The fourth report on the application of the Habitats Directive (Art. 17) shows that grasslands are in an ‘unfavourable’ conservation status in all three Italian biogeographical regions. The habitat ‘Juniperus communis formations on heaths or calcareous grasslands’ (5130) was classified as ‘unfavourable – inadequate’ and both ‘Semi-natural dry grasslands…’ (6210) and ‘Species-rich Nardus grasslands…’ (6230) were ‘unfavourable – bad’, except for 6230 in the Alps which is ‘unfavourable – inadequate’. The decline in habitat quality is strongly related to the decrease or cessation of traditional extensive grazing and mowing. Along the Apennine chain, the area of pasture and grassland almost halved from 1960 to 2000, mostly due to a shift towards woody vegetation. Within the National Park of the Casentinesi Forests, "open habitats" decreased by 73% from 1954 to 2010, pastures by more than 80%, and in the 1990s the municipalities within the National Park experienced a 39% decrease in the number of farms with livestock. This is mainly due to depopulation of mountain areas and its socio-economic consequences. However, local-scale studies have highlighted as main obstacles the lack of pastoral infrastructure, particularly for the mitigation of conflicts with wolves in more isolated areas, and scarce generational change, exacerbated by the lack of know-how in new generations that constitutes an obstacle for young people wanting to return to this profession.
The aim of the LIFE ShepForBio project is to improve the conservation status of three habitat types listed in the Habitats Directive ‘Semi-natural dry grasslands…’ (6210*), ‘Species-rich Nardus grasslands…’ (6230*) and ‘Juniperus communis formations on heaths or calcareous grasslands’ (5130), in the National Park of the Casentinesi Forests, through the development of pastoral activities that will guarantee their sustainable and lasting management. The approach is based on three lines of action:
(i) habitat restoration through direct management (e.g. shrub clearing);
(ii) supporting existing pastoral activities through the economical recognition of the multi-services that mountain farms provide (e.g. landscape and biodiversity conservation, production of food) and training courses based on shepherd needs; and
(iii) increased recruitment of new shepherds.
The project’s specific objectives are to:
- Improve the conservation status of habitats 6210*, 6230* and 5130 through restoration interventions promoting pastoralism as a biodiversity conservation tool at European level;
- Define management methods through grazing to improve the habitats‘ conservation status;
- Identify at least one new economic operator for each intervention area that will maintain the restored habitats in a favourable conservation status through active management;
- Support shepherds through training activities and at a school for grazing management and for the improvement of their economic activities;
- Export good practices tested in the project to other areas through agri-environment schemes and specific measures in the next rural development programme (RDP);
- Disseminate good practices for conservation of grassland type habitats tested in other LIFE and environmental-related projects.
At EU level, the objectives of the project match the goals of the EU Birds Directive and Habitats Directive and, as a consequence, the EU Biodiversity Strategy. At Italian level, the project will support the development of a measure of the RDP of Regione Toscana related to grazing.
- Restoration of 79 ha of Habitats Directive habitat type 6230*, 193 ha of 6210* and 73 ha of 5130, through the clearance of shrubs and invasive trees, and grazing;
- Conservation status improvement through grazing restoration of an additional 113 ha of 6230*, 32 ha of H6210* and 2 ha of 5130;
- Contribution to the start up or development of at least one economic operator for each of the project areas;
- Organisation of training courses for shepherds to improve the economic sustainability of their activities, with at least 12 courses, subdivided for macrozones of intervention, involving at least 15 shepherds each;
- Creation of a Shepherds School, as part of the SNAP (Scuola Nazionale di Pastorizia) to promote pastoralism as a job as well as a biodiversity conservation tool (four training cycles with the aim of training 24 new shepherds);
- Creation of a European shepherd schools network, involving at least 5 European schools, to share results and activities and to improve their positive effects on biodiversity conservation, particularly on project target habitats;
- Identification of agri-environment schemes and specific measures to implement in the next Tuscany RDP programme, to support mountain pastoralism and habitat conservation;
- Dissemination of conservation and management protocols for the three target habitats, developed by the project through stakeholder involvement;
- Development of the European debate on issues related to pastoralism, sustainable development of marginal areas and Natura 2000 network management; and
- Collection and dissemination of at least 30 good practices for grassland habitat conservation and management.