Getting out on a bike is a great way to see the world around you. Cyclists in Italy are on tour along routes set up by the project LIFE Sic2Sic. The tour runs through 170 of the country’s Natura 2000 sites, from Lake Fusine in the far north east all the way down to Sicily.
LIFE Sic2Sic is working to highlight the importance of the Natura 2000 network by using eco-friendly activities: cycling and eco-tourism. By its completion, it hopes to have built or signposted 100 cycling trails covering around 6 000 km through the whole range of Italy’s Natura 2000 sites.
Bird spotting while you cycle
As of spring 2019, the project team had led 3 regional tours covering almost 2 200 km and spanning 146 Natura 2000 sites. On 14 May, the tour restarted in Piedmont, after passing from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Umbria, Lazio and Sardinia. This leg of the tour will end in Turin on 8 June, after covering another 1 100km.
The route that started on 14 May passes through several special areas of conservation. The Maritime Alps, for example, are home to an estimated 1 500 species of flora, including some in the national Red List, as well as 180 reported bird species like the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).
As with previous stages, the Piedmont-Turin tour includes several public cycling stages (search for events in Italian). The routes will pass spectacular areas such as the Ticino protected area (read in Italian), the largest river park in Europe, and the Valmanera oasis (read in Italian) near Novara.
“We run public rides every Saturday” explained Mr Matteo Lener from ISPRA, the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, which coordinates the project. “We also run some longer routes, and there we get local help from members of FIAB, the Italian federation for cycling and the environment.” The local knowledge is a great help, he added, “because often routes aren’t exactly the same on the map as they are in reality!”
Each route comes with a description about the flora and fauna that can be spotted, as well as threats to species, such as invasive plant species like Canada waterweed (Elodea canadensis) around Lake Bracciano, north of Rome.
The next public ride is on Saturday, 8 June, in Turin, and anyone can register online. You might even spot professional cyclists like Paola Gianotti, the fastest woman in the world on a bike. Paola crossed paths (see video of the encounter on Facebook) with riders from Sic2Sic in Ivrea on 4 June.
On their 2018 travels, during the first year’s cycling, the team visited 20 schools to help raise awareness of the kinds of biodiversity found in Natura 2000 sites – and the threats posed to them.
“The visits are a great boost to city schools especially”, Mr Lener explained. In his experience, schools which are situated in rural areas have an easier time teaching children about environmental issues. In cities, the distance from nature means exploring is more difficult.
According to a 2019 Eurobarometer survey on biodiversity and Natura 2000 only 11% of participants had heard of the Natura 2000 network and knew what it was.
The project team is also advancing in work to connect municipalities throughout the country, using geo-referenced cycling trails. 266 municipalities have already been linked thanks to 51 different cycle paths.
Geo-referencing can help riders to save a route and view it later, or to track their progress as they cycle.
Municipalities, especially park authorities, are very interested in the project because of the focus on cycling. “It’s a great way to promote spending time in nature, especially with factors like the increase in electric bikes”, said Mr Lener.
There are other promising examples that using cycling to raise awareness of nature conservation can have positive traction. One example is a project organised by a cycling network in Sardinia which has built up a wide network of routes within the space of 2 years.