Enclosed land in Italy
27.09.2017, by Bénédicte Gaillard
Research: Viviana Ferrario, Maurizia Sigura et al.; upload: Bénédicte Gaillard. The entries are still in process.
The Enclosed lanscapes are often called “paesaggio a campi chiusi”, characterized by enclosed fields as main components of this historic rural landscape. Often these landscape components are associated with the Roman Centuriation.
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The “enclosed landscapes” represent an important feature of the Italian rural landscapes, especially for the ones related to traditional agricultural activities. But the term “enclosed landscapes” includes different typologies depending on geographical localization and on traditional uses.
The first division that can be made concerns the type of “closure” that divides the fields, in fact can be used hedgerows, wooden fences or dry stone walls. Another division can be made regarding the utilization of these landscapes, as they can be used for agricultural activities or they can be related to animal husbandry.
It is not easy to describe this type of landscape, as, with different forms and uses, it can be found throughout the peninsula and the islands, with higher concentrations in the north and south. The following are some examples and images of areas where these landscapes are particularly widespread and with higher levels of integrity.
In the lowlands of northern Italy, and in some of central Italy, there can be found some examples of "enclosed landscape" with hedges and trees.
- In particular in Friuli Venezia Giulia region, in the Plasencis countryside, hedges and trees of oaks, ash, maple, black locust, elderberry and mulberry trees (the last one once used for sericulture) divide long and narrow fields, which are used today mainly for corn cultivation while once the used to be used as pastures or as meadows for hay. In an area of approximately 1970 hectares, the density of hedges and rows is equal to 69 meters per hectare of arable land..This landscape originates from the two major intercropping cultivation in Friuli Venezia Giulia Plain in 1800: the association of arable land, with grapevine and mulberry trees respectively. The first aimed to substain self-consumption of the farmer family, the second aimed to substain the local processing industry of silk. Sericulture in this area accounted for the largest source of resources for support farmer’s income until the second World War (Amaduzzi et al.,2007) .
- Another area located in the northern part of Italy, in Veneto region, is the one called Palù, where the reclamation conducted centuries ago, has created a landscape of closed fields, meadows and arable lands divided by hedges and rows of trees, with approximately 80,305 meters of hedges in an area of 646 hectares. In the same region the plain near the city of Portogruaro is characterized by traditional rural landscapes based on fields delimitated by moats and hedgerows. The cultivate mosaic is a mix of vineyards and arable land (Region of Veneto) .
- In Umbria, in central Italy, near Monteleone di Spoleto, the traditional cultivation of spelt (labelled as PDO- Protected Designation of Origin) is carried out in fields bordered by hedgerows; this landscape has high aesthetic value and it is recognizable and contributes to the identity of the local community and of its territory. In the study area of about 1696 hectares, 40.6% of the area is occupied by arable land, where spelt and other cereals are commonly cultivated. The average size of the fields is equal to about 1.16 acres and the total length of hedges and rows of trees is approximately 27,984 meters.
- In Puglia, in the north coast of the Gargano, the hedges were instead traditionally used to protect citrus and oranges trees from the wind coming from the sea. These windbreaks, increasingly replaced by artificial materials, are made of holm oak, Laurus nobilis or Pistacia lentiscus.
- An example of enclosed landscape with wooden fences, is located in Salten, near the city of Bolzano, where pastures and hay meadows, often characterized by the presence of larch trees scattered or in small groups, are regularly divided by wooden fences. In these alpine pastures, at altitudes between 1,000 and 1,500 meters, the animals are traditionally kept outdoors on pastures during the summer months, while in the cold winter months, as it happens since centuries, are brought into the valleys.
- Enclosed landscape characterize the Tuscany Maremma near Grosseto and Orbetello and the hill area of Siena. In these area enclosures are often of considerable size, bordered by dense hedges, trees or strips of wood and oaks, often isolated. the vineyards and the olivegroves have spread gradually, but always as a secondary crop and both in the form of promiscuous or small specialized plantations (Region of Tuscany).
The most interesting enclosed landscapes, for what concerns the constructive and historical characteristics, however, are located expecially in the south and in the islands, where instead of the timber can be found dry-stone walls, both for pastures and for crops.
- A classic example of enclosed landscape is located in Sicily, close to the Hyblaean mountains, where stone walls made since the fourteenth century create regular plots (called chiuse) used in rotation for grazing and for cereal cultivation. Here, in a study area of about 2278 hectares, over 256,945 meters of dry stone walls have been measured, used for divide plots with an average area of approximately 1.67 hectares.
- On the island of Pantelleria, most of the territory is characterized by the presence of dry stone walls of lava stones, used for the terraces, but also, in the rare lowland areas, to divide fields and to protect crops from the wind. The typical Pantelleria cultivations are made by polycultures of mainly vines, olives and capers. Vines are cultivated using the traditional alberello pantesco, a technique developed over the centuries to protect the vines from the wind reducing the evapotranspiration, with the vine higher less than 15 cm planted in a small pit 20 cm deep, with the branches long about 1 meter that are left growing on the ground. The enclosed landscapes of Pantelleria include the Pantelleria gardens, circular constructions of dry stones, about 3-4 meters high, enclosing one plant of citrus. These unique structures testify what was the importance of citrus fruits in the poor agricultural economy of the island, with a so complex structure for growing just a single plant and defend it from the wind.
- Again in Sicily there are the orchards of the north-western slopes of Etna, where a regular system of dry volcanic stone walls divides the polycultures of pear, apple, plum, walnut, hazelnut, olive trees and cherry trees, to which are frequently combined vines, prickly pears and pistachios.
- In Puglia, in the area of the National Park of Alta Murgia, we find the dry-stone walls used to dived both wide pastures and small regular cultivations with vineyards, almond trees and other fruit trees. Here there are also several jazzi, small structures for keeping the sheep made by several compartments divided by dry stone walls. In this study area, covering approximately 3147 hectares, were measured 87,432 meters of dry stone walls.
- In the karst area of Friuli Venezia Giulia region, along the border with Slovenia (area of Trieste and Gorizia cities), an extended network of dry-stone walls divides pastures, vineyards and olive groves. The stones used were obtained by the removal of stones from the surface cultivated land and grazed. These walls marked properties, represent terracing of steep terrain to counteract the water and wind erosion of the precious layer of arable land.
Enclosed landscapes are very often strongly linked to traditional activities related to pasture or cultivations. Where traditional activities are decreasing, these elements, due to the abandonment of the land as a result of the socio-economical changes, also these features (dry stone walls, wooden fences, hedgerows) are in danger of disappearing, and this could cause multiple problems. These features are important for landscape and as a cultural heritage, but they also contribute to characterize the identity of a place, they can be used as ecological networks and in the case of hedges and rows of trees they have had for centuries a role as services producers. In fact they could provide firewood through coppicing, or branches and leaves for animal feed, wickers or, in the case of mulberry trees, for the breeding of silkworms.
Both hedges and stone walls assume an important role also from the ecological point of view, forming extensive ecological networks and microhabitats that can be used by insects, birds or small mammals as a shelter or to find food. Regarding the role of ecological networks is well to remember that today the importance given to these features is not always consistent with the ecological characteristics; they are often considered as positive features for biodiversity, without taking into account that if a hedgerow of a dry stone wall for some species may be useful for moving from one place to another or as a shelter, for other species it can be an obstacle or a barrier. Furthermore, in the case of hedges and rows of trees, these should not be composed of alien species, as often happens.
“Enclosed landscapes” as they are linked to traditional activities, are very often places characterized by the production of typical alimentary products, that can be recognized by various labels such as PDO, PGI, DOC, DOCG, Slow Food,… These labels appear to be useful as they help to valorise and to commercialize the products, supporting the farmers to have a proper income adequate to maintain their activities (often with high production costs) and so to maintain these landscapes.
To give one example the enclosed landscape formed by dry-stone walls of Friuli Venezia Giulia region is historically linked with the breeding of sheep "Istrian - Carsolina", entered in the national list as local breed in danger of extinction. Products obtained from this animal are very valued and and are in process to obtain the quality label.The interest in this type of landscape is remarkable, two agro-environmental measures of the Rural Development Plan of regional administration (CAP UE Reg. n. 1305/2013) have been formulated to support both the management of dry stone walls and the keeping of the local sheep linked with them.
The enclosed landscape is connected with vegetable structures (hedges, wooded fences, rows of trees) and human made structures like dry-stone walls.
Enclosed landscapes are characterised by a mosaic of low-intensity agriculture, where cultivated plots are associate closely with semi-natural habitat (e.g. woods, bushes, ponds, unfarmed patches, ditches, small rivers, hedges). Within such contexts, high natural value farmlands (HNVF) can be identified (Andersen, 2003) as areas in which biodiversity establishes a good level of ecological stability and agricultural practices have maintained ecosystem services (Biala et al., 2008). In this regard it has been estimated that 50% of all species in Europe, including endemic and rare species, depend on agro-forestry ecosystems linked with HNVF (Kristensen, 2003; Paracchini 2008).
Ecological functions linked with enclosed landscapes are well known both in terms of ecological connectivity and ecosystem service. The network of edges, rows of trees, wooden fences of enclosed landscapes is part of the ecological network, defined by Bennet and Wit (2001) as a “coherent system of natural and/or semi-natural landscape elements that is configured and managed to maintain or restore ecological functions as a means to conserve bio-diversity while providing appropriate opportunities for the sustainable use of natural resources”. The ecological network is aimed to overcome problems associated with habitat fragmentation due to pressure of human activities like agriculture intensification. However, many authors point out the necessity of integrating the ecological network with its surrounding matrix by sustainable use areas dedicated both to the sustainable use of natural resources to allow maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem services (Opdam et al. 2006; Bennet 2009). The semi-natural structures composing the enclosed landscapes are ecological corridors (Shibu, 2009) that support movement of wild species between the different patches of the landscape, but they are also source of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are the benefits that people obtain from ecosystems (Costanza et al., 1997), so links ecology and society. Ecosystem services are both the goods produced by ecosystems (e.g. food, water, genetic resources, raw material) and functions (e.g. nutrient cycling, soil formation, filtering function for quality of water) and processes (e.g. erosion protection, flood control, water quality, pollination) generated by ecosystems. The Millennium ecosystem Assessment (MA, 2005) grouped ecosystem services into four categories:
- Provisioning services, which include natural resources, such as food, fiber, fuel, water, and generic resources;
- Regulating services, which include the benefits obtain by the regulating effects of ecosystem processes, such as climate regulation, flood regulation, water purification, pest control, pollination;
- Cultural services, which include the non material benefits through recreation, aesthetic and spiritual enjoinment;
- Supporting services that are the services necessary to the production of all other ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, soil formation and primary production.
In this framework agroecosystems are source of provisioning services (e.g. food production), but contribute to supply other ecosystem services, some of which support the crop production itself (e.g. pest control, pollination, weed control, disease control, soil quality). Both agricultural and semi-natural habitats (hedgerows, woods and meadows) support several taxonomical groups increasing landscape biodiversity (Duelli and Obrist, 2003). For instance, the presence of these semi-natural habitats can benefit insects and hence curb the spread of pests (Bianchi et al., 2006; Zhang et al., 2007). Moreover the presence of semi-natural habitats can improve pollination (Klein et al., 2012), diversity of soil fauna (Vanbergen et al., 2007), leading for instance to an increase in the fertility of the soil.
There is growing concern that the loss in biodiversity due to landscape semplification as consequence of agricultural intensification will result in declining ecosystem services . The global degradation of such services can undermine the ability of agriculture to meet the demands of the increasingly affluent human population. In particular, ecosystem services provided to plants by animals, such as pollination and natural pest control, have a valuable impact on crop production. To counteract the negative effects of intensive agriculture, there is increasing interest in approaches that reconcile agricultural production with the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and associated ecosystem services, such as functional agrobiodiversity (FAB). FAB is defined as ‘those elements of biodiversity at field or landscape scales, which provide ecosystem services that support sustainable agricultural production and can also deliver benefits to the regional and global environment and the public at large scale’ (ELN- FAB, 2010). The above mentioned concepts of ecological network, ecosystem services, functional agrobiodiversity are part of the main debate about two opposite models for agricultural landscape development, respectivelly based on sharing or sparing agriculture (Brenda and Fuller, 2013) This implies two opposite view about how agriculture land uses should be arranged across landscape. In the land sparing model agricultural land is farmed as intensively as possible in order to maximize food production, while other land is dedicated for conservation (Phalan et al. 2011) support of biodiversity and ecosystem functions. In the land sharing model large areas of land are used for agriculture at a lower intensity to allow the coexistence of biodiversity and production in a mosaic across the landscape (Fischer et al. 2008). To maintain multifunctions of enclosed landscape is a challenge, but also a great opportunity to address the processes of landscape planning and management towards a more sustainable development.
Enclosed landscapes hase been codified and defined as specific type of landscape within regional palnning documents (Tuscany Region, Veneto Region) and several agro-environmental measures has been developed to protect the structures that compose them by some regional rural development plans (CAP UE Reg. n. 1305/2013). This seems to confirm the awareness of the value of these landscapes, although many differences remain between the different Italian regions