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Following EU Regulation no. 1091/94, the Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry Policy (National Forest Service) has since 1995 sponsored the "National Integrated Programme for Forest Ecosystems Monitoring" (CONECOFOR), implemented to study the effects of atmospheric pollution and climate change on forest ecosystems. The Programme also operates within the framework of the Geneva Convention on Trans-boundary air pollution (L.R.T.A.P. U.N.-E.C.E.), ratified by Italy in 1982, and of the Resolutions of the Ministerial Conferences on the protection of forests in Europe (Res. no. 1, Strasbourg, 1990, Res. H4, Helsinki, 1993). The Programme involves the development of the so-called Level I investigations, which have been in progress since 1987 on a European grid made up of 16×16 km2. At present there are in Italy 265 monitoring plots distributed over the whole country, where annual assessments are made of the state of the tree crowns. At selected points within the same square, in 1995/6, pedological investigations were carried out and the chemical content of the leaves analysed. The Level II CONECOFOR Programme is currently based on 28 permanent plots in the framework of the International Co-operative Programme on Assessment and Monitoring of Air Pollution Effects on Forests; 11 areas are also classed as "biomonitoring sites", in the framework of the International Co-operative Programme on Integrated Monitoring of Air Pollution Effects on Ecosystems. Nine different researches have since 1996 been in progress in the permanent plots, involving the following analyses: geological and geomorphological (preliminary), vegetation (yearly), crown condition (yearly), chemical content of leaves (every 2 years), soil (every 10 years), variations in tree growth (every 5 years), atmospheric depositions (continuous), meteorological (continuous), atmospheric pollutants (continuous). Since 2000, surveys of soil solution (continuous), tree phenology (continuous) and ozone visible damage (yearly) have been added. Test phases of new surveys (biodiversity, biotic damage, etc.) are planned for 2002/3. The National Forestry Service (CONECOFOR Service) co-ordinates six participating research institutes, each of which is responsible for the analyses and monitoring activities. The permanent plots are selected according to the directive of EU Regulation no. 1091/94 so as to include the major forest ecosystems in Italy, and are distributed over the whole country. Each covers an area of 10-100 ha, within which two sample units of 2,500 m2 are designated. The main dominant species are Fagus sylvatica (10 areas), Picea abies (6), Quercus cerris (5), Quercus ilex (4), Quercus petraea (1) Quercus robur (1) and Abies alba (1). The first six years of the CONECOFOR Programme have resulted in a detailed, organic description of the main forest ecosystems in Italy. Implementation of the programme has meant that we are now in possession of a reasonably complete knowledge of the ecological characteristics of 17 different Italian forest communities ranging from the Alps to Sicily. The assessment and monitoring of forest health represent a key point for environmental policy-makers and for the management of environmental resources in the framework of sustainable development.
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