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The chestnut forest plays host to a rare guest: Alliance in the Alps network of municipalities

Jul 08, 2010
The little bat somehow looked different. Filigree in form, brownish in colour, and with a ringed wing it huddled in the corner of the nesting box on the chestnut tree. Nicola Zambelli put on his gloves and pulled gently on the wing tip to examine the ring.
Lesser Noctule
Image caption:
Lesser Noctule
The biologist’s suspicions were confirmed: the animal was not a local but an immigrant that had sought refuge here in the Alto Malcantone, in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. It was a Lesser Noctule, which is on the Red List of species threatened by extinction in Europe.
Until that day in the late summer of 2001, very few inhabitants of the Ticino realised that their region’s mild climate and its landscape of dense chestnut groves attracted not just tourists during the cold season, but also much quieter guests. Every year the Lesser Noctule, which is 7 cm long and weighs less than 20 g, flies more than 500 km from its summer quarters in eastern Germany to the Ticino region of Switzerland. The ring provided all the data on its travel routes. The chestnut groves in the Alto Malcantone region, which with its 27 communities is a member of the Alliance in the Alps network of municipalities (see box), are also an important habitat for birds, lizards, butterflies and dormice. The forests are of international significance in helping to preserve biodiversity. And yet they are at risk. Although they are firmly rooted in the region’s tradition, their management has been declining over the past few decades.
Knowing more about bats also gives a better understanding of the ecological function of chestnut groves as a whole. Together with other experts, Nicola Zambelli regularly checks the 200 nesting boxes in seven chestnut groves throughout the region. The studies, which are part of the network’s DYNALP2 programme, have shown that the Lesser Noctule prefers managed chestnut forests to unmanaged ones. For the people of Ticino, this is one more reason to promote traditional management.
Seven years and 10,000 field surveys later Nicola Zambelli set off – along with the Lesser Noctule – to report on the interaction between bats, chestnut groves and the people of the Ticino. At international symposia, congresses and conferences he spoke of the bats’ adventurous travels across national borders. Back home Nicola Zambelli took young and old on guided tours through the chestnut groves to show them the bats in their nesting boxes, and to give slide presentations in schools. Compared with earlier times when bats were considered unclean and were killed as a result, the Lesser Noctules now have nothing to fear from people – at least not in Ticino.


Fruitful co-operation
The region of Alto Malcantone/CH with its 27 communities belongs to the “Alliance in the Alps network of municipalities”. Through its DYNALP² programme, it financially supports projects aimed at preserving and restoring natural environments and naturally occurring species. One such project is a “Study on the ecological value of managed and neglected chestnut forests”.
The network of municipalities originated with an EU-funded pilot project carried out by CIPRA in 1996/97 to implement the Alpine Convention. Since 2000, CIPRA International has provided the general network secretariat and the project management for DYNALP². Thanks to these many years of co-operation there has been a noticeable increase in the awareness of the importance of nature conservation within the network of municipalities.
Source: Annual Report 2009 CIPRA International
Filed under: nature monitoring, nature