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Conservation and improvement of habitats inthe SPA of Vendicari (Vendicari)
Date du début: 1 juil. 2002, Date de fin: 30 juin 2005 PROJET  TERMINÉ 

Background The Vendicari Guided Nature Reserve, declared a Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Ramsar site, runs along the far south-eastern coast of Sicily, at latitudes south of Tunis. The coastal environment comprises a patchwork of different landscapes: low-lying rocky coastline, sand dunes, and hollows between the dunes where freshwater wetlands and salt marshes have developed. The wetlands are host to a bird population of around 230 nesting and migratory species, equivalent to two thirds of the bird fauna that can be observed in the whole of Sicily. The ornithological value of Vendicari is further associated with the seasonal presence of another 20,000 waders since the site is an important rest-stop on the migration route between Europe and Africa. A system of coastal habitats of Community interest, such as the priority habitat “Coastal dunes with Juniperus spp”, extends over approximately 3 km of coastline. Wetland drying-out phenomena related to seasonal variations in rainfall and natural coastal erosion have already impacted on both plant and bird populations. In addition, human influence associated with summer tourism is in danger of damaging the original coastal ecosystem and ecological balance. Objectives The project intended to restore the ecological balance of the coastal ecosystem and the dune habitats which are fast being eroded in Sicily. It sought to reduce silting in a vast wetland area and to increase bird fauna biodiversity. The project planned to put in place boundaries, which would restrict tourist access to specific pathways to limit their impact on Juniper colonies. The most damaged areas were to be treated by means of ‘soft’ engineering projects – such as the positioning of biomats and fascines - designed to favour sandy sediment deposits and pioneer species establishment. The construction of a system of locks and pumps was planned to regulate water flow during dry periods and to guarantee water levels likely to encourage bird fauna to visit the area and nest there. In addition, establishing a system of islands intended to encourage species of Community interest, such as the greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus rubber), to nest. Information and results would be disseminated, and the technology and methods applied in the project transferred by means of a multi-faceted awareness campaign and environmental education activities. Results The Vendicari project successfully contributed to stopping the degradation and improving the ecological condition of the priority habitat “Coastal dunes with Juniperus spp” along three kilometres of coastline and the protection of around 0.38 km² the Coastal Lagoon a priority habitat. The activities for the protection of the dunes focused on four main actions: the total fencing of the dunes - 6,5 km in total - to avoid disturbance by the public; the construction of three walkways to reduce the damage from people accessing the beach through the dunes; the construction of two wooden huts for surveillance guards; and the installation of small artificial barriers to favour the establishment of 6.5 ha of dune vegetation. The management of the water level in one of the three lagoons was obtained by the restoration of an ancient canal connecting it with the sea. This action, together with the installation of four artificial islets - 15 m² each - in the marsh itself, can be expected to contribute to the increase of the population of birds in the area into the future. Some tangible improvement in the stabilisation of the dunes could be observed already during the project and there is good photographic documentation of this. It was too soon during the project to see the full effects on the avifauna, although the actions should increase numbers of: Himantopus himantopus, Sterna albifrons and Charadrius alexandrinus. They are also expected to attract new species of nesting birds including Recurvirostra avosetta, Larus genei, Gelochelidon nilotica, Aythya nyroca. An important dissemination programme was carried out, mainly in schools for the engagement of the young people with environmental issues. A website was published together with brochures and leaflets and a video made of the project. The Universities of Catania and Palermo were involved in scientific studies on the phytoplankton of the three lagoons and the dynamics of the fauna in the area and a project workshop was held.