Upon entering the office of the Regional Natural Reserve WWF Oasis “The Badlands of Atri”, you may happen to stumble upon a blue bucket placed by the side of the desk.
Pay attention to newts!
Yes, a friend of mine has cleaned the pool, he found the newts and then gave them to me.
The speaker hidden behind the computer screen is Adriano De Ascentiis, Director of the Reserve for the past eleven years and the unstoppable engine handling the multitude of projects that revolve around this marvelous reality, well-established in the Italian natural oasis.
Born in the open wheat hills of Teramo, he completed his studies in Natural Sciences at the University of Camerino while continuing the work on his father’s farm. He first met with the WWF in 1999 and was given his first job as the director of naturalistic initiatives. In the same year the WWF was entrusted with the management of the Reserve. After working with the organization for 6 years Adriano took over as director of the reserve in 2005.
“So,” he says, glancing vaguely over at his beloved collaborator, Maria Cristina, “when I began as director we could count on double the financial resources of what we are given today.“ And as we speak, she is uploading numerous posters to the site promoting summer events on the reserve. All free and open to the public. Adriano declares, “If you support us by paying taxes, then you deserve to have free access.”
While reading some of the event titles my mouth began to water: hiking the badlands by moonlight, evening concerts, theater performances, astronomy courses, meditation, shiatsu and plenty of space for children with an original and educational SummerLab based in paleontology, craftsmanship, and exploration.
“But this is only a small part of our work” emphasized Adriano. “The reserve in the Badlands of Atri is a scientific research laboratory in the open air.” Numerous universities and institutions are involved in a cross-sectional study that include geology, natural sciences and agronomy. “The badland formations exhibit a landscape of magnetic charm but are geologically very delicate. To know and monitor the soil, flora and fauna of this rich and fragile ecosystem is essential for the maintenance of the territory.” The Reserve is densely populated by farms and it is an obligation to confront the environmental issues together. Agriculture doesn’t have to necessarily be synonymous with the exploitation of natural resources. Take for example the bees, which Adriano calls “sentinels of biodiversity“, and in recent years have experienced an increase in mortality of 30-35% , strongly linked to anthropization of the land. “There is a typical plant on the edge of ravines called Sulla and the bees go crazy for its’ pollen, producing a delicious and absolutely unique honey. About ten years ago in partnership with Azienda Agricola Giuliano Cacciatore we started a ‘honey project’ providing Sulla seeds and twenty hives in order to begin production. Today Giuliano’s honey is an established product in our territory.“
This is only the first in a long series of projects and initiatives that Adriano works tirelessly to realize. “Towards the beginning of June I try to find a topic that relates to the local and territorial identity. I shut myself away in libraries going through all the available historical material. After completing the research we can elaborate with an educational project to be offered to schools. And so was born our collaboration with many local institutions, from primary school to high school. The goal is to find the most engaging ways to stimulate young people’s interest in the history of local products in order to create a strong bond with their origins. To know the area is to fall in love with it and to fall in love with it means to care for and protect it. This is my understanding of environmental education.“
In the same way, another project was born which is focusing on the Gallina Nera Atriana, an ancient breed of a nearly extinct black hen which Adriano has revived and given back to the farmers of the area. This project provides a set of strict rules specifying the ways of farming this breed and also the creation of a consortium protecting them.
During the past school year it was the turn of Pecorino di Atri, a high quality cheese made with almost forgotten techniques that Adriano has rediscovered from the precious memories of the local elders. With students of the Agricultural Institute of Atri and the cooperation of Società Agricola D’Amario they have literally re-created the Pecorino cheese and then turned to the Consortium for the Protection of Pecorino Toscano PDO with the aim to see first hand the benefits an honest and virtuous chain of production can bring to the territory.
What lies ahead for the school year 2016/17?
“There is another great plant that inhabits the edges of our gullies: Licorice. Despite the well developed processing sector of the dough in Teramo, with manufacturers of excellence like Menozzi De Rosa, there are few farmers wishing to invest in the extraction of the root which grows wild in our fields. I’ve begun the historical research phase, let’s see where it will take me.“
We do not know if Adriano seeks beatification or, less ambitiously, for the title of Cavaliere della Repubblica Italiana. What is certain is that in Atri he is already an institution, for example the fact that the waitress who had denied me the outdoor table in the restaurant where I invited him for lunch quickly prepared a seating as soon as I said to be in the company of Dr. De Ascentiis.
After our chat and a coffee, I could only congratulate him for his commitment to the work he does, which benefits not only the reserve to which he addresses directly, but also indirectly all of its inhabitants, including La Collina Biologica.
But stop Tomma ‘… Let’s go free the newts in the pond of the Visitors’ Center?
Let’s go Adria ‘. Let’s go to free the newts …