#BackyardHeroes: Italy!

Italy has two main islands, Sardinia and Sicily. In the hinterland of Sicily, around Mount Cammarata natural reserve, it is common to spot red foxes, wild boars (although very few of them are still around), wild rabbits and porcupines, kestrels, barn owls, but also the Sicilian wall lizard and the Sicilian green toad! There is a large presence of cedar trees, holm oaks, cypresses, pine trees, dandelions and chamomile among our endemic flora as well. In the winters it is cold and rainy and sometimes it even snows! Our summers are hot and dry. Nowadays, there can be summery hot days in December and cold snowy ones through April, which may sound normal to other countries around the world, but here it is completely weird!

Sardinia has a typical Mediterranean climate also; summers are hot and dry and winters are mild and wet along the coast, while on the mountains temperatures can drop below zero and everything gets covered in snow. This land is very ancient and it is characterized by a peculiar and variegated landscape: hills, mountains, plains, forests, ponds, and lagoons – where the marvelous greater flamingos live and nest – rivers, cliffs and caves, all in the same territory. Due to its peculiarity, Sardinian fauna and flora include many endemic species and subspecies: the Sardinian fox, the Sardinian wild cat, the least weasel, the Sardinian deer, the pine marten, the Sardinian salamander, the white donkey, the Sardinian chaffinch, the Sardinian sparrow hawk, the very rare Sardinian goshawk, genisteae, helichrysium, the Armeria of Sardinia and the peony, to say some. Unfortunately, this wonderful place and its creatures are in serious danger due not only to illegal hunting and loss of habitat but also to the fires, which break out during summer. 

Vesuvio National Park is located in the province of Naples, Italy. The Park was born in order to defend one of the most famous volcanoes in the world; Vesuvius, consisting of an external mainly destroyed crater, the extinct Mt. Somma, in which there is a smaller cone represented by the still active volcano Vesuvius. The territory is rich in historical-naturalistic beauties and it has an interesting fauna: we can meet dormice, beech-martens, foxes, wild rabbits... We can also see around 100 bird species: the Kestrel, the Sparrow hawk, the Peregrine, the Hoopoe, the Turtle Dove, the Woodpigeon, the Great Spotted Woodpecker, and the Rock Thrush, to say some. If you like reptiles, here there are colored green-lizards, harmless western whip snakes and disc-fingered geckos.

In Northwest Italy, the winter temperature can go below zero with snow, spring and fall are pleasant but have rainy weather, and summer can be fairly hot and dry. Po Valley is 60 km north of the Mediterranean Riviera and close to the Alps. There are different habitats on limited surfaces and the same species of animals or plants here can inhabit similar but far away locations of the country. The grass of plains is enjoyed by hares, wild rabbits, roe and fallow deer and in an unknown spot very near to me live three rare white deer. In the woody vegetation you can spot wild boars, foxes, and badgers and in the last year's wolves have come back to the hills. Looking lower: hedgehogs and moles, whereas up in the air fly different kind of birds, included hawks, and in summer the bee-eaters from Africa; along the rivers egrets and herons like to fish. Moreover bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, crickets and less famous insects. Wildlife in the whole of Italy has to adapt to more and more smaller environments as commercial, residential and farming development is taking their already little space. We are in very bad need of backyard heroes!

Biella, Piedmont, is between plains and mountains, and thanks to the cool and humid climate of the Alps, the vegetation cover is quite thick. The most famous expression of this climate is the Burcina Park famous for its Rhododendrons. The fauna is typical of the Alpine regions and it varies widely: there are plenty of Foxes, Hares, Squirrels, Dormice, Weasels, Martens, Groundhogs and Stoats. Native of these areas is the Chamois, often accompanied by the Roe Deer and, rarely, by the Mouflon (only about 500 specimens left). With the increase of the surfaces covered by tall forests, we’ve recreated the right habitat for the Deer, recently reintroduced by the province of Biella. Among birds, we remember the Grouse, the rare Ptarmigan, the Eagle Owl, the Black Woodpecker, the Alpine Chaffinch, the Wall creeper and the Golden Eagle. Even the Wild Boar has reappeared in the pre-Alpine system of Biella. In recent times, unfortunately, the Wolf, the Lynx, the Wild Rooster, the Vulture and the Bear have gone extinct.

The region of Veneto, in Northeastern Italy, is very rich in different landscapes and environments, all of them within a two-hour drive from one another! From the lagoon of Venice and the coastal zone of the Adriatic Sea –described by Hemingway “very similar to the Mississippi Delta” in his novel Across the River and Into the Trees– to a very mild climate zone surrounding the big Lake Garda where citrus fruits are grown, to a huge plain crowned by a stripe of sweet hills full of vines, to the mouth of river Po and, finally, to the Dolomites in the north. Dolomites are mountains made of a pale rock originated from ancient corals and marine fossils which, at dawn and sunset, take wonderful golden, red, pink and purple shades. Just inside the National Park of the Dolomites of the Province of Belluno, which boasts a wide range of flora and fauna, most of them typical of Alpine climate zone: squirrels, roe deer, ibexes, chamoises, mouflons, badgers, martens, ermines, hares, foxes, fire salamanders, Alpine newts, Asp vipers and adders. Lately, brown bears, lynxes and herons – once gone – have come back here thanks to improvement of their habitats. We have also 115 different kinds of birds, including golden eagles, hawks, grouses, white partridges, buzzards and pygmy and boreal owls. As far as flora is concerned, I would like to point out a particular phenomenon: in the southeastern part of my province, there is a wood called Foresta del Cansiglio (the second largest forest in Italy) where a temperature inversion takes place. As a result, conifers grow at a lower altitude and broad-leaved trees at a higher.

Contributed By: Anna, Chiara, Marianna, Paola, Rosanna, and Valentina, members of the ISF's Italian Translation team

-Photo Credit: Chiara Melone