Participatory management of wildlife in protected areas: the experience of the Red Deer census in Foreste Casentinesi National Park.

Graziano Capaccioli
Published: 08 July 2020
Last edited: 05 October 2020
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In Foreste Casentinesi National Park, the annual census of Red Deer, based on the vocal rutting monitoring, has become a very important event involving for three days and nights more than 600 volunteers that arrive from all over Italy and abroad, belonging to different categories: wildlife managers, scientists, rangers, students, hunters, environmentalists and ordinary volunteers. All the involved volunteers are requested to spend many hours in the night outside. They are divided in couples, listening to rutting deer and registering data. During the days, they attend seminars, training lessons and moments of conviviality. The original goal of monitoring the Red Deer population for managing purposes is now accompanied by other important objectives: removal of cultural barriers between people from very different cultural and social backgrounds about nature conservation; nature tourism opportunity; social experience, creating a strong feeling with the Park.


West and South Europe
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Temperate deciduous forest
Ecosystem services
Local actors
Outreach & communications
Protected and conserved areas governance
Species management
Sustainable financing
Inefficient management of financial resources
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Social conflict and civil unrest
Sustainable development goals
SDG 4 – Quality education
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Business engagement approach
Indirect through consumers


Pratovecchio Stia, Province of Arezzo, Italy | Santa Sofia, Province of Forlì-Cesena, Italy
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The original challenge of the project was the possibility of monitoring the deer population of the Park in a less expensive way, involving hundreds of volunteers.

The experience shows that this kind of participatory wildlife management is an excellent way to reduce cultural conflicts on wildlife management between different categories of stakeholders like hunters, environmentalists, animal activists, students, rangers and others. This actually is the most important social and cultural goal of the census.

Another important goal is the opportunity for the annual deer census to become a popular event, advertised in local, national and international press and media. The deer census, based on nature conservation, is now a very efficient touristic ambassador of the national park with relevant and sustainable economic effects. It has become an important touristic attraction in the low season of end of September.


  1. The national park and its conservation and scientific activities.
  2. The local economy, for the economic benefits of this solution, expecially in terms of tourism. 
  3. All the participants, because of the cultural experience offered.

How do the building blocks interact?

One of the biggest challenges for National Parks is getting public acceptance.

This result has proved possible by transforming a scientific monitoring activity (the red deer census) into an occasion for social meeting and exchange and at the same time in a tourism and economic event.

The overall success of the Park's action cannot be separated from the connection between these aspects.

The main goal of the Park of managing wildlife through a big deer census is possible to reach only if hundreds of volunteers from all over Italy decide to participate spending their time and their money. These volunteers, looking for a scientific experience, find also a special occasion of meeting people of different background and making new friends. Spending some days in the Park "due to" the deer, the volunteers activate a green tourism economy and the local people have the proof that the National Park protection activities are also an occasion of enhancing economic progress. 

All these relationships make the park successful.


Participatory managing of protected areas is an important way to increase the acceptance of nature conservation and, of course, to save money for monitoring activities. The annual Red Deer census open to every kind of passionate volunteer, in the last eleven years has demonstrated to be an appropriate tool for the Park to:

  • give an opportunity to different categories of people to discuss about nature conservation, listening in the wild during the night to the impressive rutting activity of red deer;
  • create an occasion of nature tourism in a low season period for very motivated and interested visitors;
  • create an occasion of promoting the National Park at national and international level, thanks to all the news and articles about this unusual and fascinating activity.



Emanuele Perez

The annual deer census of Foreste Casentinesi National Park, in a period when the beech forests start to turn coloured in a thousand facets, is a great occasion for hundreds of people to live wildlife management "from inside", sharing an incredible emotional and scientific event with many unknown and culturally different people.

Spending three nights in the protected forests of the park (next to a ranger, a researcher or, why not, to a young and motivated hunter with a different point of view), listening and counting the suggestive rutting of the deer and sharing fear, emotions, chills and scientific knowledge is something unexpected that no one can ever forget. 

The social events in the three days program (scientific meetings, social dinners, guided excursions and official "wolf howling monitoring session") complete the experience and create the opportunity to get to know new people both for personal and job reasons.

The hundreds of volunteers coming from all Italian regions and from abroad are hosted in groups by the National Park in private accomodation facilities inside the protected area, and this is another important occasion to have relationships with the local population.

After this experience, a very strong bond is created between each participant and the National Park's atmosphere and that is why more than 60 % of the people return the following year to repeat the experience. All of them become "friends" of the National Park and will defend it for the rest of their life.

Also for the National Park staff, who have to work hard all year long to organize the deer census involving about 650 people, this experience is quite important to better understand the feeling of different categories of stakeholders involved in nature conservation and wildlife management and this is absolutely necessary when you work for nature conservation.

The original goal of monitoring the deer population in a scientific but inexpensive way becomes then secondary. This experience clearly demonstrates that participatory management in nature conservation is definately the best solution.

Contributed by

andrea.gennai_38639's picture

Andrea Gennai Ente Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona e Campigna