by Ludovica Schiaroli
A very ambitious project for climate change adaptation started last July in the Cinque Terre National Park: it is called Stonewallsforlife and it aims at demonstrating how the ancient practice of drystone walls can mitigate the effects of what, in the last UN report on climate, has been defined “the battle to be faced without distractions”.
Stonewallsforlife includes the restoration and maintenance of about six hectares of drystone walls in Manarola, municipality of Riomaggiore, thanks to the EU co-financing in the framework of the “Climate change adaptation” LIFE Program. The Cinque Terre National Park is the Coordinating Beneficiary and is supported by Fondazione Manarola, the University of Genoa, ITRB Group, Legambiente and the Barcelona Provincial Council, which manages the Garraf Natural Park.
“The role of the Cinque Terre Park is to coordinate the project, with a special focus on the vegetation removal in abandoned terraces, the repairing of the drystone walls, and, finally, the rental of restored plots to local farmers. All these activities are obviously carried out with the help and support of all partners”. These are the words of Emanuele Raso, geologist and coordinator of Stonewallsforlife on behalf of the Park, who see the project as the starting point for new synergies between historic centers and agricultural areas.
“Cinque Terre is a very dynamic area from a geomorphological point of view – explains Emanuele Raso – as slope surfaces are very stressed. Although it is not a seismic area, Cinque Terre is triggered by severe meteorological events, which can activate geo-hydrological instabilities: an intense rain of two, three hours is sometimes enough to start intense erosion processes. Restoration of terraces can be an effective measure for climate change mitigation as their function as rainwater tanks is re-established”.
The project also plays an important role regarding to geo-hydrological instability. Cinque Terre inhabitants will never forget the flood event occurred on 25 October 2011, when 13 people died and mud slides devasted the area, especially Vernazza and Monterosso. “On that day, we hit bottom – says Raso – but from that shock a new awareness arose. We realized that we could no longer focus on historic centers and tourist activities, overlooking the problem of abandoned slopes, but we had to brace the symbiosis between natural and agricultural areas with urban centers. Therefore, the number of farms, associations, foundations has significantly increased since that tragic event”.
Since the concept development of Stonewallsforlife, the activity of Fondazione Manarola has represented a model to follow. The foundation, born in 2011 just after the flood, aims at proposing and demonstrating an effective approach to tackle the issue of land abandonment in the area. “Cinque Terre is characterized by micro-parceled areas. – explains Raso – Some owners are not even aware they own land, others are not interested in the recovery. Fondazione Manarola acts as a link between the owners of abandoned areas and local farmers. Before renting plots out to local farmers, thanks to the intervention of Cinque Terre Park, Fondazione Manarola restores drystone walls and terraces. Tenants will then engage for their long-term maintenance.”
The experience of Fondazione Manarola prepared the ground for Stonewallsforlife, which allows targeted and effective interventions. For example, thanks to the economic support by the LIFE Program, it is now possible to intervene even in impervious and steep areas, which have never been interested by restoration work due to the lack of economic resources. “For the prevention of instability, it is essential to make landslide areas safer, in order to protect inhabited centers from debris flow prone zones,” continues Raso.
The project has also an important social aspect. Cinque Terre experienced a significant population decline firsthand, which made the community more sensitive to disadvantaged social groups. In this view, Stonewallsforlife provides courses for unemployed people, migrants and disadvantaged categories, didactical courses for migrants, unemployed people and disadvantaged categories, with a twofold objective: facilitating their job placement and social inclusion and carrying on the ancient tradition of drystone wall construction.
“Stonewallsforlife is not the only project the Park is involved in” explains Raso. “There are several ongoing projects concerning the protection of the marine protected area. The most important ones have received funding from the LIFE and Interreg Programmes and involve both national and European partners”. Among them, we find RELIFE, dealing with the reintroduction of the ferruginea patella (a mollusk that was no longer present in the Cinque Terre marine protected area); MEDSEALITTER, aiming at limiting the dispersion of pollutants in the sea; GIREPAM, proposing the creation of an ecological network to limit the biodiversity loss; MAREGOT, investigating the risks associated with coastal erosion; and ROCPOPLIFE, monitoring the cystoseira brown algal, which plays a key role in marine ecosystems since it is an excellent CO2 “sequestrator”.
The Covid-19 emergency caused a slowdown in fieldworks foreseen under Stonewallsforlife and the postponement of the start of the courses. Nevertheless, despite some difficulties, the project proceeds. Raso is satisfied when he lists the results obtained so far: “Together with the University of Genoa, we have performed a first geomorphological survey. Drystone walls have been classified based on their height, length and extension, alongside with their conservation status. Vertical and horizontal drainage works have been planned, where necessary. In collaboration with Fondazione Manarola, we have identified the area where the restoration of terraces will start: it occupies six hectares in a central position within the Manarola amphitheater and it is one of the most critical”.
The road is still long, and Raso knows it. Indeed, after the restoration of the area in Manarola, the goal is to replicate the intervention in other sites, both in the Cinque Terre and in the Garraf Park, which has characteristics similar to those of the Ligurian Riviera, but also other critical issues.
“Stonewallsforlife is a project – concludes Raso – that has several interesting aspects. It offers concrete solutions for climate change adaptation and, at the same time, it enables the recovery of a previously abandoned territory, leading to landscape and social benefits”.