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Commons in Action

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Common pool resources in North Italy: village commons in the Karst

Articles and Photographs: Romina Rodela
Country: Italy
Type of resources involved: Village Commons

The natural area:
The Karst is a limestone plateau of about 550 km2 that extends from the Trieste Gulf in the North East of Italy to the Vipava valley in South West of Slovenia. It is formed by carbonate rocks that are water-soluble and enable the immediate infiltration of water into the underground system and is a fragile natural area that hosts natural habitats protected under national laws (natural reserves) as well as European directives (the Habitat Directive). In recent years the Karst was subject to substantial anthropogenic pressures that include large infrastructural projects e.g., industrial zones, high-way, and urbanisation e.g., new settlements. Numerous studies report about the implications of human induced pressures and warn against negative effects on karst hydrology and. Given the high vulnerability of this natural area the study of man-nature interaction is of great interest.

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The institutional context:
The Karst also is a transboudnary area that lies between Slovenia and Italy. In the East the management of natural resources is subject to Slovene institutions and law, while on the West it is subject to the Italian law and institutions. In this contest of a research interest is that on the Italian side of the Karst fully operating village commons can be found, which communities are where a group of native villagers owns collectively land, resources and real estate managed and used according to long established practice. Accounting for the history of this territories where Slavic, Latin and Germanic culture have mixed it is not a surprise that all of the members of these communities / village commons belong to the Slovene ethnic minority and have Slovene as the main language. Also, on the Slovene side of the Karst landscape common property is found but due to the specifics of country history this does not take the form of village commons. In the Slovene Karst while (certain) natural resources are managed collectively ownership (and thus responsibility) is individual. That is, on the Italian Karst common pool resources are indivisible, while on the Slovene Karst common pool resources are divisible.

The case
Across the 33 village commons located on the Italian Karst, property is inalienable and it belongs to the household, the family group more precisely (i.e., communion familiari). The majority of the Natura 2000 sites of the Trieste Province are located on land owned by the village commons. Yet, also a good portion of the public infrastructure e.g., roads, high-way, electrical grids, supplying nearby urban areas is cutting across land owned by the village commons. Village commons have an important role in the management of natural resources in the Karst.

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