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main index   © Jeff Matthews    entry Jan 2010

The WWF Oasis of Persano

The World Wildlife Fund is a large non-governmental organization working for the preservation, conservation and restoration of the natural environment. To that end, the organization has established a number of "Oases" in the world. There are about 100 of them in Italy. Twelve such oases are in the Campania region of Italy. One of these is the WWF Oasis of Persano, located along the upper part of the Sele river in the province of Salerno in the Italian region of Campania, about 80 km SE of Naples The oasis is a few miles from the Tyrrhennean beaches of the Gulf of Salerno to the west and between the Picentine Mts. and Alburni Mts. to the north and east, respectively. Paestum, on the coast, is the most significant archaeological site nearby, 30 km away to the SW. The oasis is 110 hectares (270 acres) in area; 70 hectares (170 acres) of those are taken up by an artificial basin (lake) built in the 1930s to supply water to the Sele plain as part of a land reclamation project. The WWF oasis is part of a larger protected reserve of 3400 hectares (8,400 acres), much of which is within the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park and all of which is the focus of wildlife preservation and conservation. The larger area includes sections of the Calore and Tanagro rivers, both of which feed the Sele as that river then flows west downstream into the gulf of Salerno near Paestum. The Oasis was opened in 1980 and is recognized by the European Union as an "internationally important wetland." (Such areas are also called Ramsar sites, that from a treaty signed in 1971 in Ramsar, Iran, at the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat. There are currently 2,122 such sites in the world.)

The WWF oasis and the adjacent Persano military base together make up a large green island that still retains natural elements long associated with the area. As long ago as the 1700s, the  beauty of the area and abundant wildlife led the Bourbons to designate it a "royal site," by which they meant "royal hunting preserve." (Another such site nearer Naples was the Astroni, the large, heavily wooded crater of volcanic origin in Agnano, also now a WWF oasis.) The diaries and  correspondence of king Ferdinand IV tell of a rich natural environment with wolves, boar, deer, ducks and other wild fowl. The swamp areas, enclosed between the banks of two rivers (the Sele and Calore), are still in large part covered by thick stands of cane along with cattails and rushes. Among the submerged aquatic flora there are various species of Potamogeton (pondweed), Achillea millefolium (yarrow), and the Ceratophyllum demersum (hornwort or coontail). In the shallow waters and swamp areas, typical plants are sedge, equisetum (horse-grass or snaketail), epilobium hirsutum (great willowherb) lythrum salicaria (loosestrife), and water mint.

The most spectacular parts of the environment are the riparian wooded areas (riparian: the interface between the water and land, situated on the river banks; riverine) of the upper part of the oasis and which continue in island-like patches for some kilometers. Those zones are marked by aquatic trees such as the willow, poplar, cottenwood and alder, all an integral part of the fluvial environment when the Sele is at flood. Along most Italian rivers, riparian vegetation, if at all present, has been reduced to a narrow strip; thus, those sections of the Sele are rare examples of riparian woods that have survived the last few decades of environmental change that Italy has undergone.

The Oasis hosts ample meadows and patches of Maquis shrubland ("macchia mediterranea," in Italian) and oak groves. In spring, the area is colored by the narcissus, cyclamen, water lily, broom, ranunculus, and campestre roses; hedges of hawthorn flank the paths and are spotted by the violet color of the cercis siliquastrum, known as the Judas tree. (The etymology of that popular term is uncertain; (1) legend says that Judas hanged himself from such a tree, or (2) it is a corruption of a French expression meaning "tree of Judaea.")  Also present are 14 species of wild orchid, almost all along the right (NW) bank of the Sele.

Fauna

About 150 species of birds have been counted in the Oasis. Surface species include the mallard, teal, wigeon, pintail, and shoveler; diving birds include the pochard and, rarely, the so-called "fudge duck" or ferruginous pochard. During the cold season, there is a considerable presence of coots, cormorants, and grey herons. In recent years the great egret has also been noted. Predators include the buzzard, kestrel, swamp falcon, and the Peregrine falcon. Fish in the Sele river include the chub, tench, eel, carp, and the Italian bleak. For sport fishing, the Crucian carp, pond perch and cat-fish have recently been introduced. Also present within the oasis are the fox, boar, marten, weasel, hedgehog, dormouse, and various ampibians and reptiles. The European otter (Lutra lutra—photo insert, above), the rarest Italian mammal, is also present. It is the icon/mascot of the oasis.



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