Friday, 2 May 2008

Country Profile: Slovenia

Slovenia (Slovenija) gained its independence from Yugoslavia in June 1991 after a short 10-day war. Today it is a Republic which joined the European Union in May 2004. The capital is Ljubljana. The currency is the Euro. Slovenia is borderd by Austria to the north, Croatia to the south and east, Italy to the west and Hungary to the north-east. There is also a short stretch of Adriatic coastline (about 47 km) to the south-west. Slovenia covers some 20,273 km² and is thus one of Europe's smallest countries. However due to it lying in a zone where four major regions meet (the Alps, the Carpathian Basin, the Adriatic Sea and the Dinaric Mountains) Slovenia has a surprisingly rich variety of landscapes. In the east there are fertile farmland landscapes, low-lying basins, temporary wetlands like Cerknica, hay-meadows and rolling hill country with orchards and vineyards. In the south of the country there are limestone karst regions with gorges, sinkholes, numerous cave systems and rushing streams, and other areas with vast mixed forests. The short Adriatic coastline is lined with beaches, rocky shores, salinas and old port towns. Yet above all this is a montainous country, some 40% of its total area in fact. The imposing Kamniske-Savinjske Alps, the Karavanke Mountains and the Julian Alps, with their many snow-caped peaks of over 2000m, run across the north of Slovenia. It is these limestone and dolomite ranges with their pastures, meadows, conifer forests, sheer rock walls, rugged ridges, deep valleys, glacial lakes, tarns, rapids and scenic waterfalls, that ultimately typify the Slovanian landscape. The highest point in the county (Triglav 2864 m above sea-level) is in the Julian Alps, as is Slovenia's highest lake Zgornje Krisko jezero. With its 3 km-long and 1000 m high north wall, the second highest wall in all the Alps, and a vast glacia below its summit Triglav is impressive. With more than half of the country forested, and much of this forest cover being in semi-natural state, Slovenia is perhaps not surprisingly important for many boreal species. For example, all ten European woodpeckers breed, nine residents and the migratory Wryneck. Though not necessarily common within the country, and some are indeed rather local and restricted in range, Slovenia has internationally significant populations of birds like Corncrake, Rock Partridge, Scops and Ural Owls, Rock Thrush, Firecrest, Melodious Warbler, Wallcreeper, Alpine Chough, Snowfinch and Cirl and Rock Buntings. Bird species which are regarded as typically northern, southern, western and eastern, all coincide in this relatively small area. Great variations in elevation (from sea-level at the Adriatic to well over 2000 m in the Alps) also play their part, with for example, Citril Finches and Snowfinches breeding in the Alps less than 100 km from Black-winged Stilts and Kentish Plovers on the Adriatic coast. For such a small country it is remarkable that over 200 bird species have bred.

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