Santa Barbara: the former mine will be home to biodiversity and tourism

Published on Thursday, 14 October 2021

In the heart of the Tuscan countryside, between Florence and Arezzo, there is a natural area featuring woods, ponds and bicycle trails, and which hosts the return of migratory birds. It is the former mining area of Santa Barbara, which is now flourishing again after having been host to lignite mines.

The area recovery project, which was started in 2010, is part of our commitment to redevelop our sites from a circular economy perspective and in alignment with the energy transition process. It’s a long-term challenge that aims to restabilize the local area, restoring plant life and promoting biodiversity while developing trails for sports activities.

Santa Barbara is a unique case due to its origin: a mining area, located between the Municipality of Cavriglia (near Arezzo) and that of Figline and Incisa Valdarno (near Florence), which spans an area of approximately 1,600 hectares, 20 times the size of the Villa Borghese park in Rome or almost twice that of the island of Capri. It is a great opportunity for Tuscany, a region which has a long-standing tradition of focusing on sustainable tourism.

Santa Barbera’s history dates back to the days of industrial mining activity, which started in the nineteenth century and continued until the first half of the twentieth century, with numerous mine tunnels being dug throughout this period. The site was decommissioned in 1994 and, in 2004, we presented the redevelopment project for the whole area. In 2006 we signed a memorandum of intent with local authorities to define the site’s focus and objectives

Once the redevelopment operations have been completed, over 400 hectares will be covered by forest, and reforestation efforts have already begun: "We are reintroducing the chive oak, which was almost extinct, while maclura pomifera (also known as Osage Orange), which is native to North America, will perform the role of mulberry. Alders, oaks, English oaks and conifers have also been restored,” explained Fabio Cataudella, Head of Power Plant Repurposing at Global Power Generation. Animals followed plants: roe deer, fallow deer, pheasants, hares, foxes and wild boars are repopulating the area, and small birds such as herons, mallards, geese and egrets have returned.

Sports, cultural and educational activities have also been envisioned, with a constant focus on sustainability: "The repurposing plan will make the lakes usable for fishing and relaxation, with beaches and pedestrian and cycle trails," Cataudella went on to say, adding: “We have also repurposed 80 kilometers of dirt roads on which, for the past nine years now, the Marzocchina (a historic cycling race) has been held, and which this year featured 400 cyclists.” Other itineraries include Via della lignite, a thematic itinerary that is open during the Sunday family event Eco-Days Mine, which is held in order to raise awareness about environmental protection issues.

The landscape, which was once marked by the abandonment of mining activities, is breathing new life, taking on the characteristics of the gentle rural landscape where the eighteenth-century Grand Duke of Tuscany Pietro Leopoldo loved to ride his horse.

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