‘Only in Abruzzo’ took on a whole new meaning at the close of 2023. Where else in the world can a middle-of-the-night shredding of a treasured regional nature reserve like Roseto degli Abruzzi’s La Riserva Naturale del Borsacchio be done without public consultation, scientific study, or any real transparency?
Associate Member Francis Cratil Cretarola takes it from here:
Little that’s wholesome or on the up and up goes down at 2:30 am. Certainly, bakers, fishermen, bartenders, and a few other trades earn their living at that time of day. But most of us know that in those wee hours, under the cover of darkness, we’re doing things we’re not exactly proud of, or at least don’t want anyone to witness. And when politicians choose that hour to amend or enact laws, all bets are off.
This seems to have been the case on the evening of December 29th when – as the citizens of Abruzzo slept, and at the behest of Abruzzo’s President Marco Marsilio (Fratelli d’Italia) – advisors Emiliano Di Matteo (Forza Italia), Mauro Febbo (Forza Italia), Simona Cardinali (Lega), Federica Rompicapo (Lega) e Umberto D’Annuntiis (Fratelli d’Italia), the majority of the region’s Center-Right, presented an amendment to the regional budget law cutting 98% of the Borsacchio Natural Reserve, an oasis on the hills overlooking the Teramo coast, between the towns of Cologna Spiaggia and Roseto degli Abruzzi. Of its original 1100 hectares, only 24 that straddle the beach were to be left, effectively wiping out the reserve.
The deed was done with little or no transparency, but an abundance of mendacity. More than a one-off, it seemed to fit a pattern of this government’s acts, or failures to act. That it reflects a dereliction of duty, betrayal of public trust, lack of concern for the greater community, and poverty of vision is manifest. That it might indicate more malfeasant machinations should be troubling to anyone who loves Abruzzo.
The claims made by the Center-Right advisors defending their early-morning stunt don’t bear much scrutiny. The cuts were made without adequate public hearings or explanations. Di Matteo, et al claim to have acted on the complaints of hundreds of farmers and business operators. Who are these complainants? When did their testimony take place exactly? Where is it recorded? There were no public consultations with individuals, groups, or other entities concerned with the park. The province of Teramo was left in the dark. No one bothered to notify the residents, openly converse with local farmers or business owners, take their temperature, and hear their views. Not even the mayor of Roseto degli Abruzzi was made aware of the impending action. It seems that only the opinions of a few witnesses, apparently hand-picked by the five regional advisors, were weighed. When? Why?
Over 50 organisations, including local committees, political parties, and trade unions – none of whom were consulted in the advisors’ decision – have joined in protesting these cuts. And more, on a national and international level, sign on every day. Touring Club Italiano has taken a stand to save the reserve and joined the protest. Perhaps most importantly, professors and researchers in environment science at the University of L’Aquila have petitioned the government to reconsider the destruction of the Borsacchio, stating that the amendment was considered and passed without any prior scientific or technical evaluation to establish its necessity or assess its potential impact. They are most concerned with the hilly area above the beach, the part to be most savagely cut, which, “although it is mainly used for agricultural purposes (arable land, olive groves, and vineyards),” is also habitat for many endangered and nationally and internationally protected plant and animal species. They note that the soil is mostly clay, and prone to erosion. Opening the area to possible development and more aggressive agricultural activities exacerbates this problem and denies an essential buffer for the beach area below.
Details of the University of L’Aquila’s petition also undermine the five advisors’ most outrageous and blatant lie, that their cuts “will finally allow farmers to cultivate their fields.” As noted in italics above, there are, and have been since its inception, arable lands, olive groves, and vineyards worked in the reserve. The WWF, which has joined in the call to undo the cuts to the reserve, points out that “regional councillors should know that there is no general regulatory constraint that prohibits the exercise of activities related to agriculture and livestock in protected natural areas.” In fact, as this government (along with, in fairness, previous governments for the last twenty years) has failed to approve a naturalistic plan for the reserve, restrictions on traditional farming and other activities are minimal. Any development of “extra-urban accommodation facilities” requires the authorisation of municipal planners but is not completely banned. The WWF points out that the sustainable farming now practised in the reserve is essential to its mission. It opines that there is “no block on the activities of agricultural operators. Unless you want to pass off real building speculation as agricultural activities.”
Missed and Ignored Opportunities
This leads us to the crux of the issue: the Marsilio-led government seems to have no interest in promoting or creating a sustainable regional economy based on Abruzzo’s world-famous and much-lauded parklands. The government currently in charge of a region that has over 30% of its territory designated as parkland appears to have no interest in natural conservation of any kind. It has – through incompetence, negligence, misconduct or a toxic combination of all three – missed or deliberately ignored opportunities to exploit Abruzzo’s enviable natural treasures and stimulate responsible economic growth that would best serve the region and put it in a position to capitalise on worldwide concerns about the ‘climate change’ (aka climate breakdown) and interest in responsible eco-tourism.
This isn’t the first time this regional government has attempted, by extralegal means, to cut apart a park without adequate expert counsel or the consent and full approval of local populations. With the same callous disregard for the truth and science, Marsilio cut thousands of hectares from the regionally run Sirente-Velino park, in the province of L’Aquila despite a petition signed by over 124,000 residents of its sparsely inhabited area. This was, according to Marsilio, at the request of (some, but certainly not all) local mayors frustrated with the restrictions on development, post-earthquake reconstruction, and boar (and other) hunting. These cuts were blocked, at least temporarily, in court as unconstitutional.
The Region Investing in Snow
However, Marsilio and company have kept up the pressure, expanding their attacks on the environment, always without sufficient scientific consideration. In 2022 they opened a new front, attempting to expand ski facilities on the Campo Imperatore, one of not just Abruzzo’s but Italy’s most spectacular high plains, its “Little Tibet,” crucial to its persisting pastoral culture and an attraction that draws tens of thousands, and not just in winter, to enjoy its breathtaking natural beauty. They did this despite the ominous decline of snowfall in the area due to climate change, an ever-shrinking ski season, etc. Why destroy a popular natural area and essential habitat for an enterprise that will benefit very few (who, exactly?) when its future seems stillborn? Beyond obstinance and willful ignorance, only the worst motivations come to mind.
Via Verde Blowout
But this government, in support of Meloni’s Fratelli D’Italia regime, is also guilty of sins of omission, failures to act that seem part of a strategic attempt to dismantle Abruzzo’s parklands and undermine any economic initiatives attached to them. After cutting funds for urban bicycle paths across Italy, Meloni then removed funding for similar tourist trails. This dooms the popular and, even in its early stages, the successful idea of an interregional path down the Adriatic coast that links 6 regions.
Economic plans to profit from these initiatives, decades in the making and many already in progress, in Abruzzo (and also Le Marche) will be hard hit by these cuts: no bridge across the Tronto river connecting Le Marche and Abruzzo; an incomplete trail no trail along the Costa dei Trabocchi, Abruzzo’s most pristine and stunning stretch of coastline. These are; major blows to the sustainable eco-tourism that is Abruzzo’s sole advantage and, in the opinion of many, its best hope. Yet there was no objection or protest from Marsilio’s government, unlike those of Emilia Romagna, et al. Quite the opposite.
In 2021, UNESCO designated the pre-existing Maiella National Park as one of several Global Geoparks. By recognising the Maiella’s unique attributes (a human presence dating back over 600,000 years and one of Europe’s oldest archaeological geosites, the extraordinary variety of its microclimates, ecosystems, ecological niches, biodiversity, etc.), UNESCO brought it and the region into the international spotlight. It underlined the idea – one promoted for decades, off and on and with varying degrees of seriousness – of Abruzzo as Europe’s greenest region, an example of natural conservancy for the world, responsible ways to confront the quickly changing climate and create sustainable paths forward. It was a moment to exploit, to use the region’s considerable human assets to formulate and advance coherent strategies that might have created viable, responsible, and sustainable economies. And it seems to have been, by and large, neglected by the Marsilio government. The news appears to have come and gone without any significant initiative from the Center-Right.
These derelictions are just part of a long list. Instead of honouring his promises to improve the region’s agricultural supply chains, an essential component of the regional economy, Marsilio mockingly dismissed the plight of the thousands of winemakers who, owing to the brutal weather attributable to climate change, had had meagre or severely reduced harvests. He failed to move on promised improvements to irrigation, submitting no plans and failing to secure any funds to move forward and limit the impacts of ‘climate change’. Despite his supposed commitment to the youth of the region, his own government has documented, between 2019 and 2023, the flight of over 35,000 Abruzzese under the age of forty. All while a bill to address the conditions responsible for this tragic diaspora, never discussed in the assembly, gathers dust on his desk.
Marsilio has failed to use – or even to concoct coherent strategies to use – funds that might have improved the plight of the region’s artisanal businesses (which declined at a rate more than double the national figure) or improve its rail system and roads. He has failed to deliver on promises to improve healthcare in the region, provide much-needed general practitioners, maintain in the provinces an even serviceable accessibility to care, or support the institutions of higher learning essential to these efforts. Etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseum.
Why would anyone believe that this government’s attacks on the Borsacchio Reserve and the region’s other parklands were well-considered or inspired by legitimate public interest? The question that hangs over this apparent incompetence, mismanagement, and/or malfeasance remains: Cui bono? Who profits?
That the claims of Di Matteo and his crew regarding the Borsacchio are easily debunked by even cursory investigation seems to betray either their ignorance of the reserve and its operations or disrespectful cynicism. Their spurious assertions seem to depend on the confusion, apathy, fatigue, or resignation of the region’s people, the understandable pessimism that plagues Abruzzo, and conditions that they, and other like-minded politicians, created and continue to exploit. When people have no reasonable expectation that their government will act on their behalf, it’s hard to disappoint or even interest them.
But what’s at stake demands our attention, and is too valuable to the area, region, and world to be lost forever to the avarice and self-interest of a few dishonest actors with a (barely) hidden agenda. One of the last pristine stretches on Abruzzo’s northern coastline. Heartbreakingly beautiful, home to rare plant and animal species, encompassing verdant hills, gullies, dunes, pine groves, and its eponymous stream, a bastion of traditional, sustainable farming. After a year in which the brutal impacts of climate change have dangerously accelerated, the idea of obliterating a viable patch of the region’s natural and agricultural patrimony, accessible to all and treasured by most in its immediate vicinity, is lunacy. Shameful, if one can experience that sentiment. The public is now being informed and a groundswell of opposition, from every corner of Abruzzo and beyond, is growing. We must save the Borsacchio Reserve and demonstrate that it and all of Abruzzo’s essential parklands are off-limits to these shortsighted potentially injurious machinations. A fight consists of rounds. And this one isn’t over.
Please sign the Borsacchio’s petition and help us reverse this potentially catastrophic action. This petition will remain open, we will continue to regularly export names from our English language petition into the main Italian petition.
The Council of Ministers has issued a moratorium which suspends activity until further consideration has been evaluated when regional law infringes national law. To help this process you can now email them if you have a PEC email address to submit your disapproval of this cut. As the Reserve says “the more the merrier!”
There is an easy template for this, so it is just a question of adding your name, address and date and emailing it.
Simply click through to the Reserve’s page for instructions and the template.