🇬🇧 The Reserve in the Natura 2000 network

Natura 2000 is the main instrument of the European Union’s policy for the conservation of biodiversity. It is an ecological network covering the entire territory of the Union, established under the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC to ensure the long-term maintenance of natural habitats and species of flora and fauna that are threatened or rare at EU level.

The Natura 2000 network consists of Sites of Community Importance (SCIs), identified by Member States in accordance with the Habitats Directive, which are subsequently designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), and also includes Special Protection Areas (SPAs) established under the Birds Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds. In Italy, SCIs, SACs and SPAs together cover about 19% of the national terrestrial territory and more than 13% of the marine territory.

The designation of SACs is a fundamental step for the full implementation of the Natura 2000 network because it guarantees the full entry into force of site-specific conservation measures and offers greater security for the management of the network and its strategic role in achieving the goal of halting the loss of biodiversity in Europe by 2030. To date, 2302 SACs belonging to the nineteen regions and two autonomous provinces of Italy have been designated.

Among the 53 SACs designated to date in the Abruzzo Region, there is the one called “Fiumi Giardino – Sagittario – Aterno – Sorgenti del Pescara” (Giardino, Sagittario and Aterno rivers and Pescara river springs), which involves the municipalities of Popoli, Corfinio and Vittorito and includes the “Sorgenti del Pescara” Natural Reserve. The site is managed by the Municipality of Popoli and was designated as a Special Area of Conservation by Ministerial Decree in December 2018 (G.U. 19 of 23-01-2019), but its proposal as a Site of Community Importance dates back to June 1995.

Map of the SAC IT7110097 “Fiumi Giardino – Sagittario – Aterno – Sorgenti del Pescara” of the Natura 2000 network

Due to its ecological characteristics, the site is attributed entirely to the Mediterranean biogeographical region, although 57% falls within the 7 km buffer in the Alpine region. It has a surface area of 288 hectares, which includes the river courses of the Aterno and Sagittario upstream of Popoli, the short course of the Giardino river and the Capo Pescara spring area, the most important in Abruzzo and one of the most impressive in the central Apennines, not only in terms of flow rate but also in terms of floristic and faunal peculiarities.

The high environmental heterogeneity associated with the river environment and surrounding areas favours the dynamics of many bird populations and the presence of a very high wealth of invertebrates and fish fauna, also resulting in a remarkable landscape diversity. The importance of the site is also due to its educational value, thanks to the high representativeness of many of its habitats.

In fact, the rivers upstream of Popoli have numerous ditches and small ponds, with a rich presence of aquatic vegetation, while the area of the Pescara springs, with the dozens of bubbling pools that form its limpid lake-palustrine mirror, counts the presence of various communities of hydrophytes and elophytes.

The meiofauna includes species such as Bryocamptus (Rheocamptus) typhlops and Bryocamptus (Echinocamptus) echinatus (phrygophilic stenothermic species to be considered as glacial relicts with a boreo-alpine distribution), Nitocrella kunzi, Elaphoidella plutonis and Diacyclops goticus (stygobian species). The populations of Niphargus present belong to a species that is currently still being studied.

For these reasons, the Capo Pescara springs were involved from 2013 to 2018 in the AQUALIFE project (LIFE12 BIO/IT/000231), co-funded by the European Commission under the LIFE+ Nature & Biodiversity programme, which finances projects aimed at the conservation of habitats and species of Community interest and the implementation of Community nature and biodiversity policies and legislation, in particular Directives 79/409/EEC and 92/43/EEC, to support the further development and implementation of the Natura 2000 network.

The five-year project involved three partners: the coordinator (beneficiary body) was the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park; the associated partners included the University of L’Aquila, which was responsible for the project’s scientific activities, and the Abruzzo Region, which was in charge of dissemination and public outreach activities. The project was also co-financed by ENEL Produzione SpA.

The main objective of the project was to develop and disseminate an innovative and user-friendly indicator system (AQUALIFE Package) for assessing the conservation status of the biodiversity of groundwater-dependent ecosystems (called GDE for short).

GDEs are ecosystems whose biological structure and ecological processes are conditioned wholly or partially by groundwater. They are home to a high biodiversity, consisting of rare, often endemic and particularly vulnerable species, among which the presence of so-called living fossils is frequent. These species are of major importance as they are involved in the self-purification processes of groundwater, nutrient recycling, and sediment oxygenation, ensuring the maintenance of a good quality water supply. Many are currently threatened by human activities that alter the quantity and quality of groundwater.

The AQUALIFE project was the first to develop a multi-parameter indicator capable of measuring the biodiversity conservation status of GDEs and how this biodiversity may be threatened by human activities. The indicator can be used in all GDEs on a national and European scale, allowing it to be used even by non-experts.

Information panel on the AQUALIFE project in the Pescara Springs Natural Reserve


Natura 2000 on the website of the European Commission

Natura 2000 Network on the website of the Italian Ministry of the Environment and Energy Security

AQUALIFE Layman’s Report


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