I was always interested in conifers and wanted to study their interactions. During my internship, I got to work in a Pine-Oak forest on the Northwest side of Mt. Etna, Italy. This part, known as Mt. Egitto, is one of the few remaining old forests with old oaks (Quercus pubescens). My task was to study the interaction of old oaks and planted pines and the conservation of Oaks.

I started my internship at Giacche Verdi Bronte in late April in Bronte, a town on Etna famous for its well-known pistachios. The accommodation was provided by the organisation and I shared my apartment with other Erasmus interns and European solidarity corps volunteers coming from different countries. For the first few weeks, I was engaged in environmental education activities at local schools and learning basic Italian. Education focused on how to protect and keep the soil healthy through various visual activities. In the second week, a Bayerischen Rundfunk team documented the volunteers’ work and life in the organisation.

After a month I started my research study on Mt. Egitto. Mt. Egitto is a small secondary eruptive cone on the north-western slope of Mt. Etna at an altitude of around 1600m asl, surrounded by lava fields in zone A of Parco dell’Etna. Old oaks dominated Mt. Egitto but around the 1960s forest department planted pines (Pinus nigra) all over the forest as a reforestation drive. Due to being densely planted, they didn’t start competing with themselves but also the slow-growing old oaks. Many centuries-old oaks have already died because the pines displaced them. My task was to examine the condition of the oaks that were still alive and to identify the pines for thinning in order to protect these oaks. I also proposed to study herb diversity in pure pine and mixed oak-pine stands, which I did. As predicted, I found higher diversity in mixed oak-pine stands than in pure pine stands. The software tools such as R Studio for result analysis and GIS for mapping were also used for the final report. I also had the opportunity to participate in another project on soil health in agriculture for a short time, looking at how soil health is improved by switching from conventional to ecological farming methods.

The house was located 2 minutes from the workplace and was shared by all interns and volunteers. Since we were from different cultures, there was an exchange of culture, ideas, and most importantly, cooperation in living sustainably. There were some volunteers who were not interested in the work, less cooperative, and unfriendly to other interns and to the office, but actions were taken against them. Others were cooperative and we often had discussions about sustainable living at work and at home. The office had weekly discussions about environmental issues and ideas for a sustainable future. Since most of the European solidarity corps volunteers had just finished school, this was good for them in understanding the issues we face and coming up with innovative ideas for environmental protection.

During my stay, I had the opportunity to go on numerous hikes on Mount Etna with my supervisor, including Grotta Del Gelo (an ice cave), and a night hike to see the lava flow. I also had the opportunity to go camping in southern Sicily in May and in the Nabrodi Mountains in August. Hiking and camping were excellent opportunities to spend time with locals and learn about the problems caused by climate change. During my vacation, I visited Sicily, Rome and the Alps.

Environmental degradation is a major issue all over the world. In some places, the effects are much more extreme than in others, but all ecosystems are interconnected and affect us all. Old-growth forests are dying out all over the world. Similar problems of old trees being replaced by young, planted trees exist in other parts of Europe and even in parts of my home country, India. The internship helped me better understand the problem and how it is being addressed. Interacting with other interns who are working on improving soil quality or how to make the city more sustainable showed me that we are all working on different problems but have the same goals. I feel that I have greater awareness regarding environmental degradation through my internship experience than I had before. This internship was a great opportunity to share ideas, cooperation, and a never-forgettable experience. I like to thank Giacche Verdi Bronte and Erasmus+ for giving me such a wonderful opportunity.