This project is dedicated to the conservation and restoration of the last dry grasslands on the plains of Friuli, in northern Italy. Called "magredi" these unusual grasslands grow on coarse soils deposited by three pre-alpine rivers. Because of the poor quality of the soil, the terrain is highly permeable, allowing only certain types of plants to grow here.
These so-called ‘Eastern sub-Mediterranean dry grasslands’ have now almost disappeared from the plains of northern Italy. The abandonment of traditional practices, such as mowing and extensive grazing, combined with a shift towards a more intensive production of soybean and maize, has caused their range to shrink dramatically over the years, leaving only small isolated pockets of habitats here and there. The little that remains is fast becoming overgrown with shrubs and invaded by non-native plant species.
The Regione Autonoma Friuli Venezia Giulia therefore decided to launch a LIFE project to help restore and reconnect the remaining magredi in its region. Focusing on abandoned agricultural land within four Natura 2000 sites, scrub was extensively cleared and the invasive plant species Amorpha fruticosa removed wherever possible. Mowing was re-introduced to the restored areas, wild grass seeds were sown and rare native plant species, such as orchids, were reintroduced to the area, after being propagated in specialised nurseries.
Thanks to these actions, almost 500 ha of dry grasslands have been restored and reconnected, which corresponds to an increase of 5.7% of this type of grasslands in the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region. The newly restored grasslands are now eligible for subsidies from the Rural Development Programme to ensure their continued management. Knowledge of the magredi and awareness of their value has also been heightened through regular posts on the Internet, information boards across the territory, educational and information material, television and radio broadcasts and many meetings with the local population.
The project has had positive impact on many vulnerable and rare species associated with this type of habitat. Even the wolf has made a tentative comeback, most probably attracted by an increase in its prey, which consists of typical grassland species such as the deers Capreolus capreolus and Cervus elaphus, the hare Lepus europaeus and the wild boar Sus scrofa.