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Emilia Romagna - The Natural Environment

Emilia-Romagna is a region with a relatively simple morphology constituted of only two distinct parts: along the boundary with Liguria, Tuscany and the Marches, rise the Tusco-Emilian Apennines, at their feet a large stretch of the Po Valley, south of the river and the entire Romagnola plain.

The Apennines are not particularly high here (Mount Cimone, 2,165 m., Monte Cusna, 2,121 m.) and are rarely rugged. From the watershed, a series of nearly parallel ridges thrusts outwards towards the plain, progressively decreasing in height, sharply separated from the transverse river valleys. Beyond the extreme outlying hills lie the undulations of the stony upper plain, formed by the fusion of fluvial detritus, beyond which extends the wide fertile alluvial plain.

Of the great swamps, which at one time characterized the lower Emilia and Romagna plain before systematic regulation of the waterways, remain only the Valleys of Comacchio and the stretches of water belonging to the Po Delta. Except for this river, which flows along the northern boundary of the region, all the water courses are of a torrential nature. In autumn and spring they are in spate while the water level is at a minimum in summer. They flow from the Apennine watershed, cutting parallel down hill before reaching the plain and flowing from the right into the Po (Tidone, Trebbia, Nure, Arda, Taro, Parma, Enza, Secchia, Panaro), or directly into the Adriatic Sea (Reno, Lamone, Savio).

The climate of Emilia-Romagna has sub-continental characteristics, with cold winters and hot summers, moderated, however, by sea breezes along the Adriatic, while the temperatures are closely affected by altitude in the Apennine region. The rainfall, more abundant in autumn and spring, increases progressively from the plain to the mountainous areas, where values may rise, above 3,000 mm./year. Fog is frequent on the plains in the cold season. Natural vegetation has been greatly reduced by agriculture. The forests, at one time very extensive, today are small and cover only 17.2 percent of the region: almost absent from the plains, with the exception of the beautiful pine forests (those of Cervia and Ravenna are two of the most famous), the Mesola forest and a few wetlands, they appear on the outlying hills, with white oak, chestnut and Turkey oak up to approximately 900 m. Above this height, up to 1,600 m., lie beechwoods, with a variety of other species (mountain ash, white hornbeam, mountain elm, etc.), beyond which bilberries, juniper and gentian are found. One of the most important Apennine environments is that of the Casentinesi forests, bordering with Tuscany (in which two-thirds lie).

The fauna, partly introduced, includes red and roe deer, also indigenous animals, such as the fallow deer and moufflon. Other mammals present are the wildcat, badger and squirrel. One of the region's most important wetlands is Punte Alberete, between Ravenna and the Comacchio valley, characterized by an abundance of marshland vegetation with predominantly forest trees on the dunes and aquatic flora in the hollows. This is probably one of the most extensive and remarkable waterlogged forests in Italy, whit white poplar, white willow, elm, ash and many other trees. In addition, there are varieties of shrubs and colourful flowers, with stretches of cane-brakes, bulrushes and reed beds and typical waterside flowers, such as the marsh iris, and aquatic flowers, like the water-lily.

The wildlife includes numerous birds (particularly waders, duck and other waterside birds), large numbers of amphibians (most important are, the swamp turtle and the crested newt) as well as fish. In the hills the argillaceous nature of the soil, together with climatic conditions and surface features, has given rise to characteristic forms of erosion caused by the combined activity of free-flowing and channelled waters, and the so-called calanchi, long narrow, close-set runnels, divided by sharp vertical walls. This gives entire slopes a curiously impressive appearance, and being devoid of vegetation, an air of desolation.

An unusual environment, as far as scenery and its morphological characteristics are concerned, and exceptional from mineralogical point of view, is that of the `Gessi Bolognesi', round Bologna: among clay and Miocenic sulphurous chalk formations, an exceptional variety of chalk forms are found, in grottoes, dolines and hidden valleys. The vegetation is interesting due to the presence of warm climate species, such as the holly oak, fillirea variabilis, buckthorn and toad flax; at least 550 different plants have been listed, including rare species such as the Cheilantes Persica fern, once believed to be extinct. Another environment of great interest to the naturalist, at the margins of the Bolognese Apennines, is that of the salse (the most beautiful and famous are those of Nirano, near Fiorano Modenese), small mud cones or cracks that expel muddy flows sometimes with a bituminous content, associated with underground hydrocarbon deposits.

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