The Po Grande Biosphere Reserve falls within the central tract of the River Po, in a basin which has been significantly affected by man’s activities. The Po is the longest river with the highest water delivery in Italy and one of the largest ones in Europe. Cultural diversity is very high in the Biosphere Reserve, whose establishment is a welcome addition to two recently created Biosphere Reserves along the Po River, Po Delta (2015) and Collina Po (2016). The total population of the Biosphere Reserve (ISTAT data year 2011) is 541,047 inhabitants.
The river Po ecosystem can be defined as a mosaic of ecological systems such as the riverbed and its branches, the marginal wetlands and oxbow lakes, the fluvial islands, the riparian forests, the hygrophilous meadows and the hunting valleys, the agrarian and land reclamation territories. As regards the biodiversity, the central section of the river Po is occupied by a complex network system of Rete Natura 2000 sites (hereinafter RN2000) that include all main natural and semi-natural areas, as well as the habitat types, of the central Po Valley.
The area is dominated by two arboreal species: the willow, mainly the white willow (Salix alba) and the poplar (Populus spp), predominantly white (Populus alba), but also black (Populus nigra) and hybrid with North American species. These are heliophilous colonizing species, able to renew themselves, even on mass, on the newly formed sandy bars forming new riverbeds, but destined over time to be replaced by more stable forest formations, such as oaks-elms, where the bar is stabilizing for many decades.
In floodplain areas the poplar woods alternate with wide open areas dedicated to cultivation of cereals and fodder. Thanks to the recent European regulations in favor of the development of Biological crops, riverside areas are cultivated, more and more frequently, with techniques that can be considered sustainable.
Although not affluent areas, the river landscape within the reserve is enjoyed and has numerous features of natural beauty, woods and glades, streams, ponds and wetland areas. Levees and towpaths connect urban centres, testimony to a rich past and typical of the riverside landscape. This supports local tourism and recreational activities (biking, canoeing, amateur fishing, etc.), which are also connected to the area’s eno-gastronomic specialities. The woods and glades are popular for Sunday outings, although there are also organised river navigation activities combined with visits to museums and villages in the local area.