The State Oriented Nature Reserve ‘Monte Rotondo’ (EUAP code 0025) is a protected natural area of 1452 ha (almost 15 km²), established by ministerial decree in 1982 and managed by the Pescara Carabinieri Biodiversity Department, located in the municipalities of Corfinio, Popoli, Bussi sul Tirino, Castiglione a Casauria and Tocco da Casauria, between the provinces of L’Aquila and Pescara.
The territory of the Reserve overlaps with that of the Maiella National Park (SPA IT7140129 and SAC IT140203) for 1109 ha and with that of the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park (SPA IT7119128 and SAC IT7130024) for 343 ha.
The Reserve extends on the right and left slopes of the Pescara river, in correspondence of the Popoli gorges, occupying on one side the southernmost offshoot of the Gran Sasso massif, and on the other the extreme northern edge of the Morrone mountains, belonging to the Maiella massif. The altitudinal excursion that characterises this territory is remarkable: in fact, it ranges from 300 m above sea level at the Pescara river (although there are points where it reaches a minimum of 230 m above sea level) to the 1731 m above sea level of mount Rotondo, which gives it its name. The climate is Mediterranean-mountainous (with equinoctial rainfall), tending towards continental in the inland and less elevated areas, with average annual rainfall of 600-1000 mm and average annual temperatures of 5-15 °C.
The Reserve is located in the state property complex of ‘Monte Corvo’, an ancient feudal estate first belonging to the Cantelmo family of Naples and then to the Tocco Princes of Montemiletto, which became a civic property in 1806 following the feudal subversion. From then on, deforestation and domestic animal grazing activities became increasingly intense, until their sharp decline in the years 1920-1930, deeply marked by the First World War. Its territory was acquired by the State in 1966, on the basis of expropriation. Following the Ministerial Decrees of 16/01/1976 and 29/12/1979, the state property was then transferred to the Abruzzo Region, becoming a Regional State Forest, administered by the Regional State Forest Office. By Presidential Decree of 23/12/1978, an area of 116 ha, located in the locality of Impianezza, was excluded from the transfer to the Abruzzo Region, to become the ‘Monte Corvo’ pilot company, which today operates with scientific and environmental education functions (in particular, the ‘Apennine Wolf visitor centre‘ was established there, with an annexed ‘Prey and predators’ wildlife area). Finally, in 1982, the ‘Monte Rotondo’ State Oriented Nature Reserve was established, with Ministerial Decree of 18/10/1982, over an area of 1,452 ha, including the entire territory of the Regional State Forest.
The vegetation is typical of Mediterranean woods (with holm oaks, siliquasters and phillyrea) at lower altitudes; as we climb, we encounter a mesophilous broadleaf forest alternating with man-made black pine and Aleppo pine woods; finally, the beech forest dominates at higher altitudes. Of great value and charm is the locality called ‘La Fossa‘, characterised by majestic specimens of silver fir.
Among the habitats protected by the EU Habitats Directive, the following are present in the territory of the Reserve:
5130 – Juniperus communis formations on heaths or calcicolous meadows.
*6110 – Rupicolous or basophilous calcicolous grassland formations of the Alysso–Sedion albi (priority habitat).
6210 – Semi-natural dry grasslands and shrub-covered facies on calcareous substrate (Festuco–Brometalia) (* important presence of orchids, in this case priority habitat).
6170 – Alpine and subalpine calcicolous grasslands.
8130 – Western Mediterranean and thermophilic scree slopes.
8210 – Calcareous rocky walls with chasmophytic vegetation.
*8240 – Limestone floors (priority habitat).
91AA – Eastern white oak forests (= Quercus pubescens).
9340 – Quercus ilex and Quercus rotundifolia forests.
The flora includes numerous endemic, rare or protected species. Asphodeline liburnica stands out among them all, very rare and present in Abruzzo in only a few stations: in the Reserve it is found in only one particularly hot and arid biotope, which is currently the only one known for the entire territory of the Maiella National Park. Of particular importance is also the presence of small populations of the uncommon and protected peony (Paeonia officinalis subsp. italica) and Lilium bulbiferum subsp. croceum and the endemic Centaurea ceratophylla and Stipa dasyvaginata ssp. apenninicola.
The variety of environments is also reflected in the richness of the fauna that characterises this area frequented by many mammals, including deer and roe deer, some of which are endangered such as bears and wolves, as well as rare birds such as golden eagles and peregrine falcons. The area constitutes an important natural corridor for the movement of wildlife between the Maiella-Morrone and Gran Sasso-Laga massifs. There are also important populations of the lepidopteran Parnassius apollo, protected by the EU Habitats Directive. Among the EU’s species of interest, Aquila chrysaetos, Canis lupus, Falco peregrinus, Parnassius apollo and Ursus arctos are present in the Reserve’s territory.
Access to the Reserve is possible from several points; the most important one, where it is also possible to obtain information, is from the ‘Monte Corvo’ Company Centre, which can be reached from the A25 (Rome-Pescara) motorway exit at Bussi-Popoli, follow the S.S. Tiburtina Valeria road in the direction of Popoli until the sign indicating the ‘Centro del Lupo’ (Wolf Centre) on the left, about 1 km from the built-up area of Popoli, continue along the asphalt road for about 4 km until reaching your destination. For those coming from Rome, take the Sulmona-Pratola Peligna exit of the A25 motorway and follow the S.S. Tiburtina road in the direction of Popoli until the sign indicating ‘Centro del Lupo’ on the right. From Popoli, follow the S.S. n. 17 for Napoli-Roccaraso. After about 1.5 km, turn left. After about 4 km on an uphill asphalt road, you will find the Centro del Lupo and the entrance to the Reserve.
The area is freely accessible on the official path network of the Maiella National Park. Transit by motor vehicles is only permitted on the only small asphalt road leading to the Wolf visitor centre, from which the Reserve territory can be accessed on foot. Even in the part of the Reserve falling within the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park, use is only permitted on the Park’s official path network.
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