The “calchera” was used to produce quicklime by firing limestone extracted from local rocks.
Partially dug into the ground, it was dry-lined with other stones and barrel-shaped with a small door for lighting and feeding the fire which had to burn non-stop at a steady 1000°C for about eight days.
The prevalence of these “calchera” is largely concentrated in the pre-Alps where the raw material is found: they are actually linked to limestone or dolomite outcrops.
On the doorstep of the old calchera, you can explore the wetland area spanning a large basin in the valley that is formed by the Toscolano and Personcino watercourses merging. It is created by natural sediment deposits brought by the two streams and by continuous silting, which gradually changes the environment: it alternates between periods of complete and partial immersion due to the flow of the two streams feeding into it. This gives rise to its typical riparian and marshland vegetation, the latter located at the centre and often completely submerged. Riparian vegetation is characterised by trees and shrubs that thrive in or near water, particularly willows. Meanwhile marshland vegetation is dominated by herbaceous plants, including sedges and rushes. This wetland was used as a watering hole for cattle when they were being taken to high pastures.
The excellent water quality of Val Vestino watercourses has enabled crayfish colonies to continue reproducing. Austropotamobius pallipes itself, having high water-quality demands, is a bioindicator for the conditions of such habitats which have been degraded to the extent that this crayfish is now considered a rare, endangered species.
The ongoing LIFE 2020 research project, financed by European environmental funds, aims to protect the crayfish, which has been declining at a dramatic and alarming rate all across Italy since 1970 due to widespread environmental degradation. The crayfish, in turn, is showing us signs that, unfortunately, are not encouraging for it, or for ourselves. We therefore learn to understand these streams to appreciate them and to manage them properly before they irreversibly change. To find out more about what we should do to conserve this species, visit www.VisitValVestino.it.