Ecological Network and Terrritorial planning

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In the scientific literature, the ecological network (EN) has different meanings depending on the aspects  to prioritize. Therefore the EN can be put into practice with different methods of implementation.

On the ecological perspective, EN can be considered as an interconnected system of habitats whose  biodiversity needs to be safeguarded. Thus the focus goes on animal and plant species that are potentially threatened. In this case, the geometry of the network has a structure based on the recognition of core areas, buffer zones and corridors that allow the exchange of individuals in order to reduce the extinction risk of local populations.

The EN is a tool aimed to mitigate habitats fragmentation and to ensure the permanence of the ecosystem processes and the connectivity for sensitive species.

The concept of EN has evolved over the years into a part of the current model of Green Infrastructure according to which the same area of land can frequently offer multiple benefits if its ecosystems are in a healthy state.


Figure 1: Clockwise: ecological network in the Region of Emilia-Romagna; Landscape Units of the Plan for the National Park of the Sibillini Mountains; the ecological network of the Province of Rome; Ecological and Environmental Equipment of the city of Florence.

For over a decade ISPRA has been conducting researches on land fragmentation and ecological connectivity, in their different aspects and levels of investigation. All these activities, started in 1997, go under the name of "ecological networks, multi-annual plan of activities for the development of instruments to enhance the ecological continuity of the territory". Several public bodies have been involved in these activities with different roles and responsibilities, with the main objective to implement the Habitat Directive in Italy with reference to spatial connectivity. The main output is the publication of the Guidelines Linee Guida Gestione delle aree di collegamento ecologico funzionale - Management of ecologically and functionally connected areas
(2003), containing practical information to support territorial policies through the planning and management of ecological and functional corridors.

Subsequently, ISPRA coordinated a working group with the aim to minimize the environmental impact of linear infrastructures to ecological continuity. The working group consisted of the main categories of stakeholders, such as public and private bodies involved in the implementation of such infrastructures, as well as environmental or scientific organizations and associations committed to the protection of biodiversity. Outputs of this activity are the report Tutela della connettività ecologica del territorio e infrastrutture lineari - Protection of the ecological connectivity of the area and linear infrastructures (2008) and the Guidelines Frammentazione del territorio da infrastrutture lineari (2011).

ISPRA conducts a two-yearly monitoring on the transposition of the EN concept within the planning at local level. The main objectives of the monitoring are to start a permanent screening on plans and programs at local level and to get a picture of the present situation to improve the action of planning. The first results of this monitoring were presented in the report Le reti ecologiche nella pianificazione territoriale ordinaria. Primo censimento nazionale degli strumenti a scala locale - Ecological networks in the ordinary planning (2010) and used for the indicator  "Implementation of the ecological network in the ordinary planning" published in the Annuario dei Dati Ambientali (ADA) 2009. The indicator has been updated and republished in ADA 2010 e 2012.

Since 2012, moreover, ISPRA works for the publication of RETICULA, an online magazine that aims to disseminate information and knowledge related to the topic of ecological connectivity.