The Project

LIFE10 NAT/IT/000237 Zelkov@zione

"Urgent actions to rescue Zelkova sicula from extinction"

Zelkova sicula is a very rare plant discovered in 1991, which survives only in two small areas, located in the mountain range of the Iblei Mountains in south-eastern Sicily, each consisting of a few hundred copies; Z. sicula appeared during the Tertiary Era, and later, during the Quaternary glaciations, the genus Zelkova became extinct in all of continental Europe. Because of its rarity, the species is therefore included in the Red List of endangered species in the category "seriously endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Today Z. sicula is threatened by several factors: the long geographical isolation, small populations, loss of genetic variability, poor fruiting with probable sterility of seeds, summer water stress, strong anthropogenic disturbance, the lack of concrete measures for protection and moreover tno legal standards of protection; the result is the absence of protection for specie. Aim of the project is to eliminate the threat factors in order to obtain the protection of the species, through concrete activities of conservation, standard legal protection acts , information campaigns and awareness raising.

The project will run from 01/10/2011 to 03/31/2016 (54 months) with a total budget of € 2,334,663.00 of which € 1,055,501.00 (45%) as a co-finaning contribution of the European Commission.

The partnership team is composed of: Dipartimento Regionale dell’Ambiente (beneficiario coordinatore), Dipartimento Regionale Azienda Foreste Demaniali, Centro Nazionale delle Ricerche – Istituto di Genetica Vegetale, Conservatoire Botanique Nationale di Brest, Legambiente ONLUS.

The specific objectives of the project consist in:

  • enhancing the understanding the dynamics of these populations and the threats they incur

  • improving the structure and vigour of the residual populations by limiting existing negative biotic and abiotic factors influencing them and developing management measures of their habitat

  • leading competent regional administrative Authorities to plan and activate legal protection of the target species (e.g. special integration of minimal protection measures for SCI and/or promoting administrative procedure for its recognition in the list of priority species of Habitat Directive)

  • removing/reducing principal economic/social-type threats for the species and habitat by involving Authorities, organizations and stakeholders

  • facilitating the involvment of the the competent local Forestry Authority in improving surveillance and protection of the species and habitat through active policy

  • applying site-dedicated concrete conservation measures according to the Management Plan “Monti Iblei” (approved by the Decreto Assessoriale n. 666 on 30/06/2009

  • published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale della Regione Siciliana – GURS - on 04/09/2009), by involving public bodies, no-profit organization and local stakeholders

  • increasing the species stability by reinforcing the present populations and establishing novel populations in ecologically suitable sites

  • ensuring ex-situ conservation within regional and European specialized Institutions

  • prompting local awareness and information about the problems of loss of biodiversity

  • promoting a network for information and promotion of the objectives, procedures and results of the project to public opinion, remarking the symbolic value of this special case of “species at risk” in the framework of the global problems of biodiversity conservation.



The project entails knowledge, conservation, expertise/communication and education/awareness actions that will concern at different extent the two populations (hereinafter respectively named ZS1, the old one, and ZS2, the new one). They consist of:

A) Knowledge Actions

  • Updated inventory of both ZS1 and ZS2 populations. Information aimed at depicting the conservation state and trends includes the position of each tree trough sub-metric GPS device, coupled to the implementation of a georeferenced database. Ecological data will be periodically collected in the present and the future reintroduction sites

  • Setting up of a monitoring plan for all the target species’ populations (present and new ones) and the forest community dynamics, in the aim to i) check the impact of the concrete actions on conservation of the target species, ii) evaluate the Zelkova populations stability, iii) prevent/control any inter-specific competition phenomena following biotic and abiotic disturbance exclusion iv) define a long term conservation planning

  • Definition of an efficient protocol for in-vitro and in-vivo vegetative propagation of the target species through material from ZS1 and ZS2

B) Conservation Actions

  • Improving the protection in natural sites against disturbance from grazing or improper collecting of vegetal material by an efficient system of fencing (ZS1 and ZS2)

  • Attenuation of summer water stress episodes for the population ZS1 by setting up of an emergency irrigation plant, employing the water of a nearby existing reservoir

  • Massive production of multiplication material (from ZS1 and ZS2) at the Centre for Germplasm Conservation (CCG) of Marianelli (Syracuse-Italy) and of the Conservatoire Botanique National of Brest (CBNB) (France) for reinforcement and introduction actions

  • Reinforcement of the species in-situ (ZS1 and ZS2) and establishment of new populations in other Sicilian sites, three of which in a Supra-Mediterranean/Montane bioclimatic context assumed to be more favourable to the ecology of the target species

  • Further improvement of the current forest habitat of ZS1, considering that Z. sicula is supposed to thrive in typical forest habitat; the aim is to create a more suitable ecological environment for the relict population, recovering in reasonably fast times the as highest as possible ecosystem functionality

  • Ex-situ conservation of the as highest as possible genetic diversity, by cultivating a conspicuous number of trees from ZS1 and ZS2 at the CCG and CBNB and subsequently in others European Institutions

  • Adoption by DRA of a normative document (Councilor’s Decree) containing appropriate measures that will ensure the legal protection of the target species and its habitats and will help to reduce the risk factors for their conservation

C) Expertise/communication actions

  • Drawing of a grazing management plan for the SCI ITA090022 - Bosco Pisano to attenuate the pressure on the concerned habitat according to the rules proposed in the Management Plan “Monti Iblei”

  • Implementation of operative conservation planning according to the rules proposed in the Management Plan “Monti Iblei”

  • Planning of special operative procedures for wildfires prevention, including information programmes for the local stakeholders about the real risk for Z. Sicula

D)Education/awareness actions

  • Promoting of awareness and divulgation on the specific project issues and the general problem of conservation of biodiversity through public information by media, educational programmes in primary and secondary schools at local e regional level, organisation of periodic meetings and workshop on the aims and advancement of the project in local and regional venues. The events will allow to verify the “state of the art” and to illustrate the final results

  • Production of information materials on paper and electronic format (leaflets, brochure, information panels, educational kits for schools)

  • Realisation of a dedicated website to inform and disseminate objectives, procedures, monitoring, feedbacks and results

  • Establishing of a network aimed at sharing the project actions among public authorities, no-profit organisation and local stakeholders involved into the conservation issues of critically endangered species


Expected results:

  • Improvement of knowledge about the biology and the ecology of the target species aimed at long-term conservation planning

  • Setting up of an emergency irrigation system in the site ZS1

  • Building of about 5800 m of fence

  • Habitat enforcement/improvement on a 10-ha area including the current site of ZS1

  • Reinforcement of the natural populations of Z. sicula and its habitats rehabilitation

  • Creation of at least five new populations, two within the current SCI ITA090022 - Bosco Pisano and three in other forest areas in the Sicily Region

  • Cultivation of at least 200 trees in public conservation centres as the CCG(Marianelli) and the CBNB

  • Recognition of the status of protected species at regional level and starting of the procedure for its recognition as priority species (sensu Habitat Directive)

  • Implementation of a standard normative procedure for protection of threatened species in public/private lands

  • Improving procedures of decision making involving different public Authorities in the management of public areas

  • Implementation of a communication network among public authorities, no-profit organisations and local stakeholders involved into the conservation issues of endangered species

  • Valorisation of the didactic value of this emblematic conservation case, with beneficial feedback on the territory in regards to public awareness about the global problem of biodiversity conservation

  • Realisation of a dedicated website about objectives, procedures results and feedback during the project lifespanEvent organization and production of information material