Castoro, the return to Italy is really good news

Castoro, the return to Italy is really good news


For those who have never seen a beaver - except in a cartoon or in a commercial - it is useful to know that: it is as big as a medium-sized dog, it is the largest rodent in Europe, it is considered an ecosystem engineer because it can significantly change the environment in which he lives. And above all, after about 500 years it has returned to populate the banks of the Tiber: for the moment, in the surroundings of Arezzo.

This was testified by some technicians of the 2 Alto Valdarno reclamation consortium, engaged in the activity of monitoring the watercourses, and confirmed by the experts of the Anbi. The massive return of wild species, such as wild boars, or the appearance of long-absent species, such as beavers, are signs of a changing nature: and not always in a negative way.

“ It demonstrates the fact that the conservation status of European populations has definitely improved in recent decades, with a clear increase in numbers and territorial expansion ”

Andrea Monaco, zoologist of Ispra The beaver is included among the protected species indicated by the EU Habitat Directive. For this reason, the return to central Italy of the largest rodent in Europe marks both an advance in the ability to protect fauna and flora, and the slow abandonment of a predatory culture towards plants and animals. “ It had disappeared for centuries due to excessive exploitation for fur, meat and the oil produced by its perianal glands, the castoreum, which the animal mixes with urine and uses to make the fur water-repellent and to mark the territory : actually we don't know much about the historical distribution of the beaver in central and southern Italy, nor about the causes that led the species to extinction. We assume that the main ones are those just mentioned, the same ones that caused their decline and extinction in other areas of Europe ”, says Andrea Monaco, zoologist of Ispra (the Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research).

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The return of the beaver

Clumsy on land but very agile in water, vegetarian but with continuously growing incisors that take the form of razor-sharp chisels. Definitely, in the collective imagination, nice and hardworking. And in the Italian one, now absent and long since disappeared from our woods. At least until today: the beavers are back, and not just around Arezzo.

“What has emerged up to now from the monitoring of the species is that the nuclei reported in central Italy are at least 4, for which the presence of a few dozen individuals is estimated. Most of the animals are reported in the Ombrone River basin, between the provinces of Siena and Grosseto; one of these nucleuses is located in the upper Umbrian Tiber, on the border with the province of Arezzo, between the municipalities of Città di Castello and Promano ”

Andrea Monaco, Ispra Together with the experts of Atit (the association that brings together mammal scholars in Italy), Monaco has tried to understand the specific reasons for the repopulation of beavers: the reference is to the Castor fiber species, present in Europe for 3 million years and widespread in Italy until the dawn of the seventeenth century. “ We have evaluated all the possibilities: the permanence of relict nuclei, natural colonization from the north, the escape from structures such as zoos and wildlife areas and the introduction by man. The presence of relict nuclei was immediately ruled out given the easy detection of the species when present; similarly the natural diffusion was ruled out, given that the closest natural populations are about 400 kilometers away and the complete absence of reports in the intermediate area. Since there are no subjects held in structures from which they could have escaped and given life to nuclei of beavers in the wild, only one cause remains: the release by man, an event which has already occurred in the past in other areas of Europe, including Spain. A completely illegal release, not authorized by any public authority and conducted ignoring the international technical procedures developed by the scientific community over decades of reintroduction of extinct species ”.

Environmental effects

To use an expression dear to the environmental language of sustainability, the beaver is indeed an agent of change. In particular for "its ability to generate profound transformations on the landscape and on the ecosystem, mainly due to the consequent effects of the construction of dams and the food activity, mainly carried out on woody plants, in particular willows and poplars, which it fells by gnawing at the base ”, specifies Monaco. This mammal can cause both positive and negative environmental effects. "Among the positive ones - says the zoologist - I would certainly mention the stabilization of water flows and the creation of new wetlands, which increase the diversity of habitats and can increase animal and plant biodiversity". While for the negative ones, the Ispra zoologist points out the weakening of the water network due to excavation activities, with an increased risk of flooding, and the impact on the vegetation of the banks of the watercourses.

Photo credits: Anbi

As anticipated, the return of the beavers is anything but bad news. “ Excluding the beavers of central Italy, introduced illegally by man, those present in the Tarvisio area and in Val Pusteria arrived naturally due to the expansion of the populations present in the bordering areas of Austria. It demonstrates that the conservation status of European populations has significantly improved in recent decades. This means that it would have been enough to wait a few decades to see the natural expansion of the beaver in our country without resorting to an unplanned introduction that ignored not only the laws but the good practices of nature conservation ”, the expert comments.

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The relationship with man

Unlike what happens for the return of other wild species, the repopulation of the beaver will not affect human safety: indeed, it could attract new tourists. “ The presence of the species does not involve particular risks for our safety and could also become an attractive element for the areas where it is present in terms of naturalistic tourism. If anything, the relationship with human activities can become problematic due to the negative effects that the beaver could have on the landscape, causing floods and impacts on tree and agricultural crops ”, says the zoologist. This is a fundamental element of what the relationship with animal and plant species will be in the coming years marked by climate change: monitoring and adaptation. Observing the presence of species to protect them or the ecosystems in which they live, adapting human activities so that they do not harm habitats and animals: the latter is the now universally shared principle of environmental sustainability which will increasingly regulate the relationship between man and nature.

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