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Lombardia - The Natural Environment

Three distinct natural zones can be fairly easily distinguished in the Lombardy region: mountain, hill and plain. The first is an alpine zone including the Lepontine and Rhaetian Alps (Piz Bernina, 4 055 m.), the Orobic Alps, the Ortles and Adamello massifs; a pre-alpine zone, its main peaks being the Grigne Group (2,410 m.), Resegone (1,875 m.) and Presolana (2,521 m.). The great Lombard lakes, all of glacial origin, lie in this zone. From west to east these are Lake Maggiore, Lake Lugano (only a small part is Italian), Lake Como, Lake Iseo, Lake Idro, then Lake Garda, the largest in Italy. South of the Prealps

lie the hills characterized by a successiono flow heights of morainic origin, formed during the last Ice Age and small barely fertile plateaux (locally called `groane'), with typical heaths and conifer woods. mabbio, Pusiano, Monate and Annone, are dotted amongst the hills.

The Plains of Lombardy, formed from alluvial deposits, can be divided into `upper' (permeable ground), and `lower' to the south of the so-called line of `fontanili' the spring waters rising on impermeable ground. Anomalous compared with the three distinctions already made is the `Oltrep Pavese', the Preapennine hills beyond the Po River. A number of rivers, all direct or indirect tributaries of the Po, cross the Plains of Lombardy. Major rivers, flowing west to east, are the Ticino, the outlet of Lake Maggiore, the Lambro, the Adda, outlet of Lake Como, the Mincio, outlet of Lake Garda, and the Oglio, the Lake Iseo outflow. There is a wide network of canals for irrigation purposes.

The climate of this region is continental, though with variations depending on altitude or the presence of inland waters. The continental nature of the climate is more accentuated on the plains, with high annual temperature changes (at Milan an average January temperature is 1.5 C and 24 C in July), and thick fog between October and February. The Prealpine lakes exercise a mitigating influence, permitting the cultivation of typically Mediterranean produce (olives, citrus fruit). In the Alpine zone, the valley floor is relatively mild in contrast with the colder higher areas (Bormio, 1,225 m.-1.4 C average in January, 17.3 C in July). Precipitations are more frequent in the Prealpine zone (up to 1,500-2,000 mm. annually) than on the plains and Alpine zones (600 mm. to 850 mm. annually).

Of vegetation on the plains, intensively cultivated for centuries, little of the original environment remains. Elm, alder, sycamore, poplar, willow and hornbeam woods and heaths are included now in certain protected areas such as the Parco del Ticino or the Parco delle Groane. In the area of the great Prealpine lakes, however, grow olive trees, cypresses and larches, as well as varieties of subtropical flora such as magnolias, azaleas, acacias, etc. The mountains have the zones of vegetation typical of the whole range of the Italian Alps. At a low level (up to approximately 1,100 m.) lie oak woods or broadleafed trees in general; on the mountain slopes (up to 2,000-2,200 m.) beech trees grow at the lowest limits, with conifer woods higher up. Shrubs such as rhododendron, dwarf pine and juniper are native to the summital zone (beyond 2,200 m.).

The numerous species of endemic flora (the Lombard native species), typical mainly of the Lake Como area, include some kinds of saxifrage, the Lombard garlic, groundsels bellflower and the cottony bellflowers.

There are many protected areas: most important is the Parco Nazionale dello Stelvio (national mountain park), the largest Italian Park, with typically alpine wildlife: red deer, roe-deer, ibex, chamois, foxes, ermine and also golden eagles; the Parco Regionale del Ticino was instituted in 1974 on the Lombard side of the Ticino River to protect and conserve one of the last major examples of fluvial forest in Northern Italy.

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