All the interventions will be designed as part of a broader vision that takes into consideration ecosystem services, climate mitigation and climate adaptation, and ecological connectivity over the entire country and beyond. Parco Italia interventions are meant to trigger habitat restoration and regeneration processes and to be tailored to the unique features of various landscapes across Italy. These interventions will follow rivers and canals to activate processes of restoration in accordance with the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030, connecting cities and making them more permeable, running through agricultural areas as vectors of biodiversity, and remediating polluted soils in industrial areas.
Parco Italia is also promoting the ecological improvement of buffer areas near existing parks and natural reserves and managing the processes of rewilding in these natural and semi-natural spaces.
The project started by considering the great potential of Italy’s forests: Italy is a biodiversity hotspot. It has 11 million hectares of existing forested areas, representing 35% of the nation’s total land mass. Based on how much land they occupy, forests represent the largest green infrastructure of the country.
In 2019, for the first time in centuries, the area of forests exceeded that of farmland in Italy due to the abandonment of agricultural land. The growth of Italian forests, as good as it may sound, can also be a trigger for the intensification of risks—for example, an increase in the number and intensity of fires—especially if new forests lack management and maintenance.
In the last 50 years, soil consumption has heavily affected the continuity and connection of natural areas in Italy. Therefore, 25.11% of the territory shows a high degree of ecological fragmentation.
In order to protect and restore biodiversity, the EU has set the target to protect 30% of EU land by 2030. Currently, 21.3% of the total land area of Italy is protected. If we apply this target to the Italian territory, Italy should increase its percentage of protected areas by at least 8.7% by 2030 to reach European targets.
Italy needs to work on enlarging its protected land area while also protecting its existing natural resources, managing them to minimise fragmentation risks and increase ecological connectivity.
Connectivity is an important conservation tool that can reduce the negative effects of habitat loss and fragmentation. Connectivity has been shown to increase dispersal, migration and gene flow; promote population recolonisation or establishment of populations in unoccupied areas; and favour the circulation and selection of genotypes better adapted to environmental challenges. Targeting connectivity between natural areas requires protecting, enlarging, managing and restoring protected and unprotected natural and semi-natural areas. A long-term increase in forest area and connectivity —via natural or assisted regeneration and restoration of disturbed or degraded forests and deforested land— could increase the supply of productive ecosystem services, including environmental regulation and cultural services, that forests provide to local and global communities.
The new forests in Parco Italia will be compatible with the local soil, climate, and biodiversity, and will not harm local communities, their rights, or current land use. Forests, both new and existing, will be the first beneficiaries of our care.
In its initial phase, the Parco Italia project undertook a set of research activities that resulted in a comprehensive understanding of Italy’s natural capital and the identification of potential areas for afforestation. The team also conducted activities such as stakeholder mapping, the definition of afforestation guidelines, a general governance framework, and the development of environmental monitoring indicators to support the multifunctional services provided by forests in both urban and extra-urban areas. Overall, the research phase of the Parco Italia project was critical in establishing the necessary background knowledge to promote sustainable afforestation in a comprehensive way and set the criteria and actions for improving Italy’s ecological connectivity and biodiversity.
The second phase of the Parco Italia project kickstarted a series of activities aimed at implementing pilot projects. These initiatives are designed to reduce forest fragmentation and enhance the spatial connectivity of natural habitats. Our ambition is to gradually establish a nationwide ecological network that connects natural areas, urban and periurban areas, to coastal, rural and mountain regions. The pilot projects are tailored to the specific needs of each landscape and territory. They include afforestation and reforestation campaigns, targeted actions for habitat restoration, and strategies to support and assist forest regeneration.
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