In this one of a kind environmental alternation the wild fauna finds ideal conditions for its life cycle, satisfying all of its needs in this state of natural liberty that characterizes the environment, not depending on a direct kind of human intervention. The badger, the hedgehog, the fox, the skunk, the stone marten, the fallow deer and the roe deer, which was reintroduced initiatively in 1999, live here. But that is not all. The by now stable presence of the pine marten, a carnivore mustelidae that is mostly bound to forestal alp and appennin regions, is progressively colonising the cultivated areas of the Padan Plain. This lead the professors Prigioni and Balestrieri from the Department for Environmental Science of the University of Pavia to drive forth research studies on the territorial preferences of this mammal.
The landscape that shapes the faunistic enterprise – Venatoria San Massimo has its origins in hunting.
Until the first years of the twentieth century this part of the territory was still divided into multiple properties, characterized by the presence of paddy fields and the almost complete absence of forests – like the rest of the Ticino Valley.
At the same time the place turned out to be very interesting from a hunting point of view, edging on the Ticino River and thus characterized by the the abundance of wetlands that favoured the presence of many water birds, such as ducks.
In a mainly agricultural context, hunting trips were frequent. Also the hunting calendars were much less rigid than they are nowadays and hunting was allowed all year long. Among those who practised this activity were professional hunters, but a significant part were simply hunt enthusiasts that practised the hunt as a hobby. Being given the possibility, some of them started acquiring parts of the terrain that now constitutes Riserva San Massimo and from the moment the hunt required a not merely agricultural environment but also forestal areas to protect the faunistic context, marked the beginning of a virtuous process of creating a new local habitat.
In the twentieth century various owners succeeded one another, all of which were essentially interested in the hunting activities, carefully extending the terrain thanks to the continuing addition of farms and grounds. After the Second World War – that changed the economic reasoning away from agriculture – some environmental interventions were made that modified the original habitat, thus favouring the establishment of new species, such as pheasants. The rice fields were abandoned, partially replaced by poplar groves, but mostly alder forests. Besides, along the Ticino river, many “lanche” (elliptical-shaped ponds created in river branches that were abandoned by the stream) formed.
That allowed the then-owner, the De Angeli family, to turn the Riserva San Massimo into one of the most famous nature reserves for plain hunting and pheasant shooting, events that were steadily attended by members of the high society. The so-called “years of Lead” and the violence that came over the country, marked a change in the development. A new environmental mentality that was especially against certain kinds of hunting, lead to a strict and rigorous regulation of the hunt. The hunting reserves in the Ticino valley took on a role as the protector of the environment, the hunting decreased drastically and thus the ungulate population of animals like the roe deer, fallow deer and wild boar grew.
Various studies have been conducted: on the eco-ethology of the fallow deer (Dama dama), which is currently present with a high number of specimens; on the colonial heron’s fidelity towards certain nesting sites, in particular of the black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) and the little egret (Egretta garzetta); another study discussed the ringing of water birds with a particular focus on anatidae.
In the last fews years further research on the territorial behaviour and environmental preferences of the european pine marten (Martes martes) has been initiated. The carnivore mustelidae is mostly alpine and apennine bound, but is progressively and predominantly colonizing the cultivated areas of the Padan Plain. This research is particularly important for its originality and the elevated scientific content matter it contributes to fill in the big knowledge gaps on the topic, especially on a national scale. By now this species’ live stock is solid and furthermore enhances the biodiversity of the agricultural enterprise San Massimo.
Riserva San Massimo is a popular destination for didactic-practical excursions for students of biology and nature science from the University of Pavia where professor Prigioni teaches “biology of the communities population” and “faunistic territorial planning”.
In the heart of the “alneta”, the humid alder forest, one of Italy’s most important heron colonies nests, consisting of little egrets, black-crowned night herons and grey herons. Other herons that frequently pass through the Riserva are the red heron, sometimes nesting, the great egret, the cattle egret, the squacco heron and in recent years also the african sacred ibis.
During springtime you can hear in the thick forest a vast collection of birdsongs from more than 50 species of nesting birds as for example woodpeckers, golden orioles, wrynecks, chickadees, greenfinches, goldfinches, owls and nightjars. Among the present raveners you can often find buzzards, sparrowhawks and kestrels. During the night you can hear the mating call of the tawny and the little owl.
During wintertime the humid environments of the Riserva host various hibernating or passing bird species: small storks, such as ruffs, common redshanks, black-winged stilts, snipes and anatidae, such as mallards, eurasian teals, garganeys, northern shovelers and northern pintails.
In the waters, that nourish the agricultural enterprise’s land, you can find but not fish all year long: trouts, carps, bleaks, northerns pikes, chubs, telestes muticellusses and eels.