Europe’s Ticino landscape: One river – many systems – one landscape…and one ambitious restoration plan

Posted: 29th January 2021

The Ticino River, an eco-corridor shared by Switzerland and Italy, is of great biodiversity importance – particularly for aquatic life – but native habitats have been degraded over time by intensive agriculture and industrialisation. Since 2019, the Endangered Landscapes Programme has funded a Planning Project here, which is creating a new vision for the landscape. This vision, characterised as ‘one river – many systems – one landscape’, is being realised through development of a transboundary plan that seeks to restore landscapes and natural functionality, encourage sustainable livelihoods, enhance ecosystem services and foster resilience to climate change.

The Ticino River represents the only existing ecological corridor connecting the Alps and the Apennines, running across the highly populated Po Plain. Photo: ©ParcoLombardoValleTicino.

The Ticino River Basin is a mosaic landscape of more than 1 million hectares. It is the only existing corridor which connects the Alps, the Apennines and the Adriatic Sea, and its myriad habitats harbour globally threatened species such as Adriatic sturgeon, White-clawed crayfish, Piedmont quillwort (a grass-like herb) and the Italian spadefoot (a species of toad). This area is also one of the wealthiest and most productive in Europe, hosting agroecosystems, urban areas and dense infrastructure networks. Despite human pressures, the corridor still includes valuable habitats and biodiversity, including wetlands, reed-beds, oxbow lakes, residual mixed deciduous forests of the Po Plain.

Aware of the threats facing the area, as well as the potential for nature recovery, in recent years local stakeholders from Italy and Switzerland have undertaken several conservation and restoration actions. While these efforts have been valuable, their impact have been limited by a lack of coordinated around a shared vision and strategy. Indeed, they have been captured by two distinct political frameworks – the European Union (EU), and Swiss policy. Thus, the biggest challenge of the Ticino River Basin project is to allow stakeholders to agree on a robust and coherent set of actions to restore the landscape.

The Italian spadefoot is an endemic species of the Po Plain, within the Ticino River Basin, and an example of the wildlife which depend on this landscape. Photo: ©Marco Tessaro.

With the ELP Project Planning Grant, a complex Italian-Swiss partnership coordinated by the Italian NGO Istituto Oikos is converging on the actions needed to reach five objectives:

  1. Establish coordinated transnational governance of the landscape;
  2. Enhance ecosystem services and sustainable human activities;
  3. Create a fully functional terrestrial and aquatic corridor;
  4. Enhance the conservation status of endangered and locally-extinct species;
  5. Foster resilience to climate change.

To achieve this result, and realise the Ticino Landscape Restoration Plan, three factors have proven pivotal in the project’s success: participation, trust and commitment. Since ELP support began in November 2019, dedicated partners and stakeholders have been guided through participatory processes that fostered discussion and knowledge sharing, nurtured trust in success, increased commitment and built a close-knit team. Five working groups – one for each objective – were set up, each with specific tasks and responsibilities and including experts and technicians from partners and key stakeholders.

Throughout the project new parties have joined the consortium, thus ensuring the participation of all crucial institutions that can have an impact on the landscape. Representatives of institutions ranging from public administrations to academia, private sector and NGOs, covering resource regulators, managers and users, have been interacting with each other – often for the first time. They have defined pathways for the restoration of the landscape and are willing to advocate and operate together towards a common vision.

The construction of a Theory of Change has been the key process in obtaining a clear path to restore the Ticino landscape, while building trust and cooperation among partners and stakeholders. Photo: Istituto Oikos.

Martina Spada, Project Manager at Istituto Oikos, told us:

“Our restoration plan will be ready in February, but we are considering our journey of restoring the landscape to be at its beginning. We are all very excited about our achievements so far and the well-knit team we have created. We feel we are at the verge of a turning point for our landscape and we can’t wait to start working together to put into practice what we have planned for more than a year”.

The construction of a Theory of Change (ToC) has been the foundation of this project. It was led by an expert and developed during three plenary meetings, in which participants mapped the changes required to reach a turning point for the landscape and the outcomes needed to achieve the five objectives. Participants identified which outcomes were the responsibility of the Ticino Initiative, as well as the associated outputs and indicators.

The ToC helped to manage the complexity of the project, provide a clear view of the path ahead to restore the Ticino landscape, and has become the backbone of the Ticino Landscape Restoration Plan. To reflect this forward-looking vision, Swiss and Italian partners are about to sign a cooperation agreement to help realise their collective vision in the years to come.

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