The Natural Reserves

The Acate or Dirillo river

The western border of the province of Ragusa is bordered by the Acate or Dirillo river, which begins its course near Vizzini, and ends in the Macconi area, near Acate. In the stretch where it crosses the province of Ragusa it is possible to find residual tracts of wood with cork oaks, poplars, ash trees, mastic trees and thorny oak. In the final stretch, in the past, the river crossed swampy areas near its mouth in the midst of rushes and cannagiole, overcoming imposing dunes of very fine sand, the Macconi.

This beach was usually frequented by the caretta caretta sea turtle for laying. In the past, the behinddune was occupied by a humid area, which in addition to the vegetation of particular interest, housed migratory birds. It seems that the same course of the river allowed flocks of ducks and other passing birds to orient their migratory route towards northern Europe.

The landscape that, today, appears immediately after the narrow coastal strip is represented by extensive greenhouse crops which, on the one hand, have allowed farmers a period of economic well-being but on the other have sacrificed unique environments for flora and fauna.

The Ippari River

A few kilometers as the crow flies from the Macconi we find the valley of the Ippari river along which the R.N.O. was established by the Sicilian Region. “Pino d’Aleppo”, managed by the Regional Province of Ragusa.
This Reserve falls within the municipalities of Vittoria, Comiso and Ragusa; it was established to “… safeguard the last strips of native Pinus halepensis formation and rebuild the pine forest in the garrigue area degraded by anthropic action”.

The reserve has a good extension, about 3000 ha. Of these, about 850 ha in zone A, the remainder in zone B. Zone A of this reserve is not represented by a single nucleus but by a series of small reserve areas surrounded by the pre-reserve (leopard spot type).

Since ancient times, the area located along the Ippari valley, in particular the valley floor, was used for agricultural activities, thanks to the abundant presence of water. Therefore, the social context in which the reserve is inserted is fairly anthropized, also considering the considerable proximity of the protected area to the urban center of Vittoria, which it touches the outskirts of.

The Tabuto, Sallia, Racello, Ciavole hills represent the last buttresses of the Iblei on the south-western side and right at the foot of these hills is the initial stretch of the Ippari river which almost disappears in the town of Comiso. Near Vittoria it is possible to find again the river valley with the steep slopes of the Martorina district. There are numerous districts crossed by this waterway: the Mendolilli and Cappellaris districts characterized by the presence of a substrate of yellow sandstones and trubes; the c.da Culobria or Culorva where in the past stood a majestic pine forest on the limestone outcrops accompanied by the cortege of the undergrowth with centuries-old specimens of mastic, myrtle, rosemary and often associated with holm oaks, olive trees and carob trees.

After crossing the slopes of Colobria, the valley opens up between the Poggi Gerbe and Anguilla Fossone on one side and Castelluccio, Musenna, Buffa and Tremolazza on the other; then the river heads towards the sea crossing the c.da Salina. In the past, towards the mouth, the area was marshy due to the formation of extensive marshes behind the dunes (Limne) and along the coast there were imposing sand dunes (Maccone del re) which have now disappeared. Even today, due to the morphology of the places, the river bed is often buried.

From a vegetational point of view, the Aleppo pines represent the most interesting aspect of the valley, together with its undergrowth, which varies according to the soil present. Often, the pine is found with the holm oak, olive and carob trees. The native origin of the pine forest has been hypothesized, representing what remains of the plain forests of Santa Croce and Vittoria.
In the lower part of the valley, towards the sea, close to the areas in the past occupied by the marshes behind the dunes, the thorny oak (Quercus coccifera) is found.

The array of plants present in the various biotopes (riparian environment, Mediterranean scrub, garrigue, residual areas of the largest wetland area) host numerous species. Recent studies have made it possible to survey 700 different plant species, some of which represent biological rarities. Very interesting is the presence of the muscari gussonei (or leopoldia gussonei), of various species of endemic orchids and cysts.

The fauna present is varied, also linked to the variety of biotopes present in the reserve and in particular to the vegetation. Studies promoted by the managing body in the area have made it possible to census as many as 400 different species: among these, both resident and migratory birds from neighboring Africa play a role of primary importance. Also noteworthy is the presence of invertebrates with an interesting ecological and biogeographical significance.

Cava Randello

Cava Randello, located southeast of the Pino d’Aleppo Reserve, preserves the characteristic vegetation of the area at least in the part used in the past as a hunting reserve. Endemic species such as muscari gussonei and thorny oak (quercus coccifera) have been reported. The edges of the quarry are populated by mastic trees, rock roses, holm oaks, myrtle olive trees, aromatic plants, ephedra, dwarf palm, squill, daffodils, orchids.

In particular, 23 taxa and 4 nototaxa have been reported for the latter. Among the Sicilian endemics were found: orchis commutata, ophrys discors and ophrys lunulata, the latter rare species protected by the Washington Convention.

The Irminio valley and the tributary quarries

The Irminio is the longest river in the province. Various hypotheses have been made about the origin of its name, attributing it to divinities or mythical characters or historical facts. The historian Solarino believes that the name is of Semitic origin and means “rows of overhanging mountains or protruding bumps” recalling the typical landscape of the river valley. It has always been a small river but in the past it must have been characterized by a greater abundance of waters that made it navigable, probably with flat-bottomed boats up to the ancient Ceratanum (now Giarratana).

The Irminio valley originates from the cliffs of the quarry mountains, at the foot of the Terravecchia and Gragliano escarpments at the confluence of the waters from the primary springs (Favara and Fico) near the top of Monte Lauro.

After an initial journey in a valley with narrow and rocky sides, it continues in the Margi di Giarratana, where it receives the waters of the Cuccovio stream.

Near Giarratana, in the seventies a dam was built which led to the creation of a reservoir: the S. Rosalia dam. The water submerged a large area that was once inhabited and often in the dry periods it is possible to see the remains of the submerged farmhouses emerge.

The river, after the dam, continues up to the Passo della palma crossing a deep and sinuous valley. The sides appear bare, contrasting with the valley floor where a dense and rich vegetation is found.

After Passo della Palma the Irminio leaves the narrow gorges between the wild quarries of Buglia and S. Paolina and slowly takes the lowland of alluvial origin which from the slopes of the Castellana, Eredità and Cancelli coves reaches the beaches of Marina di Ragusa, Gravina and Playa grande.

At the forge of Scicli the waters of the river mix with the salty and warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea and give life, albeit for a short distance, to a luxuriant vegetation that is home to various species of mammals (marten, weasel, fox, rabbit), reptiles ( sand lizard, lizards) and birds.

The mouth of the Irminio river, in the past, up to the early Middle Ages, was a canal port; Subsequently, the characteristic “forest scrub” vegetation was planted on the dunes, which since 1981 has been protected with the establishment by the Sicilian Region of the Special Biological Nature Reserve “forest scrub of the Irminio river”.

The quarries in general due to the good microclimatic conditions, as well as often the inaccessibility of the places, represent sites where both the vegetation and the fauna have been able to evolve without excessive disturbance by man.

In the Irminio valley and in its tributary quarries, especially where the valley is narrower and narrower, it is possible to observe the orderly spatial arrangement of the riparian flora: immersed in the water, at the edges of the river bed there are cannagiole and cattails ; on the shore, often subject to flooding during periods of flood, there are pedicellated willows; further inside, the black poplars and oriental plane trees.

The oriental plane tree is spontaneous along the Irminio and is often the predominant tree. For centuries its wood was used for the construction of agricultural wagons in the Ragusa area. The plane trees are thinning towards the mouth giving way to acacias, tamarisks and an extensive Canneto. The Ash (both the exelsior and the ornus) is well represented along the valley along with walnuts and hackberries.

The fauna housed in the river waters is very interesting as well as the vertebrate and invertebrate species present in the various terrestrial biotopes.

In its course, the Irminio river receives the waters of various tributary streams, which, in turn, have formed a series of deep and wild caves with erosion, which cut through the Hyblean plateau in various directions being set on the faults that characterize tectonically the district.

In the sub-mountain section there are the quarries of Calaforno, Volpe, Gria, Mastratto, Ciaramiti and S. Leonardo.
These quarries, except where intervention has been made with forest reforestation, mainly have bare sides covered by ampelodesma. In the valley floor, along the bed of the streams, the spontaneous trees are found together with those cultivated by man in an unusual tangle: poplars, oriental plane trees, walnuts, hackberries, pomegranates, elms, elders, reeds.
Cava Volpe is the longest and in the final stretch, in c.da S. Filippo, small groups of old laurels mixed with downy oaks are found.
The tributary quarries of the Irminio of the hilly sub-coastal stretch are characterized by the presence of Ampelodesma and by the typical species of the garrigue: thyme, dwarf palm, fruticose teucer, wild, lily, scylla, asphodel and in the more degraded areas Euphorbia dendroids. The valley floors are often dry and stony, the presence of tree species is limited to some carob, olive and dwarf palm specimens. The Cupa della Buglia quarry is an exception as there are still portions of ancient Leccete with undergrowth of mastic, terebinth, dwarf palms and other species typical of the Mediterranean scrub.

The valley of the Irminio river, beyond the Passo della Palma, follows the course of the river only on one side, where the modest hills of c.da Maestro are found; on the right side is the plain of Gravina, once a wet area, now filled and cultivated.
At the mouth of the Sicilian Region the Nature Reserve “Macchia forest del river Irminio” was established, managed by the Regional Province of Ragusa, in order to “… safeguard the biocoenosis of the coastal area, the dynamic series of vegetation culminating in the very rare expressions of scrub forest above and behind the dune, as well as the riparian ecosystem of the river Irminio “.
In this protected area both the coastal biotopes present, the small cliffs of c.da Maulli and the dunes of c.da Gravina on which the characteristic forest scrub vegetation has settled, and the riparian ecosystem of the mouth of the Irminio river.

The reserve has a total extension of about 160 hectares between zones A and B. It is a very delicate ecosystem as its proximity to highly man-made inhabited centers (Marina di Ragusa and Playa Grande) with a tourist vocation, could negatively influence it, determining irrevocable alterations.
The reserve falls within the municipalities of Ragusa and Scicli and has an extension of about 160 hectares between the reserve area (zone A) and the pre-reserve area (zone B).

The course of the Irminio river represented in ancient times the vehicle and the fastest route to connect the internal territories with the coast, which has always been a place where trade took place. In confirmation of the intense activity present in the area since prehistoric times, various testimonies have been found, such as the prehistoric site of Fontana Nuova; the bee farm, an ancient center for the processing of satra honey, that is thyme; the archaic Greek site of the master.

It appears, in fact, that the mouth was used as a canal port from the archaic Greek period up to the early Middle Ages.
Until that time the water regime of the river was regulated by the presence of woods along its course. In fact, Idrisi mentions a thick wood, “Bennit”, due to the upper reaches of the Irminio, while in later times a wood with the name of “Silva Suri” is mentioned on the middle course of the river.
Subsequently these woods were cut to use the wood and also to recover land for agriculture, the river regime became torrential, sudden floods occurred and the debris carried by the river accumulated at the mouth. The consequence of all this was the slow and inexorable silting up of the mouth which led to the current morphology with the formation of the dune cordon on which the characteristic vegetation has settled. At the end of this dune cordon the coast rises with the small vertical-walled cliffs of c.da Maulli.

The vegetation present on the dunes is represented by vegetation associations typical of the Mediterranean scrub which has taken on such a development that it can be considered a forest. Observing the vegetation from the shoreline to the beginning of the first dunes, there are plants defined as pioneers for their ability to colonize extreme environments such as sandy beaches, such as the sea lily (pancratium maritimum), the sea erythium (eringium maritimum) the calcatreppola (calcatreppola maritima). Approaching the consolidated dunes, the common ravke (cakile maritima) is found.

The consolidated dunes are characterized by the presence of evolved plant associations culminating in the presence of centuries-old specimens of prickly juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus ssp.macrocarpa) in a low or prostrate conformation, often mixed with fragile ephedra (ephedra fragilis).

In a slightly rearward position there are examples of mastic (pistacia lentiscus) of considerable size and the insular holy spine (lycium intricatum). These shrubs and small trees are typical of sandy areas and contribute to the stabilization of the dunes. Together with them we find other typical plants of the forest scrub such as Sicilian tea (prasium majus), asparagus (asparagus aphillus, asparagus acutifolis), brionia (brionia sicula), artemisa (arthemisia arborescens), tamarisk (tamerix gallica) , tamerix africana).

In the backdune it is possible to find the beach cornflower (centaurea sphaerocephala) and the ononis (ononis ramosissima).
Approaching the river and around the mouth, the vegetation changes taking on the typical characteristics of swampy areas with the reed (phragmites australis), the prickly rush (juncus acutus), the tamarisk (tamerix gallica, tamerix africana).

Along the river there is riparian vegetation with willow and poplar trees. Oriental plane trees are no longer present as they prefer calcareous soils and shy away from siliceous or sandy ones.

Where the coast rises forming small cliffs, numerous examples of dwarf palm (chamaerops humilis) and shrub thyme (thymus capitatus) are found.
Exotic and weed species such as white tobacco (nicotiana glauca), eucaliptus sp., Canna (arundo donax), are present in areas that were cultivated in the past.

As for the fauna there are representatives of each class of both vertebrates and invertebrates but what attracts the most attention are the birds, in particular the migratory species from neighboring Africa, which use this area to rest and refresh themselves after having crossed the Mediterranean Sea.

In the calm waters of the river at its mouth, there is a fair number of different species of fish. Even among the animals there are some exotic species, unconsciously introduced by unknown persons, such as the nutria (myocastor coypus), the wild boar (sus scrofa) and the red-cheeked tortoise (trachemys scripta).

In the protected area, the managing body, among the various management activities, has enhanced the use and dissemination of natural assets, as well as has promoted scientific research aimed at better understanding the biodiversity and natural heritage of the reserve.

In fact, numerous research projects have been authorized by the managing body, both on the initiative of private individuals (degree thesis, personal studies, and so on) and for research by scientific organizations, such as universities or for studies promoted by the same body. Manager.

In the reserve, sustainable development, that is the change in the socio-economic system compatible with the objective of nature conservation, is oriented towards the information and dissemination of the natural assets of the Reserve. There are numerous schoolchildren and groups who visit the reserve to learn about the peculiar naturalistic aspects of the area and in this regard the managing body has created numerous educational and audiovisual aids and set up educational trails.

The rivers of Modica and Scicli

Between Irminio and Tellaro is the Fiumara di Modica and Scicli quarry, which collects water from two mountain branches, one called Pozzo dei Pruni and the other Janni Mauro quarry. The two arms converge and cross the inhabited area of Modica and Scicli receiving the waters of small tributaries including those of the S. Maria La Nova and San Bartolomeo quarries. At its mouth, in the past, the river formed an interesting wetland area, of which today there is a residual area.

The torrent of Modica and Scicli for almost its entire course, up to Scicli flows between high and bare cliffs where, in addition to the interesting vegetation that characterizes these gorges, there is significant fauna that finds refuge and ideal living conditions in these areas.

The Tellesimo

A site of particular beauty from a naturalistic point of view is the Cava del Tellesimo. It originated, like all the quarries in the Hyblaean area, from a fracture on which the millennial erosion of the water has made a deep incision. It is the only stream that does not follow the radial arrangement of the Ragusa hydrography: in fact, it does not flow into the Mediterranean Sea but into the Tellaro River.

The quarry starts from c.da Bellocozzo, at the confluence of the slopes of the Castigo di Dio and Cozzo di Manzio hills and ends, after a course of about 15 km, in c.da Taverna, flowing into the Tellaro valley through the narrow Cugno quarry. .

The torrent with its strong erosive action has created numerous potholes and hollows, called “urve”. In the initial part of the quarry the rock formations of the walls, being almost perfectly vertical, have poor and discontinuous vegetation. The dissolution of the widely cracked rocks has created residual soil at the bottom of the gorges that has allowed the establishment of thick vegetation with wild carob trees, olive trees, strawberry trees, privets and wild figs. It is possible to find numerous aromatic plants: thyme, catmint, mint, oregano or other species typical of the Mediterranean area: dwarf palm, teucrio, ophrid.

At the foot of the cliffs and along the banks of the stream, the vegetation is luxuriant with oriental plane trees, willows, ash trees, hackberry trees, as well as the typical undergrowth vegetation with brambles, ivy, smilaci.

The macrostigma trout lives in the waters of the Tellesimo, an Iblean endemism that still survives despite the risk of hybridization with other species, in addition to eels, tench and various amphibians (green frog, common frog, tree frog); on the mainland reptiles are found (terrestrial tortoise, gecko, green lizard, snake snake, Leopardian snake, rat snake, cervone). Among the mammals we find the marten, rabbits, hedgehogs, weasels, porcupines. Among the birds (turtledove, pigeons, kingfisher, cuckoo, jay, woodcock, hawks, buzzards, crows and many others.

The Tellaro River

Almost on the border of the eastern lands of Ragusa, in the wide valley dominated by the buttresses of Palazzolo Acreide, the Tellaro flows up to the mouth of the Val di Noto. This river is part of the hydrography of the province in its origins and in its upper course. It originates from Monte lauro and in the Ragusa area receives the waters of the Muscia, Montesano, Gisira and Tellesimo streams.

The Tellaro valley is wide and luxuriant and the slopes of the hills above are mostly smooth and smooth, interrupted only by the water runoff grooves where the riparian vegetation thickens.

The waters of the river are limpid and clear in the upper course while they first become turbid and whitish and then slimy and greenish both due to the nature of the land crossed and due to the presence of decomposing vegetation in the stagnant loops.

The valley is less rugged than that of the Irminio and the primitive vegetation was made up of shady forests of oaks (Turkey oaks and downy oaks) that extended to the nearby Anapo valley. Today it is possible to observe only a few scattered specimens of downy oaks or some Turkey oaks perched in inaccessible areas.

Cava d’Ispica

The Cava d’Ispica is a real jewel from both a historical-archaeological and naturalistic point of view. In fact, it is known for the existence of troglodyte dwellings and rock necropolises, but it has extremely suggestive views and panoramas and peculiar and interesting naturalistic aspects.
The quarry, narrow and 13 kilometers long, is furrowed by the often dry watercourse, the Busaitone or Serramontone; along the stream and on the lower slopes there is a dense riparian vegetation with oriental plane trees, poplars, willows mixed with oleanders, elderberries and hackberry. On the rocky walls there is a dense vegetation represented by capers, wild figs, ivy and clematis. There is also the Sicilian trachelium, an endemic bellflower.

Among the most interesting representatives of the fauna, the presence of the Marten is reported.
The waters of the Serramontone, before the reclamation of the marshes, fed with the name of Rio della Favara, the marshes Bruno and Gariffi. Today they are induced to flow between the black stones beach and S. Maria del Focallo.

The Island of Porri

The Island of Porri is made up of three closely spaced rocks whose surface is just 1000 square meters. It was included in the Regional Parks and Reserves Plan as an integral reserve due to the presence of Allium ampeloprasum (leek). The remains of human skeletons have been found on the island, probably dating back to the time when the island was used as a base by Saracen pirates.

The seabed surrounding the island is characterized by a Poseidonia oceanic prairie and is particularly impressive. Numerous animal and plant species live in the area: lobsters, white breams, groupers, scorpion fish, moray eels, red mullets, amberjacks, crabs, sea urchins.

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