The peat excavation

The Natural Reserve “Torbiere del Sebino” is located on the Southern Lake Iseo’s shore, and it is the most important wet area in the Province of Brescia because of its wideness.

In the last 800 thousand years many glacial and interglacial periods have followed one another. The ice would move forward in the colder times and retreat when the temperature rose, taking with it lots of debris that would gather at the end of the ice.

At the end of the last glaciation, about 10.000 years ago, the melting of the Adamello’s glacier gave life to the Lake Iseo, that included also the area where now there is the Reserve. With the following lowering of the Lake’s level, the Torbiere, with their ponds, were isolated and they developed a luxuriant greenery, common in wet areas.

Vegetal materials, which have been deposited at the bottom, created a layer of organic material that couldn’t decompose properly because of the lack of oxygen. This organic material fossilized and gave life to the peat.

The “Torbiere” were meant to change their appearance when, at the end of 1700s, it was discovered that the peat, after it had dried out, had a heat output higher than the wood. Because of that, the peat started to be used by some local families for the domestic heating.

The intensive peat digging started in the second half of the 1800s, when the Italian Peat Society from Turin bought most of the Torbiere’s land.

The digging was done manually with the method of humid excavation: once the first layer of grass and soil had been removed, it would appear the water. Then there was the excavation made with a sharp tool that resembled a cage and that was 90 centimetres long, called “Luccio”.

The digging was made mostly by the local manpower organized in little teams of 4/5 men each: there was a digger and a helper that took out big parallelepipeds, going under until they reached the bottom of the deposit; one of the man was the loader-cutter and his job was to cut the peat in smaller pieces; a couple of carrier (called “horses”) had to move the peat using a hand-cart in designed areas for a first exsiccation.

The use of the peat ceased completely in the 1950s when the Torbiere, from a grassy meadow, became a floated area called Lame with big changes both in landscapes and in ecology.

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