Montenegro – an introduction

I am staying in Montenegro for the Spring to try to learn something of the wildlife and ecology.  Based on what I have read, here is a short introduction to the nature of the country:

Montenegro is a small country, not much larger than the department of Dordogne in France, and rectangular in shape. One short edge borders the Adriatic and is Mediterranean in both character and ecology. There are long, hot beaches, many now given over to sunbeds, but also salt pans full of birds on a coastal plain in the south. At the northern end, there are no beaches just cliffs and a large, winding fjord with narrow straits giving way to wide bays. Old olive groves and maquis scrubland dominate this narrow belt of coastal land, most extensively on the Lustica peninsula near the old city of Kotor.

Lovcen Mountain, clad in oak, beech and pine, rises above Kotor and is a National Park with a road to the top.  Inland there are swathes of oak, beech and hornbeam on the endless hills to Niksic and beyond. Further north and west, pasture grasslands on karst limestone dominate.

In the south, the great Rumija mountain holds remnant oak, beech and some chestnut. Rumija shelters Lake Skadar to the north which is huge and shallow freshwater; it is full of fish, water plants and waterbirds. Along the southern edge, vineyards are commonplace in the valleys. The northern edge is wet woodland. The lake enlarges in winter and half submerges willow, alder and osier.

Enormous beech, fir, pine and spruce-clad mountains dominate the upper half of the country and where National Parks, full of pristine forests, like Durmitor, Biogradska Gora and Prokletije are found. This is snow laden in winter, slow to clear in Spring. Rich green pastures huddle in the valleys and short grasslands full of alpine plants are found on the highest mountains. Gorges, that are deep long cliff-sided scars, rush the rivers down to the sea.

The climate, the dominance of the limestone geology, the huge extent of forests and the location within the heart of the Dinaric arc, an ecologically distinct line of mountains from north-west Italy to Albania, make this small country rich in species. Montenegro has the most fabulous array of flowering plants. Then there are the butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, the birds and mammals including lynx, wolf and atop them all, brown bear.

The interaction of the landscape with its people is as fascinating as the wildlife and I hope to learn something of this too, although the language is as impenetrable as the landscape. The pastoral farming inland and the tending of olives and vines on or near the coast is old fashioned, back-breaking and consequently full of wildlife, but with the exodus of the young, dying quietly. The agriculture has always been in the margins, and built development has only come to dominate the lowlands around the capital Podgorica and the coastal strip where tourism flourishes. This is a country then, where nature still appears to dominate; it is a wild and empty landscape, now so rare in Europe. What a prospect!

M-Cetinje crocus 210

Crocus Impressions: The public park in the old capital of Cetinje on a grey evening in early March.

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