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Habitat restoration and conservation of Ardeidae on Lake Trasimeno (Trasimeno)
Start date: Jan 1, 2002, End date: Dec 31, 2005 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background Located in the province of Perugia in Umbria, Trasimeno, with a surface area of 124 km², is the largest lake in peninsular Italy. The basin, characterised by an average depth of scarcely five metres, is threatened by drought and anoxia, periodic events with a serious impact on fish populations and on the stability of the food chains of the lake ecosystem. The wetland woods once present around the lakeshore have now been almost entirely replaced by intensive farming, which also occupies the surrounding area. The lake, which features one of the main reedbeds of central Italy in terms of size and continuity, is important mainly because of the presence of approximately 80 species of nesting birds. A few of those included in Annex I of the Birds Directive are squacco heron, little egret, night heron and purple heron. Tens of thousands of wintering birds are also found there, especially coot, wigeon and pochard. The bittern - a priority species - is found on Lake Trasimeno both as a wintering species with 1-10 individuals and during the spring and autumn migration periods. This is why, in addition to being protected as a regional park, the site is a Special Protection Area. Objectives The main objective of the project was to restore alluvial forests - ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and alder (Alnus glutinosa) - on 12 ha of land along the shore of the lake. To facilitate the restoration of this priority habitat, which had virtually disappeared from the area, some farmland was to be purchased and some leased by the State. Typical wetland tree species and around 450 metres of hedges would then be planted. Covering approximately three hectares close to the cane thicket, five feeding basins were to be created for the Ardeidae/herons, filled with fish species of strictly local origin. This would seek to encourage heron populations, and particularly bitterns, to nest and breed in the area. Specifically, it aimed at the creation of new colonies of Ardeola ralloides, Nycticorax nycticorax and Egretta garzetta, breeding of Botaurus stellaris, increases in number of Ardea purpurea and Ixobrychus minutus and breeding of Milvus migrans on the lake sides. The project made provisions for monitoring the flora and fauna in the area and for a multi-faceted information and awareness campaign. Results Many difficult discussions and meetings were held between different stakeholders to reach political agreement on the protection of the important land around the Trasimeno Lake for environmental purposes. This enabled the purchase of six hectares of agricultural land, the planting of 12.25 ha of hygrophilous riparian wood and the establishment of five artificial basins for the feeding of Ardeidae species at three sites. Basins were created between 10 and 80 cm deep at San Savino, ‘La Valle’ Oasis – one basin each- and at the former airport site at Castiglione del Lago – three basins. Herons were seen to frequent them immediately and, importantly, they attracted significant numbers of the recovering Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus). The project planted 4.5 ha of hygrophilous riparian wood at San Savino and 7.75 ha at Castiglione del Lago. A total of 1,652m of mixed hedging was used to line pedestrian paths and the edges of the five wetland sites. Three new nests of Purple heron (Ardea Purpurea) were found at Castiglione del Lago. Gadwalls (Anas streper), Common pochards (Aythya farina) and Ferruginous ducks (Aythya nyroca) were spotted. Egretta garzetta and Ardea cinerea were found to be nesting and in a very particular way - in the ilex trees (Quercus ilex). This encourages the belief that the rehabilitation of the favourable environment will encourage future nesting. There is commitment from project partners to continue the monitoring activities, but they also worked to increase the sustainable access and interest of the local population. A viewing tower was restored at San Savino and viewing huts created at each of the other four feeding basins. Information panels in Italian and English were installed at each of the sites. The project carried out research on the opinions and existing awareness of local citizens and held meetings with community groups. Further communication work included a website and the publication of specific technical-informative brochures, guides, multi-media products and articles for regional and national parks, cultural and environmental associations, environmental protection authorities, schools and the media.

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