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Cervia salt pan


The environment

The delta area, due to the extension of the salty coastal lagoons, has always been characterized by the presence of “salt pans”, areas in which sea salt naturally deposited during summer evaporation. Since prehistory man has made use of this important resource, and it is well known that the people from Umbria and Veneto went down the hills to stock up with salt during summer.
Over the centuries people started to use salt in a more organized way, and the Etruscans and the Greek probably made full use of this resource, building the first tanks.

The Cervia salt pan, of Etruscan origin, made this town important and prosperous for centuries.


At present the salt pan, that is still operating, has a surface of about 828 hectares and is made up of 144 tanks, of different size and depth, separated by a network of low dikes with halophilous vegetation. The tanks have wide pools of water with different salinity levels and muddy stretches. The highest banks have hedges of Prunus spinosa and Tamarix gallica. At the center of the salty pan there are some plots of cultivated land and fallow meadows.


The access and the flow of sea water are regulated by artificial canals that are connected to the sea and by a local canal that distributes water. Salt extraction takes place in a mechanical way, but a small part, of private ownership, is still carried out in an artisan way, mainly for touristic purposes.


The most important plant species are Limonium bellidifolium and Trachomitum venetum.


This is an important site where anatids and charadriiformes stop and spend winter (mainly the wigeon, the curlew sandpiper and the dunlin) and a nesting place for the black-winged stilt, the  avocet, the common tern and the little tern. There is also a large population of South European toothcarps and probably there are three-spined sticklebacks too (whose presence has to be confirmed).




The fauna

There are large and typical populations of South European toothcarps and lagoon gobies.

There are also colonies of nesting charadriiformes that are important at a national level (avocet, black-winged stilt, common tern and little tern) and at a regional level (Kentish plover, redshank, slender-billed gull and black-headed gull) on the muddy stretches and on the dikes and rises. There is also a population of nesting shelduck that is expanding. For the next few years it is likely that a nesting colony of greater flamingoes will settle here, since there are all the right conditions, this species has been spending the summer in the area for a few years. Finally there is a small population of short-toed larks, nesting in the formerly cultivated land that is now set-aside, near the salt pan.

The area is also extremely important as wintering site for all the water fowl species, since it is a non-hunting area, and it is also important as area of rest for the numerous migratory species (anatids and charadriiformes). In particular, the following species winter here, in large quantities: great white heron, shelduck, teal, avocet and dunlin).





Near the salt pan, next to the “Adriatic” main road no. 116, lies the building of the former municipal slaughterhouse, dating back to the Fifties and renovated, which is partially active as Visitor Center. From this building visitors can immediately reach the area of the salt pan, the observatories for the bird fauna and the old Cervia or Ficocle at the center, where there is the little old church of the Seventeenth century which is now deconsecrated, “Madonna della Neve” (“The Madonna of the Snow”). A special project was started for the Visitor Center of the Cervia salt pan, which will qualify the structure as Visitor Center of the southern station of the Delta park. The building was completely renovated and it is almost ready. Until now the structure has not been used to the full of its potential, however the correct municipal management had extremely positive results, attracting many eco-tourists.

Along the eastern shore of the Cervia salt pan there is a route that is signaled by the Consortium of the Delta park, from the building of the former slaughterhouse, the Visitor Center, to the south. This path is equipped with shields and observatories for the bird fauna, on this path visitors can enjoy the wonderful landscape of the salt pan, and recently a turret to view the bird fauna has been installed there.




Threat factors, anthropic impact, management interventions

The area is controlled and managed in a very careful and rigorous way by the National Corps of Forest Rangers. However, the water management that is carried out for production purposes, for the extraction of salt, often causes serious environmental problems, due to the variation of the water level. Stopping the production activities will not be, as many said, an environmental catastrophe for the ecosystem of the Cervia salt pan, if the management for production purposes will be replaced by a careful environmental management. On the contrary, in this case the ecosystem will considerably profit from that, and the same goes for the fauna that lives there. At present the sudden increase of the water level causes the death of the little birds of the birds that nest on the ground (in particular charadriiformes), while the lack of water in early autumn is harmful for the migratory species that rest there.

Many ambush hunting posts for water birds surround the salt pan and cause the death of many species living there, both for direct killing and for the ingestion of lead pellets, that are many here, and for the subsequent death for lead poisoning.

One more limiting factor is the lack of fresh water at the borders of the salt pan, which is the reason why birds have to leave the site, running the risk of being killed, since the salt pan is surrounded by many fixed hunting posts.
Finally the roads that cross the salt pan are a cause of disturbance and death, since many animals are run over: birds, amphibians, reptiles and small mammals.

For the fish population, among which the species that are protected by international directives, it will be important to keep the connection channels between the salt pan and the sea, also in the future.

The site, together with the Comacchio salt pan, has a very rare type of environment, since the only other salt pan of the Adriatic coast is in Puglia, in Margherita di Savoia.

The state of vegetation of the salt pan depends on the production activity: in Comacchio the activity ceased in 1984 and the vegetation is well-developed, even though it is now affected by the progressive softening of the water of the basins; on the contrary, in Cervia the salt extraction activity is still carried out and there are very few plant species.

The typical vegetation of areas with high salinity levels consists of a series of paucispecific communities, if there are the right conditions, such communities usually cover small-sized surfaces, this depends on the space structure of the salt pan, that is made up of basins that are flooded for most of the year, and that are separated by low and narrow banks.

There are few plant species that can live in conditions of frequent flooding, or in continuous contact with the aquifer, with extremely salty water. Each species represents a plant association and most associations are rare at a regional level and in many cases at a national level.

The types of vegetation that can be found in the area settle rapidly, on substrates that can also be partly artificial substrates or of anthropic origin. In Cervia such trend is hindered by the fact that the plants are still in operation. The environmental recovery could start also if the activity ceases only in part, in relatively small areas of the salt pan, first creating a sort of “bridge” area between the pine forest of Cervia and the salt pan, creating the right conditions for halophilous or halotolerant natural vegetation and later for a real salty wetland.


See text




828 ha



Owned by






Outstanding natural beauty (Law 1497/39)

Special Protection Area (Ministerial Decree no. 65 of 3/3/00)

Site of Community Importance (Ministerial Decree no. 65 of 3/3/00)

Ramsar area (Ministerial Decree 13/7/81)

Nature wildlife reserve “Salina di Cervia”  (Cervia salt pan) (Ministerial Decree 31/1/79)




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