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Molise - The Natural Environment

The regional territory is nearly all mountainous (55% of the surface area) or hilly, with limited flat ground in the lower valleys and along the Adriatic coast; the Apennines divide Molise into isolated mountains and a chaotic array of hills, which stretch within a few kilometres of the coast, making communications difficult and creating a state of isolation.

The highest mountains are at the heart of the region and are part of `Samnite Apennine' (northern and eastern parts of Appennino Campano which the Bocca di Forl (891 m.) separates from the Abruzzese Apennines) which include the southern extreme of the Meta mountains, here culminating at 2,185 m., the northern slope of the calcareous Matese massif (Mt. Miletto, 2,050 m.) and the Mount Mutria group; in addition, the Molise border passes the Apennine watershed, including the upper valley of the Volturno River, between the Mainardes and Matese.

Towards the Adriatic, the mountainous landscape of the Apennines is succeeded by hills. Here the land becomes increasingly lower as it approaches the Adriatic and meets the sea, dominated by a coastline, often high and picturesque but without ports and generally uniform, except for the modest deltas of the Trigno and the Biferno rivers and the small Termoli headland.

The only Molise river whose course is entirely in regional territory is the Biferno, which, like the Trigno and the Fortore, flows into the Adriatic. These rivers, crossing the transversal valleys to the Apennines lie semi-parallel to each other, flowing for a long distance at the limits of the regional territory onto the Tyrrhenian slope of the Volturno and the Tamaro. Only the upper parts of their basins lie in Molise. All the waterways are greatly affected by seasonal variations of the precipitations and consequently are torrent-like.

As a result of environmental differences between the coastline and the inland mountains, and varying distances from the sea, the climate of Molise has a wide range of characteristics, from the typically maritime (modest variations in temperature, mild weather in all seasons, scarce precipitations) to the continental characteristics of the mountainous interior (marked differences in temperature in contrasting seasons and between day and night, heavy precipitations, including snow, up to over 2,500 mm./year, at higher altitudes). Rainfall is most frequent and heaviest in autumn and spring, though of short duration, but lasts longer in winter, with peak levels in November and the lowest levels in July.

In the north of the region some small nature reserves have been created, including Collemelucco and Montedimezzo which protect splendid woods in the municipalities of Pescolanciano and Vastogirardi. The environment of this Molise woodland is a sequence of gentle hills intersected by low-lying ground with many rivers, and often snowclad in winter. Here, the cool climate has aided the preservation of some belts purely of Norway spruce, an extraordinary survivor of the ancient Apenninic vegetation.

The results of haphazard felling and uncontrolled grazing in the past are evident where wild rose, hawthorn and briers are growing in the now thin firwoods while at the fringes, towards the clearings, straggle honeysuckle, agaric and spindle trees.

The fauna in this zone is not particularly abundant, but there are some interesting species: the wild boar is quite common, as is the fox. Of the birds, the most obvious are the diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey, such as the buzzard, the barn owl and various migrants.

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