The Arcola Reserve is situated in the province of La Spezia, along the lower part of the River Magra. It is easily reached using the n.1 which links La Spezia with Sarzana.
The Province of La Spezia inaugurated LIPU Arcola Reserve and entrusted its management to LIPU at the end of 1992. Its area of 34 hectares stretches along the right bank of the River Magra and includes several isolated woodland copses. This Reserve was the first attempt in Italy to create an artificial heronry. The aim was to attract breeding pairs of regular visitors, such as Grey Herons, Little Egrets and Night Herons, to nest within the Reserve in poplars and willows close to a large aviary where there were injured birds of the same species. Following the example of a similar scheme in the Camargue, it was an attempt to get wild birds to choose the Reserve as a nesting area, attracted and encouraged by the ones in captivity.
Habitat and Environmental Priorities
Birds. A special feature of the area is the presence of reedbeds and thick riverside woodland, an environment that is now unique in Liguria and is a precious remnant of the ancient wetland landscape of the Magra Valley. In spring and early summer many breeding species of birds come to the Reserve, including Kingfishers that nest in holes in the river banks, while the reedbeds attract two elusive species, Little Bittern and Water Rail. Along the river there are Moorhens, while Penduline Tits hang their characteristic bottle-shaped nests from the branches of willow trees. In addition there are Cetti’s Warblers, Reed Warblers and other common species such as Great Tits, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. During migration and throughout the winter it is also possible to observe many species of raptors and waterbirds, attracted by the river and also by the nearby sea. There are Purple Herons, Squacco Herons, Marsh Harriers, Montagu’s Harriers, Hobbys and Ospreys. Several species of waders such as Ruffs, Black-tailed Godwits, Black-winged Stilts and Dunlin are regular visitors to the shallow areas of water that are rich in aquatic invertebrates, larvae and small fish. In winter a large number of cormorants come down from northern Europe and this population is increasing year by year. They come in to the higher trees to roost at night and during the day they fish for tench, carp and other species of fish.
At present Arcola Reserve has only a small car park and a network of nature walks that allows visitors to get to the most interesting parts. There are plans for a visitor centre and interpretation panels, to be provided when the necessary finance becomes available.
The Reserve can be visited throughout the year, visitors only being requested to keep to the paths and not to wander along the banks of the river. The best time to visit is when migration is in full swing, in March, April and September.
The Cinque Terre are only 30 minutes away from Alcona and a visit there is highly recommended.