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Liguria - The Natural Environment

Liguria spreads in an arch from the mouth of Roia to that of the Magra rivers, embracing the south side of the Ligurian Alps and Apennines (separated by Colle di Cadibona) as well as a large part of the Po Valley flanks. Most of the territory is mountainous or hilly with narrow strips of fairly low terrain along tracts of the coast or near several low alluvial valleys. The highest mountains rise in the west of the region (Mount Saccarello, 2,200 m.) where the landscape becomes decidedly mountainous: to the east, the mountains are lower and the landscape becomes much gentler, broken at intervals by rocky spurs.

Numerous valleys penetrate the mountains: those to the south cut mainly across the lie of the mountains, and their rivers are generally fast-flowing torrents; however, the most important valleys (of the Arroscia, Lavagna and Vara rivers) lie longitudinally. To the north of the watershed, the mountains are broken high in the valleys by tributaries of the Po, principally the Tanaro, Bormida di Millesimo, Bormida di Spigno, Scrivia, Trebbia and the Aveto.

The southerly exposition of most of the region, the lie of the mountains providing protection against continental influxes from the Po Valley and the long stretch of coastline are the principal factors making for the particularly mild climate of most of Liguria. On the southern side, the climate is typically Mediterranean with limited variations in temperature, mild winters and cool ventilated summers; in the higher inland areas and the Po Valley side it becomes increasingly continental. The precipitations are more abundant in autumn and winter, increasing from west to east; in the high basins of the Trebbia and Aveto rivers, they exceed 2,000 mm./year, reaching as much as 3,000 mm. in some areas.

Woodlands cover an area of 283,256 hectares, equal to 52.3% of the territory (Liguria is the most heavily wooded region in Italy). The vegetation of the area is distinctly Mediterranean up to a height of 500 m. with evergreen scrub and vast woods of Aleppo and maritime pines. Beyond this lies the chestnut belt, up to approximately 800 m., with some black hornbeams, flowering ash, elm, ash and oaks. From 800 m. to 1,500 m. there are beechwoods and larch and fir from 1,500 m. to 2,000 m. The indigenous vegetation of Liguria, has however, been partly transformed by man, with the introduction of various cultivations and plants from other countries, which have found an environment favourable to growth.

From a botanical point of view, the famous Portofino promontory is particularly interesting; here, two completely different species of vegetation, Mediterranean and middle European-mountain, grow in close proximity.

It is here that the scrub reaches its highest point and the chestnut woods extend so far down as almost to touch the sea: the thermal inversion phenomenon, causing plant life to exchange roles and environment for climatic and ecological reasons is singularly frequent. Sofar, more than 700 different species of plants have been listed, on the limited terrain of this promontory. On the southern slopes, facing the sea, the Mediterranean scrub consists of underwood, thick bushes, tangled brushwood, stands of evergreen oak, beautiful Aleppo and maritime pinewoods, strips of fragmented meadow and long-tufted grasses.

The northern side, on the other hand, is predominantly chestnut woods and mixed woodland, with flowering ash, oak, hazel and black hornbeam; spectacular plants such as the large Mediterranean spurge stand out at intervals and there are interesting indigenous plants, including Saxifraga cochlearis and Centaurea aplolepa lunensis. There is still some wildlife, though sorely depleted: vertebrates include squirrels and woodpeckers and there are many indigenous invertebrates, some of them rarities.

Another typically Ligurian environment is the Cinque Terre where vines are grown on artificial terracing, an unusual method of cultivation. The vegetation is largely Aleppo and maritime pinewoods, with the interesting association of evergreen oak and cork trees enlivened by large Mediterranean spurge, fleecy cistus and groundsels.

The fauna includes the rare red partridge in its original native Ligurian state, the small European gecko and the magnificent butterfly known locally as the `ninfa del corbezzolo' (nymph of the strawberry-tree).

Mount Beigua in the Ligurian Apennines (1,287 m.) has a particularly interesting ecosystem. The vegetation on its south side is woodland (partly planted) with maritime, black, and Scots pines, while the north side is mainly mixed woodland with oak, beech and chestnut trees, mountain meadows and wet peatbogs. An indigenous flower is the Bertoloni columbine.

It would appear that the fauna, though depleted, still includes the rare otter, the short-toed eagle (which nests only in this part of Liguria) and the large speckled lizard, one of the most interesting examples of the local wildlife.

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