The combination of different soils in today’s Friuli plain is due to different types of fluvial-glacial sediments which have been further modified by man while exploiting the different natural resources over the centuries. In the past, any traveller who visited these areas would see arid meadows spreading over large areas of the high plains, wide marshes in the resurgent areas and woodland on the low plains. Land reclaiming and rationalisation as well as improved farming techniques have helped increase the exploitable agricultural areas and created more uniformity of landscape among the plains.
Today’s traveller can satisfy his curiosity by visiting the biotopes of the magredi of St. Quirino and of the marshes of Flambro and Virco: they not only exemplify those habitats which have nearly become extinct today but are also the only remnants of the ancient Friuli plain.
The “Magredi” of St. Quirino
The huge alluvial sediments carried by the Cellina and Meduna torrents have certainly formed the part of the plain which has been less influenced by man. Its primitive soils, together with seasonal grazing of livestock, have contributed to form and maintain large expanses of poor pastures, the so-called “magredi”. This kind of landscape was very common in most of the Venetian-Friuli high plains. The progressive rural development has lead to conserve almost only these areas which are under military ownership or near the shores of torrential rivers. The biotope of St. Quirino covers and protects an area of about 20 hectares. Although the “magredi” could seem uninteresting, the flora is rich in species from the Mediterranean, Illyric, Alpine and Central-European areas. The abundance of flowers in spring includes many orchids and rare species of plants such as a particular type of cabbage (Brassica glabrescens), which is endemic to the Friuli “magredi”, and the Crambe (Crambe tataria), probably introduced by the Barbarian invasions and today perfectly integrated in the habitat. Its closest stations are in Hungary. As a matter of fact, there are different types of meadows to discover, which stretch from the river shores up to the higher terraces, where a layer of infertile, leach soil characterises the ground and has caused the partial stagnation of water.
The fauna includes many species of birds of prey. Its landscape is certainly remarkable: during clear, winter days, these meadows seem to blend with the snowy peaks of the Carnic pre-alps.
The slight inclination of the alluvial cones to the south allows a wider view nearly up to the sea. The river beds which are usually dried-up unless some significant flood occurs, give the impression of being on a steppe, similar to that of Central Asia. Nowadays the arid meadows need to be looked after to prevent bushes from completely overgrowing the area, now that seasonal pasturing of livestock is no longer common, thus avoiding the extinction of fauna and flora.
The biotopes of Flambro and Virco
The low-lying alkaline peat fields and the ancient landscape around the Friuli resurgence are a rare sight these days. The two biotopes of Flambro and Virco are probably the best preserved areas. The springs are formed of water which runs under the gravel in the high plain, and emerges thanks to a different consistency of the substratum. Pools, springs, moats and rivers form a complex water network on the surface. Among the most significant habitats, are the so-called alkaline peat areas and the small areas of purple moor grass “molinieti”.
Those poor areas had little to offer to their inhabitants. The grassland was mown at least once a year and the carts were carried along small, raised cattle-tracks. In the past, these areas were more extensive and the huge quantity of water could guarantee their preservation.
Today, the ground water table has retreated and the grassland is neither mown nor produces straw. The ever growing bushes suffocate the rarer species. Armeria helodes and Erucastrum palustre are two plants of European relevance which grow only in few small areas of the Friulan alcaline fens. There are also some other rare species such as the round leaf sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), a carnivorous plant which makes up for the lack of nitrogen, characteristic of peaty soil, by eating insects. These habitats house many birds of prey as well as many amphibians and rare insects. The dynamics of this environment have made it necessary for an active part to be played in the management of the biotopes, bushes need to be cut back and the grasslands mown so as to protect the environment which is becoming rare and on the verge of extinction.
By walking along these areas you understand how complex the agricultural habitat of this plain could have been: with its marshes, peat fields and arid plains, which were often enriched with organic fertilizer and alternated with cultivated fields, woodland and hedges which grew in patches depending on the quantity of water available. Today, water is channelled into ditches or canals along the fields, it is a driving force as well as a key element to better understanding this habitat, whose skyline is almost always interrupted with trees or with orderly hedgerows.
The peat fields of Schichizza
This biotope covers roughly 10 hectares on the west-side of the Fusine plain, between the Julian Alps and the Caravanche. As in all the Tarvisio area, eastwards of the Camporosso Pass, the water flowing down from this area reaches the Danube basin. The climate of the Fusine plain is similar to that of Central Europe as it is colder and drier than the Prealps.
The habitat, which is characterised by marshy meadows and peat fields interspersed with numerous streams, is dotted with Scotch pines, and recalls the landscape of the Central and Northern Alps rather than that of the marshy lowlandsSome rare species of plants such as the white hellebore (Veratrum album subsp. album) and the white beak sedge (Rhynchospora alba) carpet this biotope. Extensive blossoming of Siberian irises (Iris sibirica) and marsh gentians (Gentiana pneumonanthe) enhance the flora. Among its fauna there is the oriental hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor roumanicus) and many other small mammals. Of great interest is also the wide mown grassland, which is often very wet and covers almost all the plains adjacent to the biotope. Some traces of the ancient railway, which was inaugurated in 19th century and linked Tarvisio with Jesenice and Lubiana, can still be seen here.