|THE REGIONAL NATURE RESERVE OF MACCHIATONDA|
The Regional Nature Reserve of Macchiatonda, established in 1983 and governed by the Santa Marinella council, is about 617 acres of coastal plains, 50 Km north of Rome in the foothills of the Tolfa Mts. where they meet the Ceriti Hills.
The Reserve is bordered to the north by the Aurelia State Road, the sea on the south and the army shooting range “protects” the west and east sides. Entrance to the Reserve is the 50th marker on the Aurelia State Road. Three-quarters of the land is occupied by extensive farming.
The rest of the 155 acres is made up of halophilic fields, fresh and salt water coastal ponds, an environment that is found normally behind dunes, and small woods, hence the name “Macchiatonda” round woods, (common in the Maremma Tuscany-Lazio region) which is the rest of a very ancient forest made up of laurel and elm trees.
The actual distance from the sea, 60 meters, conditions the form and growth, but an accurate use of windbreaks ( tamarix and phragmites ) has restored a dignified wood setting.
This fragile ecosystem, that before the opening of the Reserve was a camp-site big enough for 3,000 people, is one of the first areas where a natural environment has been successfully restored. Looking inland, our backs to the sea, the last 4 million geological years unfolds before us. In front of us a siliceous mine divides the Tolfa Mts. with its sloping sides caused from volcanic eruptions ( 4 – 2 million years ago ), from the Ceriti Hills ( its last volcanic actions dates about 25,00 years ago ) with its much more rugged peaks. At the end of the eruptions the Tolfa Mts. Circeo, Ponza and Soratte Mt. were islands in a sea that stretched inland up to the Apennine Mts.
At the foot of the Ceriti Hills the land has been reclaimed, but the natural tendency to form swampy areas on the coastal plains has helped to restore the natural environment and consequently its natural vegetation. The damp areas have become bigger making it easier for the bird population to multiply.
Using carefully the fresh and salt water systems and controlling the water level in different periods of the year has made it easier for different groups of animals to complete their reproductive cycle. In the summer it has also made it easier for the workers in the reserve to keep under control the invading vegetation as there are not any large herbivorous animals and the area could easily become a common swampy one.
The Macchiatonda Nature reserve is well known to birdwatchers as during the year many different species can be seen. Some of the wintering birds that one may observe are wild geese, bitterns, wigeons, shovelers and garganeys. Mallards, coots, moor hens and little bitterns can be seen all year and also breed here; while birds that may be seen but do not breed here are the corsican seagulls, herons, little egrets, bitterns and little grebes.
There are many green sandpipers, sandpipers, oyster-catchers, turnstones, black-winged stilts and curlews. We can often see the marsh harrier, short eared owl and several types of hawks and buzzards that come from the Tolfa Mts. looking for prey.
The Origin and History
Several plants that are present help us to reconstruct the landscape from the last glacial period ( 10,000 years ago ). We can tell it was a coastal plain that was about 3 km. further out to sea where there are reefs that outline what was a salt-water basin. This went from the Flavia Tower up north to a forest where the only remains is a small wood made up of elm and laurel trees which was on the border of the forest that covered the plains and the surrounding hills of the roman countryside and the maremma Lazio.
On these plains trees did not grow as the water was too salty but allowed fields of gramineae (reeds) and halophyte (salt-water) plants to grow. Here, Neolithic man was able to develop new ways of hunting and fishing. It was the beginning of an archaic form of farming and sheep-rearing that made man change from living a nomadic way of life to a stationary one.
The first settlings dated are from the Bronze Age found at Pyrgi and then the later hydraulic system built by the Etruscans. This helped to totally urbanize Caere, Pyrgi, Alsium, ( Cervetri, Santa Severa, Palo Laziale) and modified the whole territory. Immediately after, in the roman Republican phase the area became a sort of holiday resort for the rich roman families. In the Imperial fase after a new agricultural reform, it became a huge farming estate as it was discovered that the soil was suitable for the growing of crops, especially wheat. Today the area is still used for farming.
With the decline of the roman empire and the beginning of the Saracenic invasions, life became very difficult and the coast was abandoned and nature once again took over. Meanwhile Pyrgi came back to life, first as a Norman defence tower in the year 1000, then on top of the roman walls situated by the sea, a castle was built dedicated to the christian martyr Santa Severa, which still today dominates this part of the coast.
As Macchiatonda tends to become swampy and was near to the agricultural center based in the castle, natural methods of extensive farming and breeding were automically used. Today these methods of organic farming are still used and with time favour a variety of ecological environments that today is called “Biodiversity”.