Biodiversity of the Gran Sasso

Biodiversity of the Gran Sasso


How agricultural biodiversity is protected in
Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park

The protected areas in Abruzzo (3 national parks, 1 regional, and about 100 reserves, in total 30% of protected territory) constitute an enormous naturalistic heritage that the communities and local policies are required to safeguard, under penalty of the irreversible process of degradation and impoverishment. of the whole socio-cultural-environmental system.

Therefore, in the last 10-15 years, various types of project activities have taken place within the protected areas aimed at safeguarding and recovering the most important and characterizing agro-forestry-pastoral resources: floral-landscape, zootechnical, agri-food, agricultural and forestry resources.

The territories of the Gran Sasso-Laga National Park (of about 200,000 ha) are quite extensive, involving 3 regions, 5 provinces and 44 municipalities, many of which are located in almost inaccessible and unreachable areas such as to constitute true bulwarks of naturalness intended as a garrison of the mountain territory in which historical and ancient structures converge such as ruins of castles, churches, abbeys, farmhouses and abandoned and renovated villages, old stazzi and abandoned and still used shepherds' residences, villages with a few dozen medieval and Renaissance inhabitants where you can still breathe an atmosphere of ancient times and of forgotten flavors.

The agricultural landscapes of these environments have their roots in the Italic period.

They are characterized by: terraces, open fields of cicerchie lentils, potatoes and saffron, almond groves, vineyards and olive groves, high altitude pastures.

The typical products that derive from it and which have also conquered the PGI denominations are: the Lentil of S. Stefano di Sessanio, the Cicerchia of Castelvecchio Calvisio, the black and red chickpeas and the Saffron of Navelli, the Moscatello di Castiglionea Casauria and the Pecorino grape of hills of the Tronto river, the chestnuts of the Tronto valley.

The transhumant pastoralism of Abruzzo has represented a point of reference between southern Italy and northern Italy since since 700 the flocks transhumed from Abruzzo to the Tavoliere di Puglia and subsequently to the Roman countryside.

The pioneer breeds of Abruzzo transhumance are the Gentile di Puglia and the Sopravvisana with a dairy attitude and also for wool, especially the Gentile.

It is thanks to transhumance that villages and cities such as L'Aquila have formed, which have aggregated entire communities and which now build an attractive pole of strong appeal precisely for the intrinsic and almost untouched peculiarities of some realities.

Over the last few years, a network of collaboration has been established between various entities that revolve around the park such as the LAGs, L’ARSSA, 4 Slow Food presidents, producers' consortiums and associations; all this to make the complex system of the protected area more usable, even if it is rather heterogeneous given the coexistence of 3 regions and 44 municipalities that cover almost the entire protected area falling within central Italy.

The most significant project interventions carried out by the Park in recent years include:

  • the recovery of the germplasm of horticultural, cereal and native fruit varieties and cultivars for the recovery of ancient varieties at risk of extinction with the necessary contribution of the farmers who act as "protectors" of the same (var. of potato Turquoise, var. of potato Fiocco di neve, var. . of Solina soft wheat, var. of Renetta apples and local almond trees);
  • the recovery of wildlife species of valuable environmental value such as the Abruzzo chamois;
  • the recovery of the local flora (Apennine Genepì);
  • the valorisation, storage and marketing of treated and processed shear wool;
  • the enhancement and typification of honey from the protected area;
  • the enhancement of local pecorino cheeses (Pecorino di Farindola and Canestrato di Casteldel Monte).

All activities are carried out in collaboration with various entities: local LAGs, Universities of L'Aquila and Rome, FAI (Federation of Italian Beekeepers).

The tools through which the Parks intervene on the territory are:

1) the Park plan
2) the socio-economic plan of the Park.

We note how the extension of the areas affected by agricultural uses, identified in the classes "arable land in non-irrigated areas", "complex cultivation systems and parcels", "areas occupied by agricultural crops with the presence of natural spaces", "stable meadows" and " olive groves ”which on the whole occupy about 5.6% of the territory are reduced compared to the coverage of wooded areas which instead extends for almost 70,000ha equal to about 48% of the total protected area territory.

An area equal to about half of that covered with woodland are the "natural pasture areas and high altitude grasslands" which occupy 24% of the territory, mainly concentrated in the south-western side of the Gran Sassone massif where only the pastures of the he plateau of Campo Imperatore extend for more than 10,000ha and on the Monti della Laga they occupy all areas above 1700m.

The presence in the Park of some areas with a more marked agricultural vocation is evident due to the concentration of the various forms of agricultural use of the land and above all of arable land such as the Amatrice basin and the Capestrano plain.

In the more markedly mountainous areas, the prevailing form of agricultural activity is that of permanent pastures while that of arable land is completely marginal; this situation has led to an intensification of extensive animal husbandry, mainly transhumant. Currently, however, we are witnessing a development of the sedentary one.

The side of the Park where professional agriculture is found is the Lazio one with particular reference to the Amatrice basin: here at the base of the Laga mountains a vast almost flat area intensely cultivated with cereals and fodder with the presence of numerous farms with zootechnical address with dairy cattle . Another interesting area is the plain of Capestrano where cereals and forage crops are grown in the plains and olive trees in the hills.

A particular connotation then have some municipalities such as Castel del Monte, Calascio, Castelvecchio, Calvisio and S. Stefano di Sessanio where there is a widespread system of open fields up to 1300-1400 m.

Here too we are faced with an extreme attempt to tear up spaces for cultivation from natural environments, thus giving rise to the formation of a system of fields that often coincide with snow valleys in which the rain has favored the accumulation of soil more suitable for growth of plants, which with the tenacious action of man has been transformed into soil suitable for cultivation.

In these fields cereals, minor cereals and small legumes (lentils, chickpeas) are cultivated alternately.

One of its specific features presents the entire northern and eastern side of the Laga mountains where professional agricultural activity has now completely disappeared and once cultivated spaces are now replaced by spontaneous vegetation.

In agriculture, the regions decide through the application of the PSR (Regional Development Plan) and related measures.

In addition to the Mandatory Acts and Standards relating to Cross-compliance, mandatory for farms since 2005) there is also law 394/91 (framework law on protected areas) which provides for the drafting of 1) Park Plan and 2) Socio-economic Plan of the Park.

Through national and regional projects in agreement with local LAGs, ItaliaLavoro and the Region, the Park has tried in the last 10 years to set up a system of relationships and infrastructures involved in the dissemination and protection of local interests.

A few years ago the agro-forestry-pastoral service was established.

Currently, all companies that want to use the logo of the Gran Sasso-Laga Park for the marketing of products must comply with environmental quality certification standards, ISO 14,000 or other national certification protocols established by the certification bodies.

The specifications issued by the park authority must be respected and their application is guaranteed by the companies through the control of the certification bodies.

The Park Authorities in general do not deal directly with agriculture but with the safeguarding of its biodiversity, through the development of the Park Plans and the implementation of all specific regulations relating to the maintenance of the protected areas within them such as:

  • Protection and safeguarding with respect to the ban on lighting fires
  • Protection and safeguarding with respect to the ban on free camping
  • Protection against the ban on cars
  • Protection against the prohibition of using the park logo without appropriate request for the marketing of products
  • Protection of companies through economic compensation for damage suffered to crops

There are examples, in past years, of failure or inadequate aggregation of the commercial offer of typical products such as pecorino Canestrato di Casteldel Monte and pecorino di Farindola (currently both DOP) for which the following was respectively neglected:

  • the main element of the supply chain that is its craftsmanship to the advantage of a cooperative project which then failed due to its too incisively entrepreneurial characteristic (for the Pecorino di Farindola);
  • the element of protection of small producers by local administrations in the face of a single large specialized producer that had conquered its large share of the market.
    In both cases, there was little or no protection of products and producers by local institutions precisely with the consequent inhomogenization and disaggregation of the supply with failures of association and cooperative initiatives to the disadvantage of the total rural community and not.
    Their very delicate and very important role is obviously protected and supported both technically and economically by the Park Authority itself, by the Agricultural Development Agency (ARSSA) and by the Local Management Groups (GAL) through the implementation of national and international projects.

It is therefore desirable in Abruzzo that between the Park Authorities, the producers and the local institutions there is a continuous exchange and a continuous synergy so that the rural and agrosilvopastoral realities of the protected areas can be enhanced and improved.

In the last 10-15 years this effort has also been considerable given the amount of projects and initiatives both regional and national made available.

A further effort is now needed so that these potentials become reality in effect through the radicalization and development of the objectives set in a common effort to belong to the same heritage. National parks and SIC (Sites of Community importance) are the areas that mainly protect portions of territory with high biological values ​​and there are, however, also areas of high biodiversity, generally foothills that remain excluded from protection.

The recovery of local varieties and cultivars of vegetables and fruit trees is part of the various projects currently promoted and implemented by the Park Authority together with the University, GAL, ARSSA and aims to offer farmers the opportunity to use local native seeds and to market their final products thus becoming the “Guardians” of the Park's agricultural biodiversity.

Dr. Antonella Di Matteo

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