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CENT.OLI.MED - Identification and conservation of the high nature value of ancient olive groves in the Mediterranean region

LIFE07 NAT/IT/000450

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Contact details:

Project Manager: Giancarlo MIMIOLA
Fax: +39 080 4606210
Email: ;

Project description:


In biodiversity protection, high nature value farmland (HNVF) plays a crucial role. In the Mediterranean region, HNVF includes ancient olive orchards (AOOs), which are extensive crops (50 trees /ha) that constitute the element of a mosaic of semi-natural and cultivated areas. Ancient olive groves include some particular structural elements e.g. hedges, cover crop strips, tree rows, wild shrubs, containing not only areas of spcial interest and rare species, but also a number of common and widespread species that need accurate monitoring and protection. The high biodiversity is also related to the peculiar germplasm of ancient plants, some of them being millenary. These trees are also distinguished by trunks full of cavities, which constitute habitats for several animal species: these cavities make ancient olive trees vicarious species of mature forest habitats. Many European studies highlighted a substantial decline of common birds related to agricultural areas (PECBM, 2006). The decline is sharper in the old EU countries compared to the new Eastern European member states and consequently, measures should be adopted to preserve also those species considered safe so far.


The CENT.OLI.MED Biodiversity project’s general objective consisted of the designation of ancient olive groves as high nature value farmland (HNVF) and in the actions to halt the loss of biodiversity. Five specific objectives were identified through an analysis of the threats and problems of ancient olive groves (AOGs). These were: 1. The identification and assessment of biodiversity in AOOs; 2. The enhancement of biodiversity in the target AOOs through formulation and implementation of guidelines for their management and concrete actions such as planting of Mediterranean shrubs, propagation of typical species of Mediterranean grasslands, the conservation of the genetic material and its propagation; 3. Elaboration of an innovative governance model for the HVNF areas landscape of AOOS; 4. The definition of common policies for the protection of AOOs in the Mediterranean area (i.e. an action plan would be worked out); and 5. Disseminate knowledge on the nature value of AOOs acquired within the project.


The general objective of CENT.OLI.MED was successfully met i.e. the project addressed the importance of century-old olive orchards from the point of view of the conservation of biodiversity. Five target areas were investigated, including Gargano National Park, Dune Costiere Regional Park, Torre Guaceto in Puglia, Le Cesine Natural State Reserve (south-eastern Italy) and Voukolies in Crete (Greece).

Various preparatory actions were carried out to identify, assess and characterise the biodiversity of the ancient olive orchards of the target areas. These included:

  • Identification and measuring of structures (dry-stone walls and other stone-made facilities, wells etc) that can be home to wild flora and fauna;
  • Recording and investigation of the flora to assess the level of agro-biodiversity;
  • Monitoring of the existing fauna (especially chiropterans, reptiles and birds) to provide detailed information on the role of olive orchards in the life cycle of each species;
  • Carrying out studies for the morphogenetic and environmental characterisation of biodiversity in ancient olive orchards;
  • Identification and characterisation of the biodiversity of the AOOs as HNVF;
  • Collection of germplasm obtained from the target areas of Apulia and Crete for genetic characterisation. The plant material was propagated and more than 9 000 two to three- year old seedlings of the different selected varieties of ancient olive trees were made available to olive farmers in nursery in the Torre Guaceto area.

    A number of concrete actions for biodiversity conservation and increase were carried out in Voukolies and in Torre Guaceto. These included:

  • Building or restoring more than 1 000 metres (240 m3) of dry-stone walls in the olive orchards of the pilot areas using traditional materials and techniques. This provides home to small vertebrates and to preserve the moisture required for the survival of the Mediterranean shrubs;
  • Increasing floristic biodiversity (0.2 ha of Mediterranean shrub), in the biodiversity of micro-habitats of tree shelter sites. This has led to a subsequent increase in bird species and Cyrtopodion kotschyi (Torre Guaceto and Voukolies - Chania);
  • Planting approx. 3 000 m of hedges along the dry-stone walls with more than 300 shrubs of native species (lentisk, myrtle, mastic tree, Mediterranean buckthorn, thornless blackberry, and hawthorn). The hedges provides a home for useful insects of olive trees and provides shelter and food for animals, especially in wintertime;
  • Planting small groups of carob trees (20), fig trees and pomegranate trees (20) to provide shelter to birds, mammals and reptiles;
  • Propagating the typical species of the Mediterranean steppe, which in turn helps improve the biodiversity of the herbaceous cover, through reconstructing – over a one-hectare surface in both areas Torre Guaceto and Voukolies- Chania – where the turf grass that had become degraded because of tillage and herbicide application; and
  • Establishing a community of Mediterranean grassland, improving soil quality, increasing the reproduction of Turdus viscivorous.

As well as these concrete actions, a visitors’ centre was established in Torre Guaceto, to be used for promoting and disseminating the project initiatives, and to raise awareness about AOOs. A laboratory of about 40 m2 was established close to the centre, equipped for making olive oil-based soaps flavoured with aromatic plants of the Mediterranean shrubs. In addition, a 3 km length walking path was marked out with information about the project and details of the geographical location. The path crosses the area of ancient olive orchards in the Torre Guaceto nature reserve and connects the visitors’ centre of Serranova with the services area and Punta Penna Grossa beach.

An important overall conclusion was that the direct involvement of local farmers was a key factor in preserving and increasing biodiversity. Another noteworthy general achievement was the gaining of approval of plans/guidelines at regional level (i.e. in Puglia and in Crete), and internationally via a Mediterranean Action Plan shared with institutional representatives from several countries. Following international consultation, a notable achievement here was the acknowledgement of ancient olive groves as high nature value farmland.

The involvement of representatives from other Mediterranean countries also encouraged the sharing of knowledge and experiences of the management requirements for century-old olive orchards in order to preserve their biodiversity. Meanwhile, the implementation of concrete actions in the test sites (in Italy and in Greece) allowed local stakeholders to be involved in decision-making and to put into effect the management guidelines. Notable published project material includes: “Guidelines for the sustainable management of century-old olive orchards” and the document issued from the international talks: “A Multi-Scale and Multi-Level Approach for Conservation of Ancient Olive Orchards in the Euro-Mediterranean Region.”

Following the Torre Guaceto and Voukolies examples, the regional government of Apulia organised workshops involving technicians and local players to help identify the problems affecting their ancient olive orchards and drew up solutions for their sustainable management. These were based on the socio-economic and environmental plan established for the Torre Guaceto nature reserve. At the same time, a short agro-ecological training course was organised for Torre Guaceto farmer organisations in order to increase implementation efficiency of the guidelines for the protection and enhancement of biodiversity in ancient olive groves.

Finally, the project website ( provides useful support to institutional activities. An especially innovative area of the website is aimed at children with an attractive character, “NonnOlivo” (lit: Grandpa Olive-Tree) guiding/ educating young people about the project through cartoons, games, drawings etc.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).


Environmental issues addressed:


Biodiversity issues - High Nature Value farmland


protected area‚  Agriculture‚  biodiversity

Target EU Legislation

  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • COM(2011) 244 final “Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 ...

Natura 2000 sites

SPA IT9140008 Torre Guaceto



Coordinator C.I.H.E.A.M. Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari
Type of organisation Intergovernmental body
Description The Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari is the Italian affiliate of the CIHEAM (Centre International de Hautes Etudes Agronomiques Méditerranéennes).
Partners Italian Ministry of the Environment, Italy Assessorship for the Environment of Regione Puglia, Italy Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania-Crete, Greece


Project reference LIFE07 NAT/IT/000450
Duration 01-FEB-2009 to 31-OCT -2012
Total budget 1,506,435.00 €
EU contribution 703,135.00 €
Project location Kriti(Ellas) Puglia(Italia)


Read more:

Project web site Project's website
Publication: After-LIFE Conservation Plan After-LIFE Conservation Plan
Publication: Book "Studio sulla biodiversità negli oliveti secolari" ...
Publication: Book "A multi-scale and multi-level approach for conser ...
Publication: Book "Study on biodiversity in century old olive groves ...
Publication: Guidelines-Manual "Guidelines for the management of biodiversity in ...
Publication: Guidelines-Manual "Κατευθυντηριεσ γραμμεσ για την διατηρηση τησ βιοπ ...
Publication: Guidelines-Manual "Linee guida per la gestione sostenibile degli oli ...
Publication: Layman report Layman report
Publication: Technical report Project's Final technical report
Video link "Il valore naturale degli oliveti secolari mediterranei" (72.24')


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version