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The 800 Years Forest

Where Storm Vaia destroyed, the University of Padua is replanting

The University of Padua’s 800 Years Forest is a reforestation project involving the planting of around 2,000 saplings of conifers and deciduous trees on the slopes of Mount Zebio in the Comune of Asiago (the area is near the locality of Croce di San Antonio, in lots n. 203 and 206 of the Comune’s Reforestation Plan, by CAI path no. 832 which leads to the top of Mount Zebio).

This area was very close to the heart of writer Mario Rigoni Stern, who received an honorary degree in Forestry and Environmental Science from the University of Padua. In his descriptions of forests, both semi-natural ones and natural ones which are left to develop freely, Rigoni Stern highlighted the closes link between the laws of nature and the behaviour of forest ecosystems. On this basis he criticised the reforestation methods used on the Asiago Plateau at the end of the First World War, thereby almost foreseeing the serious consequences of such forest management practices in the wake of Storm Vaia.

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Situation of the area after the deforestation caused by the Vaia storm

In the lecture given upon receiving his honorary degree, Rigoni Stern said: “The red fir that was uniformly planted on fairly wide areas did exhibit significant annual growth, but this was based on a fragile balance… In view of this error, one certainly wonders why the reforestation of that post-war period did not consider the beech tree, the silver fir, the larch and deciduous species suited to the terrain and climate of the Plateau, which would have allowed the growing of a more natural forest”.

“The area of which Rigoni Stern was speaking was indeed the one that was heavily damaged by Storm Vaia, where the existing forest surface was completely destroyed,” explains Raffaele Cavalli, a professor within the Department of Territory and Agro-forestal Systems (TESAF) and the initiator of the project. “Access to the area is possible using the forest road (open to the public) which leads to Malga Zebio through Val Giardini (Giardini Valley). The house in which Rigoni Stern himself lives is located near the initial stretch of this road and the area can also be reached on foot using one of the literary itineraries dedicated to his memory.

The University of Padua’s efforts for a creation of a forest stand which is structured and composed according to the writer’s vision and valid from an ecological and forestry standpoint bear witness to our university’s wider efforts in environmental protection and a determination to support a vision of society in which humans and nature coexist and add value to each other”.

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The macroarea of the reforestation

Vincenzo D’Agostino, Director of TESAF, highlights that the “800 Years Forest” project is part of the programme of celebrations for the 800th anniversary of the University of Padua and is managed by experts from the department. It envisions an agreement with the Comune of Asiago, which owns the land, also enabling the inclusion of signage to help people identify the reforested area and explain the aims and approach of the project”.

The Vaia Storm destroyed almost 400 hectares of forest just in the Comune of Asiago, nearly 10% of its land holdings, causing unprecedented environmental and economic damage to our community,” explains Mayor of Asiago, Roberto Rigoni Stern. “This project by the University of Padua is therefore a positive example of how to start a process of sensitive restoration of destroyed forests in line with natural processes, which may make future forests more resilient and more usable. The Comune di Asiago is proud to be part of such an important project by making part of its land available to the university, thereby taking forward its long-standing efforts in the sustainable management of its forestry assets and in environmental protection, and at the same time honouring the memory of Mario Rigoni Stern.”

To raise awareness of environmental protection issues, the university’s Fundraising Office has launched the 800 Years Forest Campaign, which allows everyone to play a part in the project by making a donation towards the reforestation of the area (1 plant = 10 Euros).