PUBLIC FOREST ESTATES AND NATURE RESERVES
by Italo Franceschini – Forestry Commissioner (retired)
(Edited by Maria Pia Turbi)
The first nature reserve in Italy was established by the National Forestry Agency in 1959 at “Sasso Fratino” in the Tosco-Romagnolo Appennines, within the Sasentino forest estate. Given the lack of specific regulations on the creation of nature reserves, it was decided to adopt the criteria laid down by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), an organization to which the Italian State Enterprise for Forests was affiliated. The latter defined a nature reserve as “an area or place which, in the general interest and in particular for scientific, aesthetic or educational reasons, is protected against unrestricted human intervention and placed under the supervision of the public authorities, in order to safeguard the conservation and protection of its basic natural characteristics”.
The first public forest estate consisted of forest areas inherited from the pre-unification states; thus the Forest of Lame was transferred to Sardinia-Piedmont after the Vienna Congress (1815), and thence to the Kingdom of Italy, which passed decrees in 1871 and 1908 declaring forest estates to be inalienable, and entrusting their financial and technical management to the Forestry Administration. The Forest of Lame is thus one of the oldest forests in the Italian national heritage, though, as a result of various social and historical events, it was in a state of extreme neglect when it came under the management of the National Forestry Agency (CFA). From 1910 to the early 1930s, in an attempt to repair the serious damage the forest had sustained, the CFA embarked upon a conifer planting programme within the deteriorated coppice and a forest irrigation scheme involving water-course management and consolidation of the mountain slopes. In the 1950s and 1960s reafforestation resumed with the planting of broad-leaved species (ash and maple) and the conversion of beech woods ; new areas were purchased and the forest estate grew to a total surface area of some 300 hectares. Following the establishment of the “Sasso Fratino” nature reserve, enthusiasm grew to identify other areas worthy of protection and in 1966, partly in response to calls from members of the scientific and academic community(1), the Forestry Department drew up a list of areas, including forest estates, worthy of being safeguarded and preserved. Thus began the process whereby new nature reserves came into being throughout the peninsula, including the Nature Reserve of “Agoraie di Sopra e Moggetto”located within the Forest of Lame, set up by decree of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests in 1971. ,
The forest estate has thus come to represent the highest possible level of protection and conservation for such areas, which were to become the focal point of national environmental policy.
Recent history has seen forest estates being handed over by the State to the regions, further to the ‘devolution decrees’ of 1971. Transfer to the regions was only partial however, the State retaining 1.1% of the property, mostly consisting of nature reserves. Thus the forest estates in Liguria, including the Forest of Lame, became regional property (FDR), with the exception of the Agoraie Reserve, management of which has hitherto been entrusted with the National Forestry Agency(2). In the late 1970’s a magnificent beech wood plus some extensive and virtually mature conifer woods were handed over to the regional authority. This forest, and the estates of Penna and Zatta, are now located within Aveto Natural Regional Park.
ORIENTATED NATURE RESERVE – THE BIOGENETIC RESERVE OF
“AGORAIE DI SOPRA E MOGGETTO”
The nature-protection issues that contributed to the setting up of the reserve are linked to the presence of a group of small lakes, ponds and peat bogs inhabited by various endangered species of flora and fauna, exceptional in being within a few kilometres, as the crow flies, of the Mediterranean, despite being typically Arctic or Alpine species. This environment is the only evidence in the Ligurian Appennines of the local glaciology. The last, Würmian, Ice Age lasted about 58,000 years and ended about 12,000 to 15,000 years ago and its action, combined with successive climatic effects, has bequeathed to us a habitat very similar to the Scandinavian landscapes. It must not be forgotten however that other historical events over the last 2000 years (fires, wars, feudalism, reafforestation, and other human activities) have profoundly modified the original habitat, not least the release of trout into the lakes for recreational fishing up until the 1960’s. So the proposal to turn it into a reserve was an urgent conservationist measure.
The Ministerial decree of 26 July 1971 setting up the reserve classifies it in the ‘Integral’ category and Article 2 of the decree permits “access exclusively for research and educational purposes and for administrative and supervisory reasons, any other form of human activity being forbidden”. In 1977 the area was placed at the disposal of the Council of Europe with a view to the establishment of the European network of Biogenetic Reserves (D.M.02/03/1977). In the light of subsequent improved scientific knowledge of the environment, it was proposed that a few corrective adjustments be made to the strict management of the reserve, such as: 1) facilitating the restoration of tree cover consistent with the natural dynamic disturbed by reafforestation; 2) carrying out thinning operations in marshy plant communities; 3) eliminating non-endemic introduced fish species. For the above reasons, by decree D.M.30/05/1986, the ‘Integral Reserve’ was reclassified as an ‘Orientated Nature Reserve’ in order to allow the above operations to take place and for subsequent scientific research.
The reserve is located in the municipality of Rezzoaglio (GE) and covers an area of roughly 16 hectares, consisting principally of the Agoraie di Sopra (15ha) and a separate area of about 1 hectare known as ‘Moggetto’ or ‘Lagastro’, both of which are fenced off. It lies at an altitude of between 1300 and 1350 metres above sea level on the northern slopes of Mt Lame (1595m) and Mt Abeti (1543m). It belongs to the basin of the river Trebbia, of which the Aveto stream is a tributary. In the reserve numerous sub-fossil trunks of Abies alba (silver fir) dating back about 2,610 years can still be found at the bottom of the “Abeti” lake, as echoed by the toponym ‘Val d’Aveto’, which means ‘fir valley’.
Lago degli Abeti, con i tronchi sub-fossili
But its precious, indeed unique, scientific interest is due to the presence of a small fungus called Lycopodiella inundata which is to be found only in the reserve in Lake Riondo; the other lakes are Stagno Piccolo, the Agoraie di Mezzo and Agoraie di Fondo. The separate seasonal lake Moggetto and Lagastro is home to an interesting colony of amphibians. Pools, ponds and wells of Ice Age origin can also be found outside the reserve, scattered among the Forest of Lame, such as Asperelle pool, Code d’Asino pool, Abeti pool, Polenta well, Ortigaro well and Lake Scuro; other pools and wet zones can still be found in the Penna forest estate and the neighbouring hills of S. Stefano d’Aveto and Borzonasca and in the villages lying on the Emilian slope.
The Regional Office for Biodiversity in Lucca (UTB)CFS, responsible for management, can provide any other relevant information, including on projects in progress.