Etna's monumental oak trees - - Le querce secolare dell'Etna

The joint activity of the environmental NGOs Giacche Verdi Bronte (Italy) and Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung (Germany) aimed for saving the threatened „1000 years old oak trees” at Mount Etna, Sicily. Twenty-eight of the total of 56 monumental Downy Oaks (Quercus pubescens) were severely threatened by recently planted, fast-growing Black Pines (Pinus nigra). These overgrowing pines had to be removed if the oak trees should have a chance to survive.

The project takes place with the support of the Etna Regional Park and includes a field study about the status quo of the old oak trees, marking of the pines for logging, and public relations.


Mount Etna offers extraordinary nature monuments and spectacular landmarks. Quite unknown, even among locals, and touristically yet undeveloped are the 56 monumental oak trees on one of the small "side volcanoes" of the Etna, Monte Egitto, at around 1600 meters above Bronte: several hundred years old, ossified, multiform giant trees, each a monument to himself, and yet only a few meters away from each other!

The Project (in chronological order)

On October 12th, 2011, the project partners Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung and Giacche Verdi Bronte organized a site inspection at Monte Egitto, joined by the expert for protected areas and forestry Professor Michael Succow (winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize) and Rainer Köpsell (Director of Forestry, retired, and member of our the Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung board). The site inspection was guided by the nature guide Orazio di Stefano from the Etna Regional Park.
All attendants recognized the urgency for action. In consultation with the attending Nature Park staff Orazio di Stefano and Dr Rosa Spampinata it was agreed to start a project. Before any intervention into the protected zone “A”, the nature park authority requires a study of the oaks and an official request for the intervention, to be submitted by the project partners.

Prof. Dr. Michael Succow, Germany's most famous ambientalist and owner of the "Right Livelyhood Award" documents living and dead oak trees of Mt. Egitto.

In autumn 2011 the project partners started a field study by a team of volunteers led by the forest economist and foundation staff member Britta Dingeldein. Every oak tree was located, its position determined by GPS and recorded on a map. The status quo of the oaks (height, circumference, age, condition, insects, etc.) was listed, and a long-term photographic documentation was started. The research also contributes basic information for the registration of the oak trees in the Sicily directory of monumental trees.

In summer 2012 the field study was completed. Pieces of the strong protected hermit beetle were found, still to be identified by experts.

March, 6th 2013 presentation of the field study in the Etna Parc administration. The project partners were then asked to determine and justify the exact procedure of the logging operation.

In April 2013 the expert Rainer Köpsell visited the Park again. During a visit on April 26th he explained the situation of the oak trees to the local decision makers, which has worsened over the past year. This led to the first success: All present agreed to save the "1000 year old oak trees" by immediately cutting down the oppressive pines and allow the oaks to thrive!
Read on: report [in Italian], expertise [in Italian and German] and newspaper article [in Italian]

Local decision makers visit the Mt. Egitto and agree: The pressuring pine trees around the old oak trees have to be cut down!

At the end of April and early May
Rainer Köpsell managed the preparation of the logging operation: every pine that had to be cut immediately was marked with red colour. For each oak tree the distance and angle of the marked pines were determined and documented.

The expert team on its way up the Mt. Egitto: Dipl.-Ing. Anna Liedmann, Forest Ing. Britta Dingeldein, MSc. Katharina Selbmann, MSc. Dominik Rösch, Forest Ing. Rainer Köpsell (German ex director forestry distict Sellhorn Lower Saxony, today world wide consultant for environmental forest management). On the right you see the Mt. Arso, similar to Mt. Egitto, which demonstrates an excample of the still intact forest community of oak and pine trees, as it might have been at the Mt. Egitto too. In the background Mt. Ruvola.

On June 11th, 2013, the final project report with technical details was submitted to the Etna Regional Park as requested. Copies were also sent to the community of Bronte, the forestry department of Bronte and Catania as well as to the ministry of Environment of the region Sicily.

Project Report and Cover Letter

This was followed by two years of campaigning by our foundation for logging of the oppressive pines on our own cost and without further conditions.

July 2015: Success! The oak trees finally get released, for account of the forestry department. In a first step 110 oppressing pine trees were cut down.  

Now we hope that the oak trees will benefit from the logging and space-giving operation by the Etna Regional Park. Further interventions are planned in 3-year cycles over the next 10 years until the oaks probably will survive on their own.

(see also: press)