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Nature protection at a European level

The SCI/SPA IT1160056 Alpi Marittime

The Site of Community Interest (SCI) and Special Protection Area (SPA)IT1160056 Alpi Marittime is the largest in Piedmont and covers a vast portion of the Alpi Marittime Park,including the Valletta and Reduc valleys in Valle Stura di Demonte, almost all of the Valle Gesso, the upper part of Val Grande di Palanfré and the Col di Tenda in Val Vermenagna. It ranges in elevation between 700 metres at the valley bottom to 3297 metres at the South Peak of Argentera, the heighest peak in the Maritime Alps.

The rock substrata influence the scenery noticeably. Most of the territory is marked by the presence of crystalline rocks, creating a harsh, rugged, high-mountain environment, with deep, steep-sided valleys, vast areas with little vegetation and deep avalanche gullies. Elsewhere sedimentary rocks are prevalent, here limestone cliffs and vast scree slopes, open grassland and karst features dominate the scenery. Lower down on the south-facing slopes we find areas of "submediterranean" vegetation.

The perennial snowfields and remaining relict glaciers, are of particular interest, the alpine lakes and the high altitude hygrophilous marshland environment around them are also of glacial origin. In this area you can note the transition through the various altitudinal vegetation zones from the montane zone to the snow zone. From the valley bottom we see broadleaf woodland, mostly beech, but also acer-tilia-fraxinus associations and oak (Quercus petraea), followed by smaller areas of larch, spruce and fir and some rare stands of mountain pine (Pinus montana); climbing higher still, we find wide areas of shrubs and bushes, until we reach the alpine meadows and rocks of the higher reaches.

The size of the area, the range in altitude, the variety of rock types, the geographical situation close to the Mediterranean and the consequent succession of different microclimates, mean that this site contains, more than any other alpine area, numerous botanical and floral peculiarities, including rare and endemic species with a limited range.

The juniper bushes clinging to the rocks in Rocca di San Giovanni-Saben are particularly important. The two species that characterise this habitat are Juniperus phoenicea, which has its main Piedmontese site here, and Juniperus thurifera, only found in Piedmont, and indeed in Italy, here and in the neighbouring Valle Stura.

The caves, too, are of considerable interest, hosting a number of endemic species, including some spiders and mites that have recently been classified. The ancient banned beech stands at Palanfré, above Valdieri, in the Valletta and at San Giacomo, are particularly noteworthy, with trees up to 300 years old and up to a metre in diameter.

The flora has been studied thoroughly, over 1800 species have been classified including many with conservation priorities. 31 are included in the national Red List and 54 in the regional Red List, and there are 3 of community interest: Gentiana ligustica, Saxifraga florulenta, Aquilegia alpina. The presence of a considerable number of endemic species gives this site a botanic importance, in particular the local endemic species found in the Maritime and Ligurian Alps like Saxifraga florulenta, Silene cordifolia, Galeopsis reuteri, Primula allionii, Campanula macrorrhiza, Iberis aurosica subsp. nana, Helictotrichon setaceum, Phyteuma cordatum, Helianthemum lunulatum, Viola argenteria (which is found in the Maritime Alps but also in Corsica), Viola valderia, Potentilla valderia, Micromeria marginata.

In relation to fauna the site is of great importance for its birds, so much as to have been classified as a special protection area (SPA). 200 species have been counted, of which about half are nesting. Bird life includes alpine species such as rock ptarmigan and Alpine chaffinches and Mediterranean species such as scops owl and nightjar.There are about 40 species of mammal present either permanently or sporadicly. The most significant presences are those of species of Community interest, including the Wolf (Canis lupus), priority species, a permanent presence since its return in the 1990s after almost a century of absence.The bat community is also remarkable, 13 species, some of which have their wintering sites here (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum and Myotis nattereri, while other colonies are known to breed here (Rhinolophus hipposideros, Myotis mystacinus, Pipistrellus kuhlii,Pipistrellus pipistrellus, and Plecotus auritus vel. macrobullaris). Finally we should mention the hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), distinctive and rare rodent living in the shrub stratum mixed deciduous forests.

The herpetofauna counts 4 amphibian and 8 reptile species, of which, 1 and 4 species respectively are of Community interest. The most important species is the cave salamander (Speleomantes strinatii), endemic to the Maritime and Ligurian Alps.

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