Atlas of Natural Heritage
A business card to present to the world, thirteen and fifteen cards to tell the environmental wealth of the Maritime Mercantour cross-border territory. From the geographical position to the climate, from the geology to the botanical rarities, from the great herbivores to the tiniest invertebrates: an access key for all to the exceptional biodiversity of the two parks.
The Atlas is constantly being revised. The third edition will soon be published, expanded and updated based on the latest research results, which brings to light new aspects of the immense natural wealth of the two parks ever year.
At the extreme Southern Alps
Two Protected Natural Areas
At the southern end of the south-west Alps, between 1979 and 1980, the Mercantour National Park was established, in France, and the Forest Reserve and Palanfrè Lakes and the Argentera Natural Park in Italy. The two Italian protected areas were merged, in 1995, and gave birth to the Park of the Maritimes Alps. These areas have long benefited from a form of protection made by the presence of hunting on both sides. The two peaks are included in the list of sites of community interest (SCI) for the conservation of biodiversity in the Alps and other cross-border areas of the district which form an ecological network of almost 170.000 hectares.
Massif from the Crystalline Heart
Argentera - Mercantour
The Parks of the Maritime Alps and the Mercantour are characterized, from a geological point of view, by a great diversity which manifests, in particular, in what scholars define as the Crystalline Massif of the Argentera-Mercantour. This, of an elliptical shape with a major access oriented along the northwest-southeast direction, is surrounded by different structural units of sedimentary origin whose original features have been altered in park by Alpine metamorphism.
A Landscape Shaped by Glaciers
The Argentera-Mercantour Massif is located in the south-western Alps, near the Mediterranean and the Piedmont plain. With more than twenty peaks over 3000 meters, this mountain range is characterized by a morphology of deeply incised valleys, from the closure of the valleys and from the steep inclines. The relief is strongly influenced, in the central part, by the presence of crystalline massif, a portion of the rejuvenated old European continental crust and, in that periphery, large areas of sedimentary rocks are only affected by the Alpine orogenic cycle, arranged in festoons around the Massif crystal. The deglacial landscape now left is of great appeal, from würmian glacial erosion, which has shaped valleys and circles where, for the gneiss and Permian mudstones, have beautifully smoothed and striated surfaces.
Climate and hydrography
Alps under the Influence of the Sea
The climate of south-western Alps is influenced by its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea and mitigates the rigors of the winter season, due to uneven rainfall distribution and creates conditions of substantial drought in the summer. The area, for descriptive purposes, is divided into three climatic zones: north, central and east, the latter parallel to the border. The most rainfall is recorded in the eastern sector. The hydrographic network has on various macro-basins: three on the Italian side, six on the French. The rivers have a torrential regime characterized by higher flow rates during the late spring thaw and the autumn rains. There are numerous lakes in both protected areas.
The Use of the Soil
From the top of the Mountain
The comparative analysis of land use in the border area shows many traits common between the two parks, relating to being a typically alpine district. Nevertheless, the comparison between them show a clear lack of homogeneity in the categories of the represented soil, among which the contrast between the considerable extensions of the altitude of the grasslands on the French side and the width of the vegetated surfaces on the Italian one. Hence, one of the most interesting aspects of the border as a whole is the marked complementarity.
Habitat and endemism
A flora of 2400 species
The trans-boundary protected area, thanks to its unique biogeographical locations and geological and climatic diversity, is characterized by a unique variety of complex environments. There are about a dozen of the most interesting habitats, including the related Sites of Community Interest (Siti d’interesse comunitario or SIC). Added to that are many other areas collected by the Habitat Directive (Direttiva Habitat). For the same reasons, this area presents interesting flora of international importance, contributing to its reputation as one of the richest in species, reaching about 2400 unites, and the amplitude of the contingent endemic, in which are included ten restricted endemic species and fifty within a wider area.
A cross-border endemism
The Argentera Saxifrage is an alpine plant endemic to the crystalline Massif of the Mercantour Argentera. Its habitat is very specifically limited to cracks in siliceous rocks, preferably on the vertical walls. The populations consist of a few specimens, up to a few dozen. The biological and ecological characteristics of the plant, and its restricted distribution, make it of high natural value. Most of the distribution area of saxifrage falls within the boundaries of the two Parks
Rare and Vulnerable Species
Habitat and Bird Directives
The mosaic of habitats of the Mercantour and Maritime Alps has determined the presents of an impressive diversity of animal species, typical of the alpine fauna also of the Mediterranean. Contributing to this extraordinary biodiversity are large animals, but also smaller and more elusive ones. These species, with little known about them, but endemic in many cases, are the subject of research by two protected areas.
The Golden Eagle
Empress of the Sky
The golden eagle, a bird of prey of great size, has long been one of the emblematic species of the two parks, like the ibex. Today, its fame is shared with the recently reintroduced vulture. The whole population of eagles nesting in the area of influence of the two protected areas is estimated at approximately sixty pairs. This abundance is the result of joint security actions related to the status of the species in the applied regulations of the Italian and French parks.
The reintroduction of the bearded vulture
A long-term project
The bearded Vulture is the largest raptor of the Alps and also one of the rarest. The species is the subject of an international program of reintroduction in the Alps, which began in 1978. In 1993, the Mercantour and Maritime Alps Parks, the southern end of the Western Alps, became part of the project release. The reintroductions are conducted every other year, that of 2006 took place in the Maritime Alps Park, releasing twenty-nine birds. Recently, a couple was formed within the Stura Valley and they will soon give birth to the first young from within the influence of the two Parks.
A growing species
The ibex, almost extinct from the Alps in the early nineteenth century, was reintroduced in the Maritime Alps in the 1920’s, at the initiative of the Italian King. However, the spread of the species at current levels is about a collaboration, that started in the 1980’s, between the two trans-boundary protected areas. Today, on both sides of the Alps, we estimate the presence of 1600 wild goats, with a distribution range that extends well beyond the territories of the Mercantour and Maritime Alps Parks.
A natural recovery
The world at the beginning of the twentieth century had disappeared from much of its native range and from many countries, including France. The wolf population in Italy, however, survived in the central and southern Apennines. In the early nineties, the predator was back in the Maritimes Alps. The evidence of the spontaneous recovery of the wolf in the western Alps has been scientifically validated by genetic studies conducted on the animals.