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Basilicata - The Natural Environment

If we exclude the narrow coastal plains facing the Gulf of Taranto, Basilicata is completely mountainous, with mountains which rise to over 2,000 m. (the Pollino Massif, 2,248 m., on the Calabrian border; Mount Sirino, 2,005 m. near the border with Campania). The Fossa Bradanica, a deep tectonic valley furrowed by the Basentello-Bradano and partly filled with river sediments, sharply separates the Preapennine tablelands of the Murge from the higher and larger mountains of the Lucanian Apennines, which cover most of the region from the volcanic Vulture Massif (1,321 m.) to the Pollino group.

Most Basilicata rivers flow into the Ionian Sea; the Bradano, Basento, Cavone, Agri and Sinni flow into the Gulf of Taranto with a course generally oriented from northwest to southeast; they are fast-flowing with very wide beds, covered by large quantities of coarse detritus, swept downstream during the violent and sudden floods. The Ofanto river, which crosses the north of Basilicata, flows into the Adriatic Sea, while the western part of the region channels all its waters to the Platano and Noce rivers, which flow into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Of the natural lakes, it is worth mentioning the two picturesque, though very small, Monticchio, crater lakes in the Vulture area and Lake Sirino, on the western border of the Sirino mountain. Basilicata also has many artificial basins, such as the Lake of San Giuliano (on the Bradano River), Gannano (on the Agri River) and Pertusillo, in the high Agri valley.

The climate is decidedly continental in the higher and most internal parts of the region, while in the coastal areas it is mainly mediterranean.

In Basilicata forests cover only 8% of the territory, it which was cleared last century to provide timber and arable land. The Mount Pollino area, on the Calabria border, has rich woodland and scrub, green pastures full of flowers and incomparable scenery. Pinus leucodermis, a real living fossil, now very rare, flourishes majestically on the most impervious limestone rocks; the slopes of the massif, however, are covered with immense beechwoods, often wild and solitary, and the lower areas by the remains of what were once luxuriant oak forests, including varieties ranging from the Turkey oak to the white oak, and from the holm oak to the common oak tree. Spontaneous formations of silver fir grow in the northeast belt. The Pollino forests are still inhabited by rare animals such as the wolf, wild boar, otter, the European wild cat and even the roe deer; birdlife is represented by the golden eagle, black woodpecker, raven, peregrine falcon and kites. The Sinni River valley is mantled by some of the most important forests of the Pollino Massif, eg. the Cugno dell'Acero and Duglia firwoods and the Bosco Magnano near San Severino Lucano.

An unusual environment, for the Apennines, is that of the Lucanian Dolomites, a small but picturesque chain of high needles and rugged peaks, whose appearance recalls the morphology of the Dolomites, rising on the right side of the Basento River valley near Trivigno. In the uneroded areas, thick timber woods of black hornbeam and `eastern' hornbeam are to be found; interesting or rare species which blossom on the bare rocks, include red valerian, honesty, the long-spurred pansy and the pale toadflax. The steep rocks offer a habitat for many birds, including the peregrine and lanner falcons, the kestrel and rockpigeon.

A note on the environment: the phenomena of hydrogeological damage (typical of the calcareous and clay soil in the interior of the region) caused by indiscriminate forest clearance carried out in the last century, are being slowly remedied through reforestation and appropriate land management.

An interesting forest environment, one of the most intact in southern Italy, is that of Gallipoli-Cognato, which extends on the right side of the middle course of the Basento River in the municipalities of Oliveto Lucano, Calciano and Accettura, in the province of Matera. The most common tree in the forest is the Turkey oak, found from the bottom of the Basento River valley to the top of Mount La Croccia (1,151 m.).

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