– Mountain landscape in the upper Taro valley
The Ghirardi Regional Nature Reserve and Oasi WWF preserves about 400 hectares of mountain landscape in the upper Taro valley, in the municipalities of Albareto and Borgo Val di Taro, Parma province, northern Italy. The territory is characterized by a pleasant patchwork of meadows, shrubs, mixed oak forests of turkey oak and hop-hornbeam, with precious patches of pedunculate oak wood and sessile oak with common hornbeam. There are around one hundred monumental specimens of downy oak that shade the tracks and meadows.
The extreme environmental variability favors the development of a very rich flora, including 36 species of orchids, from the common Orchis purpurea to the rare Epipactis microphylla. Other protected species are the fire lily, the fringed gentian, the Spring crocus, the Spring snowflake, the Dogtooth violet. Also among the tree species we find a real rarity: it is a small tree that grows in the sparse forests of Turkey oak, the Florentine crab apple tree, exclusive to central Italy and Greece, which here finds one of its northernmost stations.
The Reserve is a safe haven for many animals, which find in the variety of habitats a factor of diversification, so that, a few meters from the goshawk’s nest, a boreal species, we find the tunnel dug nest of the Mediterranean bee-eater. There are over 70 species of nesting birds, including the oriole, the hoopoe, the quail, the red partridge, the nightjar, the wryneck, the mistle trush.
The abundance of prey favors raptors: within the boundaries of the area, several pairs of buzzards, two of honey buzzards, and one each of short toed eagle, sparrow hawk, goshawk, kestrel and hobby nest each year. Of particular conservation interest at a European level are the red backed shrike, the woodlark and the nightjar, all present with many pairs. The species at the top of the ecological chain is the wolf: the immigration of a pack, in 2015 has reduced and made more shy the various species of ungulate present, wild boar, red deer, fallow deer and roe deer.
The WWF, with the collaboration of the Emilia Occidentale Parks Authority, deals with wildlife management: for example, to protect the Italian crested newt, a long-tailed amphibian that lives in ponds, some artificial ponds have been created for its reproduction; in order to manage the grassy habitats rich in orchids, butterflies and rare birds, wild grazing with domestic animals of local breeds has been established, using the Cabannina cow, the Nostrana sheep and the Bardigiano horse.
The other task of the WWF is environmental education, aimed at schools, summer camps and the public visiting the valley. At the Visitor Center in Case Pradelle, open as an information desk every Sunday of the year, about seventy events a year take place, including guided nature tours, small farming and breeding courses, art and photography workshops for adults and children, as well days dedicated to yoga, qi-gong and other wellness activities in nature.
Especially loved by the public are the walks accompanied by the shepherd following the flock of sheep and goats grazing, meeting the Maremmano Abruzzesi guard dogs and observing enthusiastically the ability of the border collie sheepdog to perfectly follow the shepherd’s instructions; the evening excursions dedicated to the observation of fireflies and listening to the song of the nightjar; the guided hikes in autumn to observe the fights of fallow deer in rut season.
At the Visitor Center it is also possible to book guided tours on horseback and courses to approach horse riding.
In case you prefer to get closer to nature individually, there are over 15 km of marked trails that can be accessed freely, taking care not to stray from them not to disturb the wildlife.
All information can be found on the website www.oasighirardi.org
Credits Photo & Text by GUIDO SARDELLA