Cultivated Biodiversity: from Cataloguing to Conservation

Project Leader +

History and aims of the project

Conservation of biodiversity and values associated with human habitation and use of the area are part of the statutory aims of a protected area. In 1999, the Belluno Dolomites National Park therefore introduced the “Human habitation and use: cultivated biodiversity” project. Implemented thanks to European Community Leader II funds and conceived by Dr. Daniela Perco, director of the Belluno Province Ethnographic Museum and the Belluno Dolomites National Park, the project involved collecting and cataloguing agronomic and ethnobotanical information on cultivated plants (the apple and bean in particular) and wild plants used for dietary, magical or religious purposes. In parallel, a database of images of the varieties surveyed was created containing photographs and colour illustrations painted from life. Carried out in collaboration with Feltre Technical College for Agriculture and the Environment, the project ended in 2001 with a conference on similar projects implemented by other Italian parks. The Leader II project led to development of a standardised survey and cataloguing method for possible transfer to other areas.
Thanks to Leader + financing, in 2003 a second project, the natural continuation of the first, was begun entitled “Cultivated Biodiversity: from cataloguing to conservation”. This was completed at the end of 2006.

The aims of this second project were:

  • to expand the databases of traditional varieties by continuing the agronomic and ethnobotanical surveys
  • production of new photographic documentation and new colour illustrations painted from life
  • creation of two “catalogue orchards” to conserve the fruit varieties gathered during the survey and setting up of a network of custodian farmers for their in situ conservation
  • publication of the research results in a new volume in the Park’s “Studies and Research” series.
  • annotated anastatic publication of the Codex Bellunensis, an illustrated herbarium compiled in Belluno at the beginning of the 15th century and now in London’s British Museum, illustrating more than 200 plants with relative therapeutic uses and representing a first ancient example of the study and valorisation of plant biodiversity.

Both projects were carried out with close integration between agronomic and anthropological skills. Also innovative was the use of botanical illustrations alongside the more traditional photography, enabling the varieties surveyed to be documented efficiently. To give greater prominence to the ethnobotanical studies carried out largely through interviews with elderly farmers, an audio CD was also produced containing some of the most significant testimonies.
The Park is currently involved in the third phase following on from the preliminary cataloguing and ex situ conservation, indispensable to guarantee the long term preservation of the cultivated biodiversity… commercial promotion of the varieties “rescued”. The fresh fruit and processed products obtained by the “custodian farmers” were identified with the Park’s logo in order to commercially exploit these niche products with direct consumption on the farms and in agrotourisms, bed & breakfasts and local restaurants. This represented an attempt to develop short field-to-shop circuits, the only way to guarantee farmers in marginal areas the differential income they need to continue with their business. Not an easy road, but one which is starting to give the first results and which as Valerio Giacomini explains, represents an attempt to demonstrate that “the park is a way of administering an area, rather than an area itself, or a collection of resources”.

Agronomic and ethnobotanical studies

Teachers and students at the Vellai Technical College for Agriculture and the Environment (Feltre) surveyed and catalogued traditional local varieties of fruit and legumes, together with wild plants used for dietary purposes.
In parallel with the agronomic surveys, Nadia Breda and Barbara De Luca (ethnobotanists) also carried out anthropological studies by interviewing elderly men and women still living in the Park, collecting valuable information on methods of cultivating and propagating the plants and techniques for using and preserving the agricultural products.
The agronomic information and results of the studies are gathered together in the book “Biodiversità coltivata nel Parco Nazionale Dolomiti Bellunesi: indagini agronomiche ed etnobotaniche sulle varietà dell’agricoltura tradizionale” (“Cultivated Biodiversity in the Belluno Dolomites National Park: agronomical and ethnobotanical studies on traditionally grown varieties”), including a CD with the most significant interviews with elderly farmers.

14 fruit varieties were surveyed, 7 pear varieties:

  1. Pér Budél
  2. Pér Bùtiro
  3. Pér del Diàol
  4. Pér Gnòc
  5. Pér Moscatèl
  6. Pér Path
  7. Pér Spada

and 7 apple varieties:

  1. Pòn dal Fèr de Cesio
  2. Pòn dal Fèr Ròs
  3. Pòn Prussian
  4. Pòn Prussian giallo
  5. Pòn Prussian rigato
  6. Pòn da la Roséta
  7. Pòn Ruden

Among the legumes the Gialèt bean and Belluno broad bean were catalogued, while the wild plants were represented by the hop (Bruscandol) and European cornel (Cornolèr).

Database of images

The botanical illustrator Patrizia Pizzolotto produced numerous colour plates illustrating the traditional varieties surveyed by the agronomists.
Alongside the botanical details of the buds, branches, leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds of each cultivar, some of the equipment used in protecting against parasites, gathering fruit, grafting and pruning was also illustrated. Other plates illustrate the possible uses of some wild plants, such as for example equipment made using cornel wood.
The colour plates featured in the Park’s 2000 and 2001 calendars dedicated respectively to the apple and the pear and they are gathered together in a richly illustrated atlas included in the book “Biodiversità coltivata nel Parco Nazionale Dolomiti Bellunesi” (“Cultivated Biodiversity in the Belluno Dolomites National Park”). A number of original plates are now on display in the Belluno Dolomites National Park’s Belluno Province Ethnographic Museum at Serravella di Cesiomaggiore.

Catalogue orchards

Two catalogue orchards were created to help conserve the traditional varieties of apple and pear covered by the agronomic surveys.
The first catalogue orchard is at Col dei Mich in the municipality of Sovramonte, near a farm building purchased and renovated by the Park and now transformed into a typical Park restaurant.
For the apples, M106 rootstock was used, previously tested on Pom Prussian and other traditional varieties and guaranteeing both good grafting compatibility and adequate growth of the plant. It was comparable with Franco rootstock, but unlike this, the monoclonal rootstock ensures greater uniformity of size and vegetative behaviour.
The pears were grafted on seed grown Franco rootstock guaranteeing the plant a long life. Only biologically certified rootstock was used.
The Col dei Mich orchard includes 13 apple varieties and 7 pear varieties. There are more cultivars than the number covered by the agronomic surveys as other varieties not typical of Belluno, but nevertheless once grown in the area were also planted.
The second catalogue orchard was set up at Vellai (Feltre) at the farm run by the Technical College for Agriculture and the Environment. The collection of apple varieties was made by grafting scions of the traditional varieties onto one of the College’s teaching orchards. For the collection of pear varieties, on the other hand, a new orchard was created once again using Franco rootstock. At Vellai there are 7 pear varieties and 7 apple varieties.

The varieties in the catalogue orchards are listed in the following table:

VarietyCol dei Mich SovramonteVellai Feltre
ApplePòn dal Fèr de CesioXX
ApplePòn dal Fèr RòsXX
ApplePòn dal Fèr BiancoX 
ApplePòn PrussianXX
ApplePòn Prussian gialloXX
ApplePòn Prussian rigato X
ApplePòn da la RosétaXX
ApplePòn RudenXX
ApplePòn dall’oioX 
AppleRosetta mantovanaX 
AppleSan Piero rossoX 
AppleCanada rossoX 

VarietàCol dei Mich SovramonteVellai Feltre
PearPér BudélXX
PearPér BùtiroXX
PearPér del DiàolXX
PearPér GnòcXX
PearPér MoscatèlXX
PearPér PathXX
PearPér SpadaXX