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Sardinian shepherd diverts controversial tourist development

Project must be rethought after ruling that 81-year-old Ovidio Marras is entitled to continue to use sheep track

An 81-year-old shepherd has forced some of the biggest names in Italian business to change a controversial tourist development on one of the last untouched stretches of the country’s coastline as it crossed a path he uses to herd his flock of six sheep.

A court in Cagliari, Sardinia, has upheld a ruling by a judge in May that Ovidio Marras, who lives by himself with his sheep and speaks only local dialect, is entitled to continue driving his flock across a track on which developers have already begun construction.

The €150m Capo Malfatano resort, due for completion in 2014, will have two luxury hotels and more than 30 villas. Among the investors in the scheme is the Benetton fashion group, through a subsidiary that holds a 24% stake. A source close to the developers said 20 of the 140 beds in the hotel would have to be scrapped.

At his cottage – now surrounded by building works – Marras said: “The land is theirs now, and everyone can do what they like in their own home.

“But they never offered me anything for the track. They just built on it and that was that.”

The shepherd is among the last inhabitants of a furradroxiu, a traditional pastoralist’s cottage with an adjacent pen for the animals. Marras’s stands a four-minute walk from the Tuerredda inlet, an arc of ultra-fine, yellow-white sand separated from a tiny island of the same name by limpid, blue-green sea.

His niece, Maria Consolata Angioni, said: “After lunch, he takes a rest and then goes down to the sea where he has a little boat, and he goes fishing. I come and keep him company because he’s never married and lives alone.”

The resort project has been bitterly contested by conservationists and environmentalists, but is backed by the local authority, which hopes it will help to reduce the area’s chronic unemployment.

After Marras hired a local lawyer, Judge Susanna Zanda ruled that the developers should “immediately reintegrate Marras in joint possession of the track”. They appealed, but lost their case.

The company, Sitas, says its development, which also includes a convention centre, will “insert itself sensitively into the countryside and the natural environment”. Sitas supporters say it is only planning to build on 40 of its the 700 hectares. But Maria Paola Morittu, legal adviser on Sardinia to heritage society Italia Nostra, said: “The project is simply devastating… The first phase is barely 300m from the sea’s edge, and even in the 1960s there’d have been an outcry.”

The area between Capes Malfatano and Spartivento is rich in archaeological treasures: a Roman villa and another house from the same period have been found. Changes have already been incorporated into the scheme because of the discovery of a Roman-era workshop, probably a brickworks.

The shore includes the remains of a Carthaginian port and the waters include a marine conservation area.

Sitas has promised that the resort will employ more than 500 people. The developers are also offering to pay for a new coastal access road. They have also offered the local authority more than 160 hectares of land for the creation of an environmental park in a protected area and a historical centre at the site of the ancient port.

A spokesman for the firm said: “It is our intention to continue with the project, and to that end we are assessing the relevant alterations, placing the emphasis on maximum attention to the countryside and full respect for the environment and the place in which we are operating, in accordance with a model of sustainable tourism that can [create] wealth for the territory.”

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