The Vincheto and Santi Vittore & Corona Monastery: Where Art and Nature Meet Just Outside Feltre.

The Vincheto Nature Reserve and the Monastery of the Saints Vittore and Corona are to be found just to the south of Feltre, a short distance away from its charming historic centre.

The natural reserve Vincheto di Celarda– extended over about 130 hectares – is situated in the municipality of Feltre at an altitude of 230 meters, and it presents a low-lying position, as the area constitutes an ex-flood-bed of the river Piave, which time has seen to fill in, with the deposition of alluvial material transported by water. The climate of the area is continental, with rather low annual average temperatures and winter minima that are often quite severe (freezing fog is a common occurrence in the area during the winter months), due to the low-lying location; all these factors have contributed to make this reserve a real concentration of aspects of flora and fauna that cannot be easily observed elsewhere in the region. But the real peculiarity of the Vincheto are its wetlands: the beauty of the streams and rivulets that completely surround the area along its perimeter, together with the ‘risorgive’ (resurgent pools) and the standing bodies of water, inside the reserve, have earned this biotope a reputation, and made it worthy of being included in the list of “wetlands of international interest” by the Ramsar convention, while the Council of Europe agreed to include it within the “European network of Bio-genetic reserves”.


The Monastery of the Saints Vittore and Corona

A stop by the Monastery of the Saints Vittore and Corona is the natural complement to a visit of Feltre, as it lies just ouside town, in a secluded and relatively isolated position among the woods of Monte Miesna.

Despite the fact that the first sight of the sanctuary – the monumental staircase leading to the main entrance – is 19th century (it was designed by the famous local architect Giuseppe Segusini), this religious compound is very ancient.

It was founded in the late 11th century on the ruins of a defensive system and originally built in Romanesque style. But today it is in its atmospheric interior that the temple retains all the mysterious charm of the Romanesque-Byzantine style.

In fact, it is a unique monument: being the only religious architecture built in Christian Oriental style in the province of Belluno, this makes it also the most important medieval building in the whole of northern Veneto.

The interior is ornated with high-quality frescoes dating to the 12th-16th centuries, some of which were influenced by Giotto and by other northern Italian artists such as Tommaso da Modena and Vitale da Bologna; in fact, this cycle is so precious that the building has been termed a "small living Bible".

The Oriental inspiration is detectable in the Greek cross, with a 'martyrium' that contains an arc with the remains of the titular saints Vittore and Corona. There are also other important tombstones and funerary monuments from the same period, plus a particularly striking Bishops's Chair in stone, dating to the 13th century.

The convent to the side is unfortunately not lived in by monks anymore, but this means that the intimate cloister – with a double loggia and also covered in 17th century frescoes of a lesser quality – can be freely visited (sometimes small exhibitions and fairs are held here).

A short distance from the monastery is the Vincheto Nature Reserve, an important wetland area of about 100 hectares, where about 104 species of different birds nest (below, an image of the straight avenue that leads into the Vincheto, followed by a more detailed description of the reserve).



The “Vincheto di Cellarda” Nature Reserve.

The Vincheto di Cellarda” Nature Reserve is extended over 130 hectares in a level area next to the river Piave.

The presence of humid ecosystems with wetland areas represents the most important naturalistic value of the reserve.

In 1971 the 'Vincheto' was classified as nature reserve for the safeguard of the animal and plant-life along a stretch of the Piave particularly noteworthy for its wetlands and marshes, while being at the same time threatened by human activities.

The presence of rare and endangered vegetation types and bird communities caused the reserve to be included in the Ramsar Convention List (1976).

This area represents a rather varied and diversified environment, in which some habitats worthy of conservation are to be found.

The riparian forests dominated by Alder (Alnus incana) and Willow (Salix alba) – with the sporadic presence of Italian Alder (Alnus glutinosa) and Elm (Ulmus sp) – represent priority habitats for biodiversity conservation.

Where the water table is deeper, the forest is characterized by Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), Hop hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia) and other deciduous species.

Among the herbaceous formations, dry grasslands prove to be of the greatest importance for their floral composition.

The diversity of flora, the complexity of habitats, and the availability of food that support important nesting sites all represent the perfect environmental setting for hosting a rich fauna also.

The area has an interesting history too. It was used to cultivate willow for basketry from the beginning of the 20th century onwards. From 1920 it was no longer public land but became property of the Italian Forestry Commission, and therefore began to be used as a tree nursery, to which fish farming and zootechnics were added after WW2.

The reserve is still used to this day for research activities, dissemination of information and for the conservation of animal and plant communities. Several environmentally friendly activities also take place within the reserve, such as fish farming, bee-keeping and horse farming.

The Vincheto Nature Reserve is also part of the LIFE-Nature EU environmental policy. The specific object of LIFE-Nature is to contribute to the implementation of legislation for Nature protection within the European Community; the main aim of LIFE-Nature projects is to improve biodiversity and to recover semi-natural habitats of European relevance.

Within this framework, three main actions were planned within the Vincheto Nature Reserve, and these are: artificial formations dominated by spruce will be cut to enhance the restoration of riparian forests; dead wood will be released to favour the settlement of saprophytic fauna (feeding on wood); canals that get filled with earth will be restored and thus the surface of humid habitats and wetlands expanded. As a result of these actions, rare and interesting vascular plants are expected to increase their populations.

The main landscape features of the Vincheto Nature Reserve derive from the combined effect of the river Piave and of human activities, which have caused continuous changes to the environment over the past centuries.

A dynamic balance between natural events and human-related changes has influenced the presence and distribution of the different habitats within the reserve.

On the basis of several cartographic documents it was possible to evaluate the main changes that occurred to the boundaries of the reserve and its vegetation from the beginning of the 19th century onwards, when the first scientific maps were made available.

Let us now see the different habitats present with more detail. As anticipated earlier, the Vincheto Nature Reserve is located along the edge of the river Piave; as such, it occupies old fluvial habitats (such as ex-flood-beds) and low para-fluvial terraces adjacent to the active river bed.

Grasslands are crossed by small streams (locally widening to form small ponds); ox-bow lakes, riparian woodlands, riverside shrub-lands, resurgence pools and temporary riverbeds are just some of the other features composing the varied landscape of the reserve.

Of particular interest is the “humid corridor” developed along the Celarda stream – a resurgence rivulet originating from springs situated within the reserve, in locality Tre Fontane (“Three Springs”).

The sub-soil of the reserve consists of recent river deposits, gravelly in nature, which are very permeable and contain an abundant, seasonally fluctuating water table. The groundwater saturates the river deposits down to the impermeable substrate made of silt and clay lake deposits (silt deposits of a post-glacial lake).

The importance of good floral knowledge, in order to evaluate the naturalistic quality of the territory, needs to be stressed. Bibliographic analysis shows that the flora of the Vincheto di Celarda has never been the object of specific publications, even though in recent years works on the flora of the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park (and more general studies on the vegetation of the province of Belluno) have provided a few references for the local flora, and the Vincheto is sometimes mentioned.

A list of plants considered threatened to various degrees is given: among the orchidsOrchis coriophora and Ophrys holoserica (the latter species is endangered); among other species are Potamogeton coloratus, Scirpoides holoschoenus (critically endangered), Carex liparocarpos, Eleocharis austriaca, Epipactis palustris and Onobrychis arenaria (vulnerable).

Both natural and anthropogenic factors have determined the current vegetation structure within the reserve. No accounts on the phyto-geographic situation as a whole were found in the specific literature, but only a few marginal notes on single phyto-sociological surveys within the framework of wider studies.

The mapping of the reserve – during which special attention was given to Nature 2000” habitats – allowed a more precise definition of the real, current vegetation distribution, taking into account also the physiognomic aspects and the areas affected by human impact.

Lowland hay meadows and mixed Illyrian Oak-hornbeam forests are among the most representative habitats within the reserve, but by far the most significant priority is the alluvial forest, in its different aspects and variants.

Other assessed Nature 2000” habitats are: natural euthropic lakes; herbaceous riverbed vegetationshrubby riverbed vegetation with Salix eleagnosaquatic vegetation of watercourses; dry grassland formations – also including a priority site for the conservation of the two rare orchid species cited above; Molinia meadows (in non-typical forms, and thus only potential); hygrophilous tall herb fringe communities and mixed riparian forests.

Other habitats and various habitat mosaics were also found which cannot be classified within Nature 2000”, despite being ecologically significant.

Each category is described briefly in the accompanying literature, and the different types assessed are mentioned. For each field-trip carried out during the survey in order to prepare the maps, a detailed account was made with the particular features of each site and the related scientific and management issues.

The Vincheto Nature Reserve is also important for the fungi and lichen populations: as for the latter, according to the LIFE-Nature project, lichens are to be considered among the target groups for the biodiversity inventory of the reserve; 101 species of lichens were in fact found, mostly on bark and/or wood.

The most interesting habitats for lichens are: riparian forests, pioneer riparian vegetation and freshwater.

Although lichens are mostly terrestrial organisms, there are a few species restricted to freshwater habitats. Since in Italy the habitat lowlands freshwater lichen flora is known to be rather poor – probably due to human disturbance – the relatively species-rich communities found within the Vincheto suggest a high quality of the overall environment, pointing to a good quality of the air too.

Eventually, a plant survey was also carried out in order to produce a list of the species present, and some permanent sampling sites were selected for a long-term monitoring programme on lichen diversity.

(For the part on the Vincheto Nature Reserve, © Courtesy of “Guida alla Riserva Naturale Vincheto di Cellarda”, Ufficio Territoriale per la Biodiversità di Belluno, 2007).


The “Vincheto di Celarda”: a LIFE-Nature Reserve

The natural reserve “Vincheto di Celarda”  extended over about 130 hectares  is situated in the municipality of Feltre at an altitude of around 230 meters, in a low-lying position, as the area constitutes a former flood-bed of the river Piave, which time has seen to fill in, with the deposition of alluvial material transported by water (it is now a floodplain). The climate is continental, with rather low annual average temperatures and winter minima that are often very rigid (severe frosts are quite a common occurrence), associated to the low-lying location; all these factors have contributed to make this area a real concentration of aspects of flora and fauna that cannot be easily observed elsewhere. But the true peculiarity of the Vincheto are its water courses: the beauty of the streams and rivulets that completely surround the perimeter of the area  together with the risorgive (resurgent pools) and the standing bodies of water, internal to the area  have earned this biotope a reputation, and made it worthy of being included in the list of “wetlands of international interest” on the basis of the Ramsar convention, while the Council of Europe has agreed to include it within the European network of Bio-genetic reserves.

Management of the Semi-natural Stable Meadows

Meadows are herbaceous formations characterized by a noteworthy naturalistic value, connected to their richness of species and an elevated environmental quality, being them a fundamental element in the montane landscape. Meadows are a typology of vegetation strictly linked with the action of man, who perpetuates their existence through cultural practices such as scything and fertilization (manuring). Therefore, the anthropic origin of meadows is not to be seen in a negative way, as their presence is inserted within a natural context that increases the variability of habitats and has repercussions on the richness of living organisms that populate any given territory.

For these reasons, the meadows in the “Vincheto di Celarda”, which occupy about 45% of the entire surface of the nature reserve, deserve specific interventions, focused on the enhancement of biodiversity. In this perspective, they fit into the actions programmed as part of the LIFE-Nature project (read below), which will allow an optimal management of these habitats, according to indications derived from a Management Plan. In consideration of the alterations to the plant composition that meadows have withstood for anthropic reasons (because of irrational uses and/or abandonment), particular attention will be given to those types of interest for which the Management Plan contemplates some diversified uses, depending on the peculiarities of each formation. In particular, cultural practices will be adopted, compatible with and finalized to the increase of plant and animal biodiversity  such as a reduction in the use of fertilizers, well-defined scything procedures, the upkeep of patches of woodland and the maintenance of hedgerows, as well as the substitution of old stands of Spruce with tree and shrub elements more typical of the traditional landscape of this area.  

The Centre for the Wounded Birds of Prey

The ‘Corpo Forestale dello Stato’ (Italian Forestry Commission), in collaboration with the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park, is involved in the care of wounded birds of prey. Inside the natural reserve “Vincheto di Celarda” have been predisposed some aviaries that host nocturnal and diurnal birds of prey that have suffered grave accidents and that, as a consequence, are unable to fly  but also, at the same time, animals that have been seized by the police for illegal possession. The main causes of trauma are wounds and fractures inflicted by weapons, the impact with cars and suspended wires, intoxication by pesticides and the fall of the young birds from their nest. The main goal of these structures is the reintroduction into nature of the specimens that have been salvaged: as soon as they get to the refuge oasis at the Vincheto, the birds are visited and being taken care of; once their complete recovery has been ascertained, they are reintroduced into their native habitats. Besides operating as temporary shelter, the reserve is also a fixed refuge for all those specimens that, because of missing limbs, blindness or some other anomaly, unfortunately cannot be reintroduced into nature anymore. The birds of prey are being fed with meat obtained by carcasses of animals that have died of natural causes or because of road accidents, also recuperated by the ‘Corpo Forestale dello Stato’. They are fed only once a day, and once a week the animals will fast. For the birds of prey, feeding is a very delicate time, and the animals feel particularly vulnerable at that moment; therefore, it will be quite rare to observe them during that act.

An important activity connected to the presence of the aviaries is that of carrying out an intense work of sensitization towards people  especially children  who have little chance of having contact with nature, and with wild animals in particular; in this sense, the reserve represents a meeting point between wild fauna and man, and the possibility to observe the animals from close-by is a unique emotion and an opportunity to grow  as well as being an educational experience in its own right.    

Birds of prey are divided into two categories: diurnal and nocturnal; both hunt live prey by using their beak and claws. They are usually at the top of the food chain, as natural predators of the so-called primary consumers (herbivores or rodents); their prey range from small mammals  such as mouse  to much bigger animals, such as chamois: one of the favorite preys of Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). The offsprings of the birds of prey are fed by their parents with earthworms and insects.

Sometimes birds of prey behave as super-predators towards smaller animals and, often, also towards reptiles. A characteristic of these animals is the production of a residue derived from digestion  in the form of a ball  through which the bird expels hairs, bones, feathers and other indigestible parts of the eaten prey, which need to be eliminated. The most interesting characteristics of these birds, however, are a very developed visual and auditive apparatus, and also a great ability in flight, in which they can reach very high speeds. 

LIFE-Nature

LIFE-Nature (which stands for “Financial Instrument for the Environment”) was launched in 1992 by the EU as a financial environmental instrument, and it constitutes one of the foundations for initiatives in environmental politics. LIFE-Nature aims at co-financing projects proposed in the EU by state members and certain third candidate countries, and is concerned with actions regarding nature conservation (LIFE-Nature), other environmental fields (LIFE-Environment), as well as specific interventions outside the EU (LIFE-Third Countries). LIFE projects should contribute to the development, implementation and enhancement of the community's environmental policies and legislation, and they consist of actions taken under three thematic areas, called precisely  as previously anticipated  LIFE-Nature, LIFE-Environment and LIFE-Third Countries.

“Community nature protection legislation”

The specific objective of LIFE-Nature is actions geared to the implementation and conservation of natural habitats, and of the wild flora and fauna of Community interest, as indicated by the “Birds’ Directive” (1979) and the “Habitats’ Directive” (1992). The ultimate goal of LIFE-Nature, in particular, is the establishment of the “Natura 2000” network, composed of the totality of sites known as Sites of Community Importance (S.C.I.), which at the end of the institutive procedure will be designed either as Special Protection Areas (S.P.A.) or Special Areas of Conservation (S.A.C.). Together, these will vouch for the in-situ management and conservation of Europe’s most remarkable biodiversity resources, as represented by the habitats and species of interest at Community (EU) level. 

The main goal of the LIFE-Nature project within the reserve “Vincheto di Celarda, aimed at flora and fauna repopulation, contemplates the drafting of a ten year-long Management Plan in collaboration with the University of Padua, geared at the individuation of interventions necessary in order to improve biodiversity, and favour the recovery of semi-natural habitats of European interest  as well as of the plant and animal species associated with them. The Management Plan will have to take into account the necessity of keeping the productive and service activities to a level of compatibility with the needs of nature protection. The department will also coordinate the activity of monitoring the invertebrate fauna, in particular the saprophytic component  a task normally carried out by the National Center for the Study and Conservation of Forest Biodiversity, based in Verona and at nearby Bosco della Fontana (Mantova province). 

Within this context, three main actions were envisaged: the progressive uses of the “Vincheto di Celarda” have favored the diffusion of invasive tree species (such as Ailanthus, Robinia, Platanus and Picea); these artificial formations – dominated by Spruce – which have altered the natural composition of the alluvial and riparian populations, will progressively be cut, so to enhance the restoration of the original composition of the riparian forests; dead wood will be released in-situ, in order to favor the settlement of the saprophytic fauna (fungal communities). Additionally, the recovery and enhancement of the naturalistic and landscape importance of wetlands is also anticipated: canals that get filled with the deposits of organic matter (such as earth and loam)  as well as the bodies of water dismissed after pisciculture – will be restored; thus, the surface of humid habitats will be increased. This action of reclamation and re-naturalization of the internal canals will lead to improved habitat availability for the diffusion of species such as White-clawed River Crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes), as well as for all those invertebrates, amphibians and fishes that depend on humid habitats for food and reproduction. It will also favor a major presence of migratory and resident birds, as well as an increase of rare and interesting vascular plants (e.g. Ranunculus tricophyllus; R. fluitans) – once common and now more and more reduced in numbers  which are expected to grow.

Water Milfoil

This is a rooting rhizomatous plant – that is, an aquatic macrophyte – that lives completely submerged inside the water column, anchored to the substrate thanks to a powerful root system. It is a species characterized by a tender, flexible stalk, with a diameter of about 5 mm. The leaves are subdivided into numerous segments, and disposed in groups of four. The flowers are often unisexual, and also disposed in groups of four inside a spiked inflorescence that emerges above the water surface. It is a species with a Euro-siberian distribution, which typically colonizes stagnant water bodies with a slow outflow, more or less rich in nutrients, very alkaline and limestone-rich. Given its high productivity, this plant can form extensive ‘carpets’ of floating vegetation above the water surface, behaving sometimes almost like an invasive species. The presence of large expanses of Myriophyllum spicatum (Water Milfoil; Haloragaceae family) prevents the penetration of light at the expense of other plants or living organisms, thus limiting the availability of oxygen, which is needed – generally speaking  – in order to decompose this abundant vegetation. Within the reserve, this species is typical of the “Natura 2000” habitat known as “Eutrophic natural lakes with Magnopotamion or Hydrocharition”. A particularly abundant colony of this plant is present near the small wetland known as ‘Laghetto della Colonia’.          

Lichen Colonization on the Peri-fluvial Band Along the River Piave

Within the programme of monitoring and surveying the biodiversity within the reserve, studies have been carried out on the lichen population present in the shrub population along the streams and in the peri-fluvial band of the river Piave. In these habitats, characterized by the presence of the willow Salix eleagnos, lichens represent an important component of flora, both in terms of diversity and for their ecological role in the colonization process. These are evolving habitats, characterized  at the initial stage  by lichens and mosses, then substituted  at a later stage  by formations dominated by phanerogamous species (such as arid meadows and willow formations). These environments present a gravelly substrate, and are characterized by distinct summer aridity. 

The goal of this work is to: 1) analyze the composition and ecology of the lichen population, in relation to habitat evolution; 2) provide a base in terms of data collection for medium/long-term monitoring. The study has been carried out in two sites that represent two distinct evolutionary stages in the typical habitat with Salix eleagnos: 1) pioneer neo-formation variant; 2) more evolved variant, in combination with the vegetation of the arid meadows. In each site, starting from a fixed point  chosen randomly and only at a later stage identified on the map  a linear transept of 25 m has been traced, disposed in a N-S direction. The surveys have been carried out with regular intervals every 5 m, for a total of 6 surveys for each transept. For each survey, a grid of 30x50 cm has been devised, further divided into 10 squares of 10x15 cm each. The shortest side of the reticulate has been traced in an orthogonal position in respect to the direction of the transept. The point in which the reticulate is positioned is marked by a post fixed to the ground. Inside the reticulate have been surveyed all lichen species, and their occurrence has been calculated as total sum of the rectangular plots, within the reticulate, in which a given species is present. Additionally, have been taken into consideration also: the nature and dimension of the pebbles; the phanerogamous and moss cover; the presence of shade, and the decomposing plant remains. The ecology of the species has been valued indirectly, by using the ecological indicators present in the Italian lichen database.

Site No. 1 is characterized by a predominantly pebbly environment (97,5%); it displays a lichen cover which is three times bigger than that of the phanerogams and mosses. Here, only four lichen species are present, all of them with a crustose thallus. The average lichen cover, in the surveys, amounts to about 40%. Site No. 2 is a more heterogeneous environment, where the average lichen cover (18,9%) is decidedly inferior to phanerogams and mosses (31,5% and 29,5% respectively). Here are present thirteen lichen species. Terricolous (or terrestrial) lichens are present only on site No.2, while on site No. 1 are found only saxicolous (or saxatile) lichens. Amongst the forms of growth, in the surveyed species, the crustose lichens prevail on both sites; to a lesser extent, also squarrose (or squamate) lichens are found, while the foliose and fruticose types are absent. The majority of species is calcicole (or calciphile), and only on site No. 2 can be found silicicole (or silicicolous) types. Finally, all species seem to favour medium to intense illumination, and are meso-xerophilous. As for eutrophication, the prevailing tendencies cannot yet be detected at this stage.

Reclamation and Widening of the Wetlands

One of the elements of major relevance in the nature reserve “Vincheto di Celarda” is constituted by the presence of numerous wetlands that guarantee the life of many valuable floral and animal components. The LIFE-Nature project contemplates actions geared to reclaim and boost the naturalistic and landscape value of aquatic environments; in particular, of those areas that have been discontinued from pisciculture, or that have withstood phenomena of eutrophication. The re-naturalization of the canals will create new habitats for invertebrates, amphibians and fish; besides, it will favour a number of passing and resident aquatic birds, as well as the development of less and less frequent plant species (i.e. Ranunculus tricophyllus). The interventions will be carried out by keeping into consideration the levels of the water plate, monitored through the positioning of specific equipment. The action of restoration of the canals will include nearby areas with evident deposit of organic matter and loam (or silt), through the cleaning and partial deviation of the water courses, with the goal to create slow-flowing areas (‘lentic’), and others with much faster-flowing waters (‘lotic’), with the consequent diversification of habitats. This action will increase the variation of micro-environments, and, consequently, the habitats at disposition for the mammals  and for animals in general. One must intervene with the same goal also in some straight stretches of water, in which the creation of a system of weirs or barrages is foreseen. A further environmental diversification will be introduced by reducing shadow incidence along the water courses, with the goal to favor the settlement of Odonata (dragonflies), or with the planting of tree species such as Alder and Willow, in the sections devoid of vegetation.

A second type of intervention will involve the creation of new standing bodies of water, or the widening of existing ones. Some of these areas are situated along newly-created canals, where the morphology naturally presents some depressions. More lacustrine habitats will be widened by using part of the derived water-flow, discharged from other water courses, and through the cleaning of the organic matter (loam and silt) that has deposited over time. In some areas, the trees adjacent to the water courses will be eliminated, so to ameliorate the conditions of illumination; in some other cases, the attention will be put instead on conservation of the hygrophile vegetation, by implementing it with new Alder and Willow plantations.  

Aquatic Macrophyte Plants and Their Role Within the Fluvial Ecosystem

The presence of aquatic macrophyte plants influences the characteristics of the fluvial ecosystem. Besides being primary producers – and thus collocating themselves at the bottom of the food chains – these plants boost the structural complexity of the water courses, serving as habitats for some species of macro-invertebrates and invertebrate fauna that use them as refuge from predators, as an area where to lay down their eggs, or where butterflies can safely emerge from their pupal case. In this way, macrophyte plants contribute to an increase of biodiversity within the fluvial ecosystem. Amongst the elophyte species are Carex sp. pl.; Phragmites australis; Thypha sp. pl.; amongst the rhyzophyte species are Vallisneria sp. pl.; Nuphar lutea; Nymphaea alba; Potamogeton nutans; amongst the pleusophyte species are Lemna sp. pl.; Slavonia sp. pl.; Ceratophyllum sp. pl.

Their importance is also connected to the self-cleaning capacity of water systems. Macrophyte plants, in fact, intercept the rain-wash which comes from the slopes, and induce sedimentation of the solid discharge, as well as fixation of the pollutants associated with it. Besides, they host, by their roots, communities of decomposers and other organisms that play a key role in the metabolization process and in absorbing nitrite from the soil. Macrophyte plants perform, in fact, a double function: they clarify water and protect it from excessive eutrophication, by absorbing phosphorus and nitrogen. 

Lastly, the aquatic vegetation also contributes to the modeling of fluvial morphology, though facilitating the deposition of sediments and the retention of organic matter. This happens as the presence of these plant populations induces a slowing down in the water speed. In parallel, this contributes to the reduction of the water energy, and therefore of its erosive power, thus allowing the stabilization of the river banks.  

Given their important ecological role within the aquatic ecosystems, the composition and the abundance of aquatic macrophyte plants is among the fundamental elements on which is based the definition of “quality of the water courses”, determined on the basis of the Directive 2000 in matter of water, known as “Water Framework Directive” (WFD). This Directive  implemented in Italy under the name of “Norms in Environmental Matters”  has the objective of instituting a regulatory framework for the protection of all water courses, with the goal of bettering their quality within a short space of time. The first phase of this project has ended in 2015; new goals will be set after that.                   

Threadleaf Crowfoot

This plant is a rooting rhyzophyte species; that is, an aquatic macrophyte that lives completely submerged under the water column, anchored to the substrate thanks to its potent root system. Its main characteristic consists in the presence of deeply divided, segmented leaves, with more or less rigid and diverging capillary divisions. The petals are white, with a yellow blotch at the base. 

For Ranunculus tricophyllus (Ranunculaceae family), two sub-species are known: 1) R. tricophyllus Chaix subsp. tricophyllus has relatively sturdy stalks, which root only at the level of the inferior knots. The distribution of this sub-species is circum-boreal; in Italy it is present only in flatlands, until the upper limit of tree vegetation; 2) R. tricophyllus Chaix subsp. eradicatus (Laest.) Cook, instead, is distinguished by slender, delicate stalks that root at the level of the knots. This sub-species has an arctic-Alpine distribution, and is typically confined to the riparian habitats of small high-altitude Alpine lakes. In the nature reserve “Vincheto di Celarda”, this species characterizes one of the most interesting “Natura 2000” sites’ plant communities, known as “Flatland and montane water courses with vegetation of the Ranunculion fluitantis and Callitrichio-Batrachion type”, constituted by small streams of rapidly flowing water  as is the case of Rio Caramello and Rio Celarda

The Bird Population of the ‘Laghetto degli Olmi’ at the “Vincheto di Celarda

Mallard

(Anas platyrhynchos; sedentary, erratic). Natural habitat. This bird populates the whole northern hemisphere; in Italy, it nests everywhere, but it is more frequently seen in late autumn, winter and early spring; its natural habitat are still waters rich in vegetation. General characteristics. The males have a green head with a metallic sheen, while at the base of the neck they display a white-colored ring; the body is entirely grey, apart from the area around the neck, which is dark brownish-red; the caudal feathers (quills) are black-and-white. On the wing they have a blue band and two white strips; the feet  as in all aquatic birds  are palmate and orange-colored; the beak, instead, is pale yellow. There is, also, a noticeable sexual dimorphism, as the female is hazel-colored, while  in the period after moulting  both male and female specimens have dull colors, in comparison to those they display in the other seasons; the young birds, instead, have the same color as the females. Dimensions: the male measures about 60 cm, while the female is roughly 50 cm in length. Behavior. This bird nests on terra firma, in the proximity of water; it mates from March to May, and the males often contend the same female; females build the nest with grass and leaves, stuffing it with feathers; they lay 7 to 12 greenish eggs that they will then sit on for about a month; the offsprings leave their nest just after being born, and will start to fly after about two months. Feeding: Mallard feeds on aquatic plants, insects, worms, snails, larvae and mollusks.

Tufted Duck

(Aythya fuligula; migratory, erratic). Description: it is a medium-small sized diving duck with a compact structure; it has a short neck and a rather large head, with a feathered tuft, variably protruding from the nape, depending on the age and sex. The males have a black body that contrasts with the white sides, and a tuft on the nape too  especially long during the reproductive season. The iris is yellow; the beak relatively short and large, of a greyish-blue color with a black tip; the legs (claws) are also greyish. The females have a brown color, with the upper parts darker than the underlying ones; the tuft on the nape is reduced or just sketched. The beak is grey with a black tip; it displays a short and narrow white band at the base. The iris is yellow; the legs (claws) are greyish. The male, when changing habit, is similar to the female, but it never displays the white area around the beak; the crest, instead, is reduced or completely absent. The young are very similar to the female, but the plumage has a darker brown color, while the area around the beak is of a tawny color. The beak is grey, and the iris partly brown. Feeding: the diet of Tufted Duck is constituted by other small animals  especially mollusks, which it finds by diving also at 2-3 m of depth. Breeding: the couples reproduce in isolation or in groups. The nest is always close to the water, often in the middle of aquatic plants, or on islands. The nest's hollow is often padded by fresh vegetal material. The deposition of the eggs takes place from half-April to the beginning of June, when the female lays 8-11 grayish-green eggs, that she will sit on for 23-28 days. The eggs hatch all at the same time, and the young take off at 45-50 days of age. Behavior. Tufted Duck is a migrant bird, which winters regularly. During the reproductive period it lives in Northern Europe and in Asia, while it spends the winter in western-central Europe and in the Mediterranean. Habitat and Distribution. Tufted Duck prefers tranquil and slow-flowing waters with banks rich in vegetation and a wide surface available, but it also frequents pools and larger bodies of water, when these are completely free. It can be seen, sometimes, in decantation basins, and along coastal waters  when not too salty. The area of distribution of Tufted Duck was once limited to northern Asia and North/north-western Europe, but since the last century there has been an expansion of the distributional area, and a numerical increase in central-western Europe too. The presence of Tufted Duck is without a doubt more consistent in Northern Italy (especially Piedmont, Lombardy and the upper Adriatic), in Central Italy and in Sardinia.    

Kingfisher

(Alcedo atthis; sedentary, erratic). General characteristics. It is an unmistakable species for its brilliant colors and for its habit of launching itself from a roost or a perch placed above bodies of water, which constitute its preferred habitat, from where it hunts small fishes, tadpoles and aquatic insects. It can be found in any place where there is water  such as a river, stream, pool or lake (also in urban environments), from sea level to 600-700 m of altitude. It normally lives in pairs over the territory that it has chosen as its own. It nests in cavities along the river banks and other water courses. Among the causes that limit its diffusion is precisely the lack of suitable sites for nesting and breeding, whose constant decrease is due to uncontrolled building along the streams’ embankments, or the use of concrete for reinforcing the river banks themselves.

Common Moorhen

(Gallinula chloropus; sedentary, migratory, erratic). General Description. Common Moorhen is a sturdy bird (33-35 cm long) that does not present an evident sexual dimorphism, as male and female have in fact roughly the same physical characteristics: an almost brownish-black plumage, with a white crissum (under tail coverts) and white strips to the side, red beak with a yellow tip and greenish-grey legs. The digits are very long  which allow this bird to walk with agility amongst the marshy vegetation. The chicks are of a smokey grey color, with a brilliant red beak. Natural habitat. Any fresh water habitat, from a small pond to a lake; from a stream to a river, offers Common Moorhen hospitality  at the condition that a rich vegetation and reed-beds (or rushes) are available. They mostly feed on leaves of aquatic plants, snails, small fishes, but also fruits and berries. Generally, Common Moorhen lead quite a solitary life, but in winter they can form small groups. When alarmed, they raise and lower their tail continuously, and occasionally dive in case of danger. They swim with grace, swaying their heads. Their flight is usually slow, with drooping legs. Breeding: the nests are set at the shelter of thick vegetation. The nest is built just above the water level, with vegetal material. The eggs are laid, varying in number from 5 to 10, and are sat on by both parents for about 22 days. The chicks, as soon as they are born, are immediately able to swim, but they need to be fed by their parents and, sometimes, by the older brothers too; normally, they become independent within 6-7 weeks. A gurgling song is another of this bird’s characteristics.  

Grey Heron

(Ardea cinerea; sedentary, migratory, erratic  as big as a Stork). It can be distinguished from the other herons by its large dimensions (90-98 cm in length). It has an ash-grey coat, hence its name. The upper parts are indeed grey; the neck and head are white with a black stripe on the nape. The thin, sharp beak is yellowish; the large feet are brownish, but both become reddish in spring. Its flight is powerful, with deep and slow wing flaps. The wingspan, in an adult male, can reach  in certain cases  2 m of width. Its silhouette, when in flight, is characteristic: it keeps its head rearward between the shoulders, as if to form a letter ’S’, and extended legs. It frequents ponds, rice-pads, flooded fields, canals, rivers, streams, pools, lakes, and  occasionally  coastal environments too. It keeps immobile for long periods in low water, waiting for its prey, usually constituted by frogs, fishes, reptiles, which it captures with a rapid swing of its long, pointed beak. It nests in colonies with other herons (‘garzaie’); it prefers building its nest perched on tall trees  at least 25 m high  although there are cases in which the nests have been seen on lower trees, and sometimes at ground level too, amongst rushes or in reed beds. Its distributional area is the northernmost among European herons; therefore, some populations are subject to a high mortality rate during the harshest winters. However, it has been observed that, in this case, the species has a strong capacity for recovery, thanks to its numeric size  so much to have become the more widespread heron species in north-western Europe. 

Little Grebe

(Tachybaptus ruficollis; migratory, sedentary  as big as a Turtle Dove). It is the smallest among the European grebes: Little Grebe is difficult to spot both for its reduced dimensions and for its habit of diving often. It looks stocky and with a short neck, often with straggly feathers on the crissum (under tail coverts). In summer, the throat and cheeks take a typical chestnut coloration, while in winter the bird is almost completely brown-grey. It always displays a small white blotch at the base of the beak. Natural habitat. In Europe, Little Grebe can be seen in the whole central-southern region, but it can reach as far north as Scotland, Denmark and southern Sweden. In autumn, it glides over the great lakes and river estuaries, where it becomes easier to spot. Some Little Grebe start to migrate already in July, but more massively in Oct.-Nov. Just a few individuals remain to winter in northern Italy, while they are more commonly seen further south, along the coastlines or by ponds and lakes. Feeding: differently from other grebes, Little Grebe predominantly feeds on invertebrates such as insects and their larvae, but also on crustaceans, mollusks, tadpoles and small fishes, which it captures by diving or skimming the water surface; it occasionally feeds on vegetal material too. Breeding: the nest presents itself as a heap of floating material, anchored to the aquatic plants under water. At the beginning of summer, the eggs are being laid, usually in number of 4-6; the sitting is provided for by both parents, and the hatchlings will be born after about 20 days.


The Nature Trail on Monte Miesna (San Vittore Nature Trail)

The area of the Rocchetta (about 600 m) on Monte Miesna is of extraordinary importance from the viewpoint of its flora, whose peculiarities have been well-documented, in particular by local botanist Cesare Lasen, who has written several contributions for specialists’ reviews and journals, including an article dedicated to the description of a new species, the grass Stipa feltrina. Additionally, there are the information — contributed by several authors — that can be found in the small volume entirely dedicated to the “Sentiero Natura San Vittore” (San Vittore Nature Trail).

The research on the flora carried out over the last few years has confirmed and enriched the already copious list of rare species, and of those of phyto-geographic interest. The presence of fresh, mesophile woodland at the base of the Rocchetta, and of arid-steppic meadows on the ridge over the Basilica — as well as the peculiar geographic position, and the post-glacial events — have made this area of considerable naturalistic interest, so much that for certain plant species, this is the only site where they can be found in the entire province of Belluno, and among the few in the Veneto. Here follows the description of some of the most notable species that can be seen in the area of the Rocchetta on Monte Miesna:

— Bulbocodium vernum L. This a beautiful plant belonging to the Liliaceae family, with a very early blossoming (February-beginning of March), very similar to an Autumn Crocus (Colchicum sp.) in outlook. This is the only locality in the whole of the Veneto for this species, and the easternmost station on the southern side of the Alps: the small population present on the arid meadows of the Rocchetta deserves therefore a lot of attention. 

— Stipa feltrina (Moraldo, Lasen & Argenti). This is a new species that has recently been described; it had already been found and sampled in 1984, but it has been identified as an autonomous entity only following many verifications. Its area of diffusion is limited to the south-easterly slope of the Rocchetta. It is a very rare example of a punctual endemic species, which significantly increases the value of this site.

— Helianthemum apenninum (L.) Mill. This plant presents woody stems at the base and large white flowers, with a conspicuous yellow blotch at the center. In the province of Belluno, besides here, it can also be found on the arid-stony craggy meadows of Pedesalto, in the municipality of Fonzaso, as well as on the cliffs uphill of the road to Arsié. These stations are the north-easternmost within its Mediterranean areal.

— Helianthemum canum (L.) Baugm. This is a small plant with a woody stem, crawling and contorted, with yellow-flowered blooms. It blossoms in June-July in the arid and craggy thermophile meadows of the Rocchetta, and also on Monte Aurin (north of Feltre).

— Ruta graveolens L. It is a perennial plant, about 50-80 cm tall, with a wooded stem at the base. The glaucous-green leaves emanate an intense and aromatic scent. Its diffusion within this area is perhaps to be connected to the cultivation of this species for pharmaceutical purposes, and linked with the presence of the monks. In an analogous way, in the proximity of the Basilica, is present — and by now naturalized — Absinth (Artemisia absinthium).

— Inula spiraeifolia L. This is a plant belonging to the Compositae family, with vivid yellow-flowered blooms. It is present at the margin of woodland thickets in hot-arid locations, and it blossoms between August and September. 

— Allium sphaerocephalon L. This plant, also belonging to the Liliaceae family, is very conspicuous for its blooms and for its typical spheric inflorescence, of a dark purple-red colour. It blossoms between June and August. 

— Corydalis solida (L.) Clairv. This is a herbaceous plant that blossoms in the understory during the months of March-April, before the setting out of leaves (foliation) in the woodland (same as it happens to all other geophytes, including Snowdrop, Anemones, and other species such as Gagea lutea). This plant is very similar to the more common Corydalis cava, and sometimes they grow together. 

— Orlaya grandiflora (L.) Hoffm. This is a plant belonging to the Umbelliferae family, found usually in arid-steppic locations and well recognizable for the presence of white blossoms, in which the external flowers have very large, deeply incised petals. It blooms during the months of June-July. 

— Silene otites (L.) Wibel. Perennial herbaceous plant with a basal rosette, from which departs an erect, branched stem, viscous at the top. The flowers are small and rather un-conspicuous. It also grows on arid-steppic meadows. 

Along the whole ridge of the Rocchetta, until the junction with the trail that leads to the summit of Monte Miesna (744 a.s.l.), are present beautiful examples of arid-steppic prairies, then meadows that develop on steep slopes among protruding rocks, over a superficial terrain, in an area that enjoys good insolation and a very dry airflow, in reason of the windy location. In this climatic setting, associated with the peculiar aspect and geographic position, occur the ideal conditions for the presence of very peculiar plant communities — especially for the province of Belluno. These meadows present several affinities with those of Carso and the Pre-Alps of Friuli, and are therefore rich in species of Eastern provenance, while — at the same time — there are also other entities of more westerly distribution (such as Pseudolysimachion spicatumHelianthemum apenninum, and even Bulbocodium itself). The extraordinary nature of these meadows is determined — besides their intrinsic naturalistic value — also by the rich variety of blossoms that follow each other over an extended time lapse that goes from February to October. In particular, stand out the vivid yellow spring blooms of Tommasini Cinquefoil (Potentilla cinerea subsp. arenaria) and of Crawling Cytisus (Cytisus pseudoprocumbens), the blue ones of Elongated Globeflower (Globularia punctata), and — towards the end of summer — the purple-blue blossoms of Aster (Aster amellus). Very singular are the panicles of Eryingium amethystinum, with stems and bracts — at the base of the inflorescence — of an amethystine purple-blue color. 

On these slopes also grow several aromatic species, typical of the Mediterranean flora, amongst which stand out Common Rue (Ruta graveolens), Winter Savory (Satureja montana), Oregano (Origanum vulgare), Thyme (Thymus spp.), etc. In the herbaceous layer, with rocky outcrops, one can instead admire Houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum), with large rosettes of fleshy leaves and a showy pink-purple inflorescence, as well as the saxifrage Saxifraga hostii, which like many others saxifrages has glands that secrete limescale in excess, which is being accumulated in the leaves. The extension of these meadows has progressively reduced over the course of the years, because of the re-colonization of the woodland, mainly due to the growth of Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia), Manna Ash (Fraxinus ornus) and Hazel (Corylus avellana). In the areas more in proximity of the woodland, are present also plant communities typical of the margins; species here include Geranium sanguineum, with vivid purple flowers, Inula spiraeifolia and White Swallow-wort (Vincetoxicum hirundinaria). In the absence of proper management (meadows mowing and animal grazing, especially from sheep), we will have more and more the complete encroachment of woodland — even though not in rapid times, because of the windy location. 

In the area of the Rocchetta are widespread — in relation to the morphologic characteristics of the area — both woodlands of the mesophile type (that do not tolerate excesses in the main ecological factors, such as temperature, rainfall, etc) and of the termophile type, the latter localized in the warmer areas. The first type is present on the slope under the Basilica, and it is dominated by Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), but also enriched by other broadleaved, in particular Common Ash (Fraxinus excelsior), Sycamore Maple (Acer pseudoplatanus), Field Maple (Acer campestre), Mountain Elm (Ulmus glabra) and the Limes (Tilia platyphyllos and T. cordata). The understory is very rich in geophytes; that is, plants which have the characteristic of surviving the adverse season — which in our climates is winter — with subterranean organs (bulbs, roots, tubers). Among the most interesting species, in this sense, stand out the Anemones, which form white (the main species are Anemone nemorosa and A. trifolia) and yellow (A. ranunculoidescarpets, but present here is also Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), which is among the first plants to appear at snowmelt. Other species include Lords-and-Ladies (Arum maculatum), with mottled leaves, and the Solomon’s Seals (Polygonatum multiflorum and P. odoratum). Among the splashes of white and yellow of the Anemones, here and there one can observe also the white and purple blossoms of the more common Corydalis cava and of the rarer Corydalis solida (both with a long spur, folded backwards). This fresh environment also favours the presence, in the understory, of wild Asparagus (A. tenuifolius), quite uncommon in the province of Belluno, and of Goat's Beard (Aruncus dioicus). Some ferns are visible too, amongst which the most characteristic is perhaps Hart’s Tongue (Phyllitis scolopendrium), which is the only fern with an undivided frond, but present are also Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) and the rarer Black Spleenwort (Asplenium adiantum-nigrum), an indicator of acidified soils. Another species quite widespread in the area is Alpine Barrenwort (Epimedium alpinum), which forms extended, almost mono-specific patches, while among the numerous shrubs present, perhaps the most characteristic is Spindle (Euonymus sp.), with their singular and poisonous pink fruits, amongst which is Common Spindle (E. europaeus) and the less frequent E. latifolia, with showy, larger glossy leaves. 

The termophile woodlands, instead, are to be found above the Basilica, and are characterized by the abundance of Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia), Manna Ash (Fraxinus ornus) and Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens). Among the tree species is present also Mountain Service, or Whitebeam (Sorbus aria), with leaves that are white and hairy underneath (hence the name) and red fruits. The understory is very rich and articulated, with shrubs such as Common Privet (Ligustrum vulgare), Wayfarer’s Tree (Viburnum lantana), and — above all — Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas), which is probably the first to bloom, as early as March. Among the herbaceous species is present Liverwort (Hepatica nobilis), with trilobate leaves and flowers of a metallic purple colour. There are also other more common species, such as Primrose (Primula vulgaris); in particular, during April, stand out the purple blossoms of Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca minor). Amongst the less common herbaceous species, one can instead mention Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), with long, pointed leaves and deeply incised white flowers; additionally, Dog’s Tooth Violet (Erythronium dens-canis) can be seen too, which can easily be recognized for the single pink flower, and the presence of two long, fleshy mottled leaves with purple blotches.


Return from Vincheto to Feltre

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