This year, I was fortunate to go on a guided walking tour of the mountains in the Garfagnana national park in North West Tuscany. I was fascinated to hear from our local guide Pierreluigi about how the development of this valley has been managed, because of its potential importance to our current debates about the Lake District and Snowdonia.
Back in the 50s and 60s the Garfagnana valley was covered in sheep. The hillsides were close-cropped grass and there was an ongoing serious concern about floods and landslides with the public authorities under constant pressure to assign more money to schemes to protect the people. The economy at the time was under pressure with the traditional shepherding life resulting in a very poor existence and many people leaving the area.
As I understand it, three things happened that were of significance. Firstly the hillsides were reforested. Douglas Fir was then the tree of choice, but these are now being replaced by broad-leafed trees. As a result the area is now green and diverse. With the forests came the animals. There are now deer all over, wild boar in abundance, golden eagles and some wolves have been reintroduced. One day in our tour we passed a herd of around twenty wild boar with their young and saw a pair of golden eagles soaring. The pictures here tell the tale.
The second development was to recruit the farmers to help manage the water and landslide protection scheme. The farmers were inspecting the hillsides regularly anyway and cared about floods, so why not ask them to keep an eye on the flood protection measures? The farmers were paid for this task, which helped them and the public bill for flood protection was significantly reduced.
So they produced a reforested area, gave new work to farmers and the third development was that they introduced tourism with many farms registering as agriturismo, taking in tourists at the same time as running their farm, producing wine, chestnuts, olives etc. The local economy is now resilient and sustainable though it supports less numbers of people.
I wondered at our own Lake District, Snowdonia and other national parks. What would reforestation do? Could it achieve similar outcomes?