The Crete dell’Orcia Regional Natural Reserve is a small protected area bounded by the confluence of the Orcia River and its tributaries. Established in 2008, the reserve covers about 520 hectares in the UNESCO territory of the Val d’Orcia, to the southern edges of Tuscany, and lies between the territories of Pienza and Radicofani; the variety of endemic plant species, wildlife richness and landscape alternations make the area a place of great environmental interest.
The Crete dell'Orcia area develops along the Orcia river basin, which for about a kilometer defines the boundary of the reserve to the northeast; to the northwest flows the Landola stream, while the Stiantone and Sucenna streams mark its southern boundaries. The conformation of the land and the presence of river beds mark the hill profiles, characterized by gentle ridges that reach their highest elevation at 561 meters above sea level.
The appearance of the reserve is eclectic and varied: the clay soil, due to the ancient presence of a prehistoric sea, is subject to erosion phenomena that create striking ravines and areas rich in sparse and shrubby vegetation, while other areas are affected by the presence of pastures and traditional agriculture. There are also a few uncultivated areas and a forest with a small area that occupies the central part of the reserve. Throughout the area, it is possible to encounter small-sized lakes, artificial pools of water that blend well with the surrounding natural landscape.
The vegetation, which develops mainly in large areas of shrublands, includes resilient species such as broom, hawthorn, blackthorn and agazino. Endemic species tyipical of only a few areas of Tuscany also thrive in the reserve, such as the Artemisia cretacea and the Santolina etrusca, this latter grows mainly in riverbeds: in fact, it is possible to observe it near the Orcia and the Landola.
The Crete dell’Orcia Regional Natural Reserve is considered a Special Protection Area for the presence of an avifauna that includes species such as the Eurasian Owl (Burhinus oedicnemus), the Montagu’s harrier (Circus pygargu) and the Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus). Moreover, the area is rich in various passerine species, including the shrike, ortolan and quail, which can be seen to a greater extent where areas affected by grazing or agriculture develop. Terrestrial fauna is mainly concentrated near the grove, characterized by the typical Mediterranean maquis environment, habitat of hares, pheasants, wild boars, porcupines, deer and foxes.