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Sardegna - The Natural Environment

The morphology of the island is the result of complex tectonic processes and volcanic activity in the Cenozoic era on a mass of Paleozoic rock upthrust from the sea, later severely affected by late Paleozoic orogenesis. The Sardinian mountains are a chaotic series of deeply eroded ranges, groups, plateaux and uplands, scattered in apparent disarray.

A geological characteristic is the Campidano tectonic plain filled with Eocenic and Pleistocenic deposits, which lies northwest-southeast across the south of the island, linking the gulfs of Oristano and Cagliari and dividing mineral-rich mountainous Sulcis and Iglesiente districts to the southwest, from the much more extensive mountain regions in the north and east which cover most of the island, reaching 1,834 m. at Punta La Marmora, in the Gennargentu group. Most of the coast is lined with cliffs and is picturesque.

Sardinian water courses are characteristically fast flowing, with a relatively high water volume in winter, reduced to a trickle in summer. The principal rivers are the Flumendosa and Cedrino to the east, the Mannu-Coghinas, emptying into the Gulf of Asinara, and the Tirso, which flows into the Gulf of Oristano. The most important lakes are the coastal basins on the shores of the gulfs of Oristano and Cagliari and the artificial lakes Omodeo and Coghinas.

The climate is Mediterranean with long hot dry breezy summers and short mild rainy winters, except at high altitudes. Average annual temperatures range from 18 C along the coastal belt to 14 C inland. Precipitations are largely confined to the winter months and distribution is somewhat irregular, with as much as 1,300 mm./year in the highest areas. The prevailing wind is north-westerly, which blows over the island in all seasons, particularly sweeping the west side.

Sardinia is the reign of the Mediterranean scrub, widespread also over the inland areas as a result of the fairly low altitude, and generally consisting of a low covering of cistus, varieties of broom and heather. In more favourable spots, this gives way to small thick stands of mastic, strawberry trees and wild olive. The once extensive woodland was partly destroyed last century and all that remains are oak, holly oak and chestnut woods covering 17% of regional territory. Particularly important are the cork woods, found mainly in Gallura and on the Al, Bitti and Buddus uplands.

A characteristic element of Sardinian wildlife is the presence of the monk seal and the mouflon or wild goat which, together with the Sardinian sparrow, are found only in this region. Vipers, badgers, wolves and bears are absent altogether, and certain other animals, such as deer and foxes, have developed individual characteristics so divergent from those of the species that they are to be regarded as purely Sardinian.

In central-east Sardinia, Gennargentu with its great forests and wild rugged morphology is an interesting environment that is almost unique in the Mediterranean, with vegetation that varies in accordance with the distance from the sea and the nature of the ground. A wild impenetrable mountainous zone, practically uninhabited, is Monte Arcosu, a great unbroken wilderness stretching over 50,000 hectares of Iglesiente and culminating in Monte is Caravius, between Santadi and Capoterra. This zone is famous for one of the last surviving herds of Sardinian fallow deer, found nowhere else in the world, and its wildlife includes wild boar, hares, foxes and the Sardinian wildcat, as well as rare birds, such as Bonelli's eagle, the golden eagle and the Sardinian partridge.

On the central-west coast of Sardinia, the Sinis peninsula juts into the Sardinian Sea, delimiting the Gulf of Oristano to the north; this immensely interesting environment is characterized by lonely wide open spaces and a grim landscape. Natural complements to the peninsula are the Stagni dell'Oristanese, famous for their birdlife. Flowers include the rare viola arborescente and the Capo Mannu rockrose.

The Stagno di Molentargius near Cagliari, a characteristic salt marsh and one of the most important wetlands internationally, succeeds in attracting an incredible concentration of birds, in spite of the encroaching city. While common water birds such as duck, waders and common species of marshland birds flock there together with common gulls and the little gull, the lord of the marshes is the pink flamingo.

Nor far from Alghero in northwest Sardinia lies Capo Caccia, a majestic limestone outcrop dropping sheer for a hundred feet or so to the sea. This fascinating place is particularly well known for its caves, especially Neptune's grotto, to which access is gained from the water or by a long flight of steps. Though the vegetation on the cape is somewhat thin, it includes a number of native species, some of them found nowhere else in the world.

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