Nature- and photography lovers as well as birdwatchers will definitely enjoy excursions in the Fucecchio Marshes, a vast wetland inhabited by colonies of herons and other aquatic species that have found their ideal habitat here. Located between the Valdinievole and Montalbano, the nature reserve is Italy’s largest inland marsh, covering about 2,000 hectares.
In addition to the wealth of landscapes and nature, the marshes have maintained the fascination of historical events linked to the great Medici and Lorraine families.
There still remains significant evidence of the human labor that, over the centuries, has shaped and modified the very makeup of the wetlands: canals and the port system, signs of ancient and important waterways; the Medici bridge in Cappiano, a hub for activities related to water regulation and fishing management, as well as an important route on the Via Francigena; the Capannone farm complex, which represented one of the main landing places in the Valdinievole; and such industrial archeology buildings as the tobacco drying houses.
The plaques placed on sheds or along the marsh embankments tell of a more recent story, of the tragedy of the barbaric slaughter committed by the Germans on 23 August 1944. In the marsh area, some activities related to the use of marsh grasses are still practiced by a few skilled artisans. These include the harvesting and weaving of sarello (tufted sedge) and sala (drooping sedge) to “re-cover” chairs and flasks, of gaggia (false acacia), and of other typical wetland plants.
Set at the border between the Mediterranean and continental climate zones, the Fucecchio Marshes concurrently host plants adapted to diverse climates. For example, European Frog-bit and Royal Fern are plants from a hot humid climate, yet they live in the Paduletta di Ramone and at the edge of Chiusi Woods. In addition, the sphagnum mosses that are more typical of cold northern climates arrived in Italy during the last glaciations.
Where the immense reeds give way to open waters, we find lamineti, layers formed by floating-leaved aquatic plants (e.g., the large white and yellow water lilies) that offer one of the last refuges to several highly specialized species like the Erba vescica (common bladderwort), a floating carnivorous plant; the Ninfoide (water lily), with its beautiful yellow flowers; and the strange Erba pesce or Salvinia, a small floating fern now extremely rare in Tuscany.
The Fucecchio Marshes play a fundamental role in the migratory routes between the Tyrrhenian coast and the interior. Over 190 species of birds, including at least 70 nesting species, can be observed here throughout the year. Herons are particularly important from a natural point of view. During their reproductive period, they are the most important nesting colony in south-central Italy, because of both the number of breeding pairs (up to 800) as well as the simultaneous presence of four species: the Night Heron, the Little Egret, the Squacco Heron, and the Cattle Egret. In 1999, the very rare Glossy Ibis also nested in the heronry for the first time.
Included among the mammals is the harvest mouse, the smallest European rodent, which is found in the Fucecchio Marshes, the southernmost limit recognized for the species.
The reserve is actively managed, which includes controlling invasive vegetation, the environmental rehabilitation of areas of open water, and maintenance work to increase opportunities to enjoy the area.
Moreover, the nature reserve’s regulations prohibit hunting and fishing, land reclamation, morphological transformations, modification of the water regime, the introduction of plant or animal species, the lighting of fires, and flyovers by unauthorized aircraft.
Access is prohibited to some of the embankments inside the protected area, while Le Morette wildlife observatory is always accessible.
www.paduledifucecchio.it (in Italian) Reclamation Consortiu