbers of the wolf population and its main wild prey, the composition of the family groups, the definition of the wolf diet and the role played by the wild prey as well as the determination of the genetic diversity and degree of kinship of the wolves. Other specific objectives are the direct and indirect protection of the livestock-rearing activity by the building of wolf-proof fencing, the predisposition of an accepted strategy for the relevant bodies with the aim of simplifying compensation procedures for predation damage and above all of raising awareness in the general public, as well as of disseminating at various levels the information collected.

The operational plans formulated on the basis of first hand experience and acquired knowledge will be concretised in general or sector-specific rules, which will be proposed to the parks at the end of the project. Other objectives are: technical training of staff, information and awareness raising directed specifically at local administrator, also by meetings with other local administrators and officials of protected areas in Italy and the European Community.


Life - Nature 2000 project "Ecological Restoration and conservation of the habitat in the salt-pan of the SCI Marshes of Comacchio" (LIFE00NAT/IT/7215)

The project "Ecological restoration and conservation of the habitat in the salt-pan of SIC Marshes of Comacchio" realised in collaboration with Regional Park of the Po Delta has a duration of 4 years and a cost of around 1,6 million Euros, 40% financed by the European Commission. Set up in 2001, the project will reach its conclusion in March 2005.


The reasons

The marshes of Comacchio are the largest stretch of paludal waters in Italy. Their origins go back to medieval times, when the deviation of the branches of the Po caused the blocking of the sedimentary deposits and the area started to lower as a result of the natural causes of subsidence. Thus, sea-water could to penetrate into the marshes, together with fresh water when the Reno overflowed. Then land reclaiming reduced the marshes from the original 40,000 hectares to the present 12,500 (approx.)

The salt-pan of Comacchio, situated in the north-east corner of the marshes, was made from the ancient estuary of the Po of Eridano, which flowed to the north of the present day marshes of Comacchio. It is divided into two parts: an eastern part, characterised by rectangular basins, where the water was made to evaporate and the salt collected; a western part, adjacent to the centre of the marshes of Comacchio, with a completely natural aspect and form, with winding banks and rises, used for the accumulation of sea water and for the initial evaporation.

The use of the salt-pan, of ancient origin, was carried on until present times and was stopped in 1984. The salt-pan of Comacchio represents today an area of great importance, at a European level, as nesting-ground for the Charadriiformes and for their wintering, and makes up part of the Ramsar area "Marshes of Comacchio and surrounding waters" and the Area of special protection of the same name. In particular, the banks, marked by the presence of salt-water vegetation of varying composition depending on the degree of moisture and of human intervention, are important breeding grounds of species of great conservational interest.

Since the salt production ceased, in 1984, a progressive degradation of water regulation and circulation has occurred. Such a situation puts at risk the habitat of the western part of the salt-pan, which is of the most naturalistic importance. The consequent decrease in the level of salt in the water puts at risk the survival of animal and plant species typical to oversalted waters. In particular, the survival of the Artemia salina, a crustacean of great importance in the flamingo's diet, has become strategic. The erosion caused by the lack of maintenance and controlling of water levels, as well as by subsidence has caused a considerable decrease in the number of outcrops over the whole area of the Marshes. A change in the vegetation has been registered, caused by the progressive desalination of the waters. All this has led to a general reduction in the nesting-grounds, especially for the species of the most naturalistic importance. The presence of an extensive and crumbling network of electrical power lines causes a serious risk to the local bird population. Furthermore the presence of industrial warehouses built with asbestos based concrete now in very poor condition could cause asbestos particles to enter the water.


The objectives

The reinstatement and re-functioning of the water system, to which have been addressed several operations capable of starting off a first partial extraction, is vital and of top priority for the restoring of the area's habitat. The reinstatement of a standard-bearing salt production in a small south eastern portion of the salt-pan, restructured and readapted to be able to carry on with manual gathering, aims to preserve a habitat suitable for species adapted to oversalted waters. The restoring of salt production also has a cultural and educational value, an important part of Comacchio's local history has been influenced by the economical importance of the salt-works.

The restructuring and reconstruction of the rises in the western part of the salt-pan will give a larger area for the nesting of the considerable colonies of Laridae and Sternidae, as well as giving back its long lost aspect to the area. At the same time the elimination of discontinued power lines and the laying down of underground essential ones will eliminate a serious danger for the liberty of movement of the local bird population and will contribute to an overall reinstatement of the original landscape of the salt lakes. Finally the demolition of industrial warehouses in reinforced concrete with asbestos-made concrete roofs will remove a serious risk regarding the pollution of the water of the salt pan and will get rid of disturbing elements for the landscape.

The realisation of an Operational Centre for monitoring the environment and for scientific instruction will allow the on-site elaboration of the data gathered about elements of the ecosystem. The centre will also promote the dissemination of scientific data concerning the salt-works and their access for both tourism-related and educational purposes. The possibility of seeing live and in its natural state the local bird population should be particularly interesting through cameras positioned in strategic points of the salt-pan.


Life - Nature 2000 project "Preservation of the Chiroptera and their foraging environment in the oriented natural reserve of Onferno in the SCI area of the same name" (LIFENAT/IT/7216)

The project "preservation of the chiropters and their foraging environments in the oriented natural reserve of Onferno in the SCI area of the same name, realized in collaboration with the Council of Gemmano, controlling body of the regional reserve, has a duration of three years and a cost of over 580,000 Euros of which 40% is financed by the EC Set up in 2001, the project will reach its conclusion in May 2004.


The reasons

The oriented natural reserve of Onferno, characterised by karst phenomena, which have given rise to an interlinked system of caves, is situated between Emilia-Romagna and Marche. The area is characterised by a limited edge of messinian evaporite with karst phenomena and surrounding surviving woodland. The plant life consists of forest vegetation borders, secondary and very diverse grasslands according to the different substrata and shrubbery for the recreation of forest-cover.

The area hosts species of plant life, particularly rare for the region: Staphylea pinnata, Phyllitis scolopendrium, polypodium australe, etc. The karst system of the Caves of Onferno represents one of the most important regional sites for troglobites. An environment rich in biodiversity thanks to the presence of numerous species of vertebrates and with a rural and largely intact natural landscape, the area is of particular importance for the presence of communities of bats of differing types, of which six have a recognised status at a EC level. From their refuges in the caves and the woods, they can find their sources of nourishment in the surrounding area, consisting of arid grassland and riparian groves. The cultivating, neglect or erosion of these areas are however reducing the spaces where the bats can find suitable living conditions. The drying up of a semi-natural stretch of water has further worsened the situation of Chiroptera who used it as a watering area. Instead some species are suffering the loss of suitable hollows for refuge and reproduction.


The objectives

The project proposes to extend the measures introduced in favour of the bats in the reserve to other areas within the European Site of Community Importance. The scheduled plans of action include the acquisition of lands to expand the area of protection and forest recovery, the restoration of a semi-natural watering hole and the creation of areas made suitable for the rest and reproduction of Chiroptera by the installation of nesting boxes and the creation of suitable hollows in the existing constructions. An improved organisation of the meadows by controlled pasturing of local breeds of sheep and cow is conducive to the bat's prey. Side by side with these measures, an education policy in the schools and the production and dissemination of informative material is underway to boost the public knowledge with regarding the relation between the bats and the rural habitats in which they live.


Situation (October 2003)

The three projects are in an advanced phase of realization and the carrying out of the various measures is running on time and as scheduled. The Advancement and Intermediate reports have already been produced and the Commission has favourably commented. Satisfaction on the state of advancement of the projects has been expressed by the Commission, also as a result of various visits undertaken by both the organisation Mecomat Comunità Ambiente (Mecomat Environment Community) and the experts of the relevant managerial bodies. In particular, the following has been underlined: the quality of the transmitted reports, the organization, the technical-scientific management and the intensity of the monitoring work carried out in the wolf project, the richness and clarity of the web site dedicated to the three projects.

Web site:



IBC contact person:

Stefano Corazza

( SCorazza@ibc.regione.emilia-romagna.it)

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