Knowledge Platform

General Information

The Eastern Lowlands of Ferrara are located in the northeast of the Emilia-Romagna Region, in the province of Ferrara. The area covers 893 km2, and has a minimum elevation of 3 m below sea level and a maximum of 8 m above sea level. It is located in the Continental Biogeographic Region and in the Mediterranean North Ecoregion. The climate is influenced by subtropical dry summer conditions. The soils are hydromorphic and alluvial, highly organic, with the presence of dunes and paleodunes in some areas. A large portion of the territory is protected by the Po Delta Park (265 km2) and Natura2000 sites (322 km2). The case study area encompasses nine municipalities: Codigoro, Comacchio, Goro, Lagosanto, Massa Fiscaglia, Mesola, Migliaro and Migliarino with a total population of approximately 65,764 inhabitants (ISTAT 2011-2013). In the province the mean age is 47 years, and about 25% of the population is above 64 years of age. Only 10% of the population is younger than 15 years old (ISTAT 2002-2013). The mean annual income is the lowest in the Emilia-Romagna Region (17,875 Euro per capita) - a region with the second highest annual income in Italy (ca. 21,763 Euro per capita).

Location and main landscape composition of the eastern lowlands of Ferrara, northeast Emilia-Romagna
Figure 1. Location and main landscape composition of the eastern lowlands of Ferrara, northeast Emilia-Romagna.

Landscape Policy

With regard to Pillar I, the Single Farm Payment in Ferrara has been one of the highest in the Emilia- Romagna Region, and has been mostly concentrated in the province of Ferrara. The estimated impact of this on the study area is a likely increase in farm size, increased production of certain arable crops (e.g. orchards, vegetables), and a decrease in industrial crops (e.g. sugar beet). In Emilia-Romagna there has been a trend toward increasing demand for medium and large size farms (Fanfani & Pieri 2012) in recent years and due to a positive growth prospective in the agricultural sector, the agricultural land market has been robust. Both in Emilia-Romagna and the province of Ferrara, the land value of orchards and arable crops has increased (period 2002-2011), while in the case study area, vegetable crops have had higher land values than other crop typologies. With respect to Pillar II, in the case study area agro-environmental payments have been the most frequently requested by farmers. As a result, more support for the protection of natural resources, biodiversity, improvements to and sustainability of the production system are expected. However, the Emilia-Romagna Rural Development Program (2007-2013) has had a low level of farm participation. For example, in our study area approximately 11% of the farms have applied for measure 214 support agro-environmental payments, while other measures, such as measure 121 (modernisation of farms) and measure 311 (diversification of non-agricultural activities) have seen only a small number of applications.

Case study picture
Cultural heritage © Stefano Targetti

Landscape Management

Since land reclamation in the case study area, agriculture has developed rapidly and water management and mechanisation have played an important role. In fact, large extensions of embankments and water channels cover a large part of this area. The local reclamation and irrigation board has the responsibility for maintaining the stability and hydraulic regime of these declivous terrains, managing correct water drainage and proper hydraulic conditions, and guaranteeing activities aimed at protecting and indeed increasing water availability for irrigation purposes. The reduction in natural habitats, such as seasonally flooded meadows, has impacted biodiversity in the area. Restoration projects lead by the Po Delta Park have allowed for habitat restoration (e.g. dunes, plant diversity), and improved habitat suitability (e.g. water quality and bird sites).

Some activities involve conservation, habitat protection, management of selected critical areas (e.g. salina di Comacchio, sacca di Goro), and the elaboration of development plans (e.g. for the historic centre of Comacchio). The Park has the potential to modify/improve landscape value through various initiatives (e.g. the evaluation of the economic impact of climate change on agriculture, conservation of natural areas and valorisation of local products, restoration of ecological areas as tourist attractions, restoration of forested areas, and the greening of farms to restore the traditional landscape). In recent years, scarcely productive agricultural areas have been flooded once again and reforested making use of the CAP incentives. Thanks to different CAP measures, the Park is moving traditional agriculture practices in a more sustainable direction, for example by increasing organic production. However, problems have emerged as the increased expansion and intensity of agricultural production in the area has affected wetland conservation and water quality, and resulted in erosion of the coastline and the increasing vulnerability of coastal habitats, to mention but a few.

Case study picture
Wetlands © Stefano Targetti

Landscape Structure and Elements

The landscape is currently composed of agriculture (662 km2, 74% of the total area), and in particular arable crops (59%). Seven per cent (7%) of the total number of farms (1,589 farms in year 2010) has some kind of linear elements. A large extension of irrigation ditches (35 km2) covers approximately 4% of the study area. Natural and semi-natural vegetation found in wetlands and forest areas (138 km2, 15%) serve as refuge for species of flora and fauna of high naturalistic value (e.g. 324 bird species, 36 fish species in internal waters). The remaining space is largely occupied by small towns and other urban infrastructures and artificial structures, some of which are of noteworthy historical and cultural value.

Case study picture
Cultural heritage © Stefano Targetti

Landscape Functions and Services

Natural areas and ecosystems that support provisioning services have been considerably reduced in the past and so, in turn, has the production/availability of food, raw materials, fresh water, medicinal resources and other. The territory is predominantly focused on intensive farming. The Po Delta Park and the presence of Natura2000 sites contribute to support the provision of ecosystem services by way of biodiversity protection (flora and fauna) and habitat restoration.

Agriculture, as the main activity in the landscape context, interacts with regulating processes, such as geophysical, climatic and biological processes. These processes regulate for example climate and air quality, carbon storage/sequestration, moderation of extreme events, wastewater treatment, erosion prevention, and pollination. Some landscape elements in the study area that support regulating services, are crops, green linear elements, forests and semi-natural areas, wetlands and pasture areas. The reclamation and irrigation board, the Po Delta Park and the local administration, as well as environmental policies, contribute to making decisions in this respect.

The cultural services and other benefits offered in the area, such as recreational activities, mental and physical health support, including inspirational and spiritual experiences, and sense of place, are inherently linked to landscape quality and the proximity of such landscapes. The study area is part of the UNESCO world heritage sites and offers attractive cultural and naturalistic areas with high landscape value. The presence of the Po Delta Park encourages many recreation activities, such as fishing, boating, walking, cycling, bird watching, and nature tours. Moreover, the presence of towns with a rich cultural background provides opportunities for a variety of activities (e.g. city walks, museums, parks, festivals), making the whole area an attractive tourist destination.

Habitat or supporting services, on the other hand, depend on habitat and ecosystem quality. Genetic resources (i.e. biodiversity) are difficult to maintain if the habitats and ecosystems that support such genetic resources disappear. In the study area, the Po Delta Park and the presence of Natura2000 sites serve the purpose of protecting habitat and biodiversity. Prior to the creation of the park, however, agricultural expansion radically changed the structure and composition of the landscape.

Case study picture
© Stefano Targetti

Socio-Economic Benefits

A number of socio-economic benefits arise from this agricultural landscape and context. Public goods, such as landscape attractiveness, or private goods, such as food production, provide opportunities for developing second-order services (Manrique et al. 2013). Marketed PDO and PGI products (produced by 18 farms, roughly 1% of farms in the study area) are linked to the agricultural landscape, local attributes and cultural background. The high value of the natural and semi-natural areas, integrated as they are in a predominantly agricultural landscape, provide opportunities for the development of organic farming (2,283 ha, 4 % of the UAA), or other activities such agritourism that offer accommodations, food services and recreational activities. The attractiveness of the Po Delta Park stems from the presence of wetlands (e.g. bird habitats), forests and semi-natural areas that attract many tourists. Restoration activities, such as the recovery of the Comacchio saltpan of, the improvement of bird habitats in the Park, and the recovery of the Valle Bertuzzi private wetlands, are important to maintain and increase landscape value. Anthropic influences, the presence of historical sites and the rich cultural background that includes traditional activities (e.g. traditional fisheries), and typical local food products, add to the appeal of the area. In the study area, both residents and tourists tend to "attach" value to landscape quality by associating their positive perceptions of landscape features to an increased level of ecosystem service use (Galimberti, Raggi, and Viaggi 2014). In particular, the ad-hoc studies in this area have highlighted the synergies between the use of public goods and the production of socio-economic benefits.

Case study picture
Irrigated arable land © Stefano Targetti

References & Further Reading

Fanfani, R., Pieri, R. (2012). Il Sistema Agro-Alimentare dell'Emilia-Romagna. Repubblica di San Marino: Maggioli editore.

Galimberti, G., Raggi, M., Viaggi, D. (2014). Landscape Perception and Ecosystem Service Uses: Some Results from Surveys and Latent Variable Models. CLAIM Project. Report on WP4 Case Study Activities: The Eastern Ferrara Lowlands. Bologna.

Manrique, R., Targetti, S., Viaggi, D., Galimberti, G., Raggi, M. (2013). "Pac E Gestione Del Paesaggio: Quali Gli Effetti Di Secondo Ordine?" AGRIREGIONIEUROPA 9(34): 1-4.

Responsible partner/person

Davide Viaggi1, Meri Raggi2, Giuliano Galimberti2, Stefano Targetti1, Rosa Manrique1 and Matteo1 Zavalloni

University of Bologna (UNIBO)
1Department of Agricultural Sciences, Viale G. Fanin 50, 40127, 2Department of Statistical Sciences via Belle Arti 41, 40126. Bologna, Italy.