Central Apennines

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The wild heart of Italy

The Apennines is the second main mountain range of Italy and stretches for hundreds of kilometers from the north to the south along the Country’s main axis. The Central Apennines, which are more precisely included in the administrative Italian regions Abruzzo, Latium and Molise, is a very large area with several mountains reaching altitudes above 2,000 m. Among these we find the Corno Grande peak in the Gran Sasso massif that with an altitude of 2,912 m is the highest mountain of the range, the Majella massif with Monte Amaro (2,793 m), the Marsica Mountains, Mt. Sirente and the Mt. Velino. These are typically steep limestone mountains. The limestone bedrock here, when weathered, creates a classic karstic landscape, typically devoid of surface water.

Large beech forests, many of which many are centuries-old and probably among the oldest in Europe, cover the mountain slopes in many areas. Among the huge trees and their mossy stems live large populations of wild herbivores like red deer (reintroduced since the middle of the seventies), roe deer and wild boar. These species in many places share their habitats with large herds of semi-wild horses and cattle and together represent the main prey for the wolves, whose density in some Apennine areas is possibly the highest in Europe. Abruzzi is one of the best spots in the Old World to watch this beautiful and elusive carnivore. Nevertheless, the most charismatic and famous inhabitant of the mountain forests here is the Marsican brown bear, an endemic subspecies to this region, whose core range lies mostly within the narrow boundaries of the Abruzzi National Park and its surroundings.

The many different open and wooded habitats here also host an incredible array of plant species, including endemics like the Marsican iris (Iris marsica) the wild paeony (Paeonia officinalis subsp. italica), and Ice-Age relicts like the spectacular Lady’s slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus) or the rare ghost orchid (Epipogium aphyllum).

Vast high altitude prairies lie above the timberline and host many other unique wildlife and plant species. These open grasslands are the prime habitat for the the endemic Apennine chamois which is present with several hundred individuals in the wildest and most rugged areas of the area. Chamois share their range with impressive birds like the golden eagle and the griffon vulture. The latter was successfully reintroduced in the Monte Velino area during the early 1990s and can now be found over a large area here, feeding on the many carcasses of wild herbivores and semi-domestic livestock. Furthermore, in spring and summer these open high-altitude landscapes provide the unique spectacle of hundreds of flower species in bloom, including rare and endemic plants like Apennine pheasant’s eye, Apennine vanilla orchid, and Apennine edelweiss.

Rewilding setting

The Central Appenines include the highest and most rugged mountain systems of the whole range. Encompassing three Italian regions, this is a vast natural area with many reserves and Natura 2000 sites, like the Abruzzi and Majella National Parks and the Sirente-Velino Regional Park. Together with strict protection measures and positive management actions over the past decades in the protected areas, a spontaneous and vast rewilding process has been also taking place due to land abandonment and decreasing traditional activities.

The Central Apennines have several protected areas, mostly included in the Natura 2000 network. Of particular interest is the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park, one of the first national parks in Italy and Europe. It was created in 1923 with the purpose to protect species like the Marsican brown bear and the Apennine chamois, and it is very famous also outside Italy. Several hundreds of thousands visitors are claimed to reach the area each year. Other areas in the region which are protected at a national level, are the Gran Sasso-Monti della Laga National Park and the Majella National Park.

The Rewilding initiative aims to generate an up-scaling of the whole conservation effort in the Central Apennines by focusing especially on the buffer zones of the parks and the ecological corridors in between, and by involving local administrations and stakeholders to demonstrate that land abandonment is a new opportunity to revitalize both natural dynamic processes, the socio-economic potential of the region as well as people’s quality of life.

The Rewilding Apennines process involves all the already existing protected areas but will mainly focus on their buffer zones and connection areas. In these areas all new major infrastructure projects such as windmills, power lines, road building or water power/dam constructions will be actively held away. This will be secured through agreements with local administrations and land owners, which will see rewilding as a real opportunity to maintain the natural assets while at the same time boosting the socio-economic development. Forestry activities will implement measures to increase ecological functionality and allow the rewilding processes improving their suitability for animal and plant species.

Hunting, which is banned within the boundaries of Italy’s protected areas, is allowed in certain buffer zones and selected connection areas, but with large no-hunting zones agreed to facilitate safe transfer of wildlife between the protected areas and create areas where wildlife can be more easily seen. The continued involvement of hunting associations in the development of business activities, especially wildlife watching, will lead to the establishment of new partnerships matching conservation and business development.

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