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Flora and Fauna in the Islands & Archipelagos

Call it cavalcade of habitats: what do you expect when you consider all the countries of Europe that are - or have - islands? Plants and animals craftily adapt over time in the most ingenious ways to living conditions. Explore the islands and archipelagos of Europe and learn a thing or two about how they make it work.

Greece has loads to offer nature lovers in the ups and downs of its diverse terrain, from shady, forested mountains to sun bleached islands. Observe and admire rare bird species nesting on rocky coasts, sandy beaches, sand dunes, river deltas, lakes, marshes and coastal plains; study the highly diverse floral life of the Greek countryside; and visit the unique sea parks which provide shelter to two protected species, the Mediterranean monk seal and the sea turtle.  

Turkey is one big garden, with 10,000+ species of plants. The Black Sea coast is cool, humid and verdant, but the Mediterranean climate on the southern seaboard fosters banana trees and date palms. Sniff fragrant pine and cedar forests in the Taurus Mountains. Some 400 species of indigenous or migratory birds live in Turkey; the travelers are migrating between Africa, Asia and Europe. Spot them around the shores of Lake Manyas and at the Sultan Marshes near Kayseri, thought to be the only place where flamingos, cranes, herons and pelicans breed together. Sea turtles and seals play in the waters of the Mediterranean and the Aegean; you should, too.

The variety of plant and animal life and the unspoiled scenery make Cyprus one of the most beautiful places for appreciating nature. For a birdwatcher Cyprus is a must-visit, as the island is on the migration path between Europe, Asia and Africa, while a large number of endemic plants, such as the Cyprus orchid, tulip and crocus, make it a botanist’s paradise. The island even has its very own national animal, the Cyprus mouflon, a kind of wild sheep that roams free in the extensive forests of western Troodos. Green and Loggerhead turtles breed on the island's sandy beaches in summer, while the Mediterranean monk seal and dolphins play offshore in the warm, calm, crystal clear seas of the island.

Croatia is a land of varied habitats: sunny and warm on the coast, a bit more invigorating in the highlands, and wide open on the golden plains of Pannonia. Visit the t two arboretums, one in Trsteno, near Dubrovnik, the other in Opeka, near Vinica, to survey Croatian flora all in one place. Sail the azure blue waters of the Adriatic and discover the island that is one of the last habitats of the griffon vulture in Europe. You can put to sea with an adopted dolphin or, if you’re really lucky, encounter the mysterious and rare Mediterranean monk seal. 

Italy, rough and wild, yields natural beauty easily on a par with its cultural treasures. In the Alps expect chamois and goats, evergreens and tiny Alpine flowers; in the Apennines are specially adapted species or wolf and lynx, as well as bear and fox. Contrast that with the drier, Mediterranean climate in Sardinia and Sicily, where honeybees and olive trees flourish and the air is scented with pine and rosemary. In the vales of Umbria are broadleaf forests with beech, oak, maple, ash and some conifers for good measure. 

For centuries farmers in Malta have cleared the forest to make room for crops, so the islands are now largely bare of trees. Yes the Maltese are keenly aware of the importance of trees to the environment for all living things, so the Tree For You (34U) campaign came into being to make Malta greener. The 34U Campaign enables you to commemorate your stay in Malta, or any important person or occasion in a way that generations to come will enjoy. To see some of Malta’s loveliest creatures, consider some underwater sightseeing in its crystal clear waters.

Just one example of the magical natural world in Portugal is at the Dunas de São Jacinto Nature Reserve. Sea, lagoon and sand dunes make a beautiful coastal landscape, with scenic forests and dunes stretching down to the sea. These hills of sane are an integral part of the ecosystem in the Beira Litoral region, populated with ancient woodlands of resinous and broad-leaved trees, growing in small wetland areas and supporting much local wildlife. You’ll find observation posts strategically placed in areas of great natural beauty, to the delight of bird watchers who can observe all kinds of water birds sheltering and nesting in the lagoon.

Discover Spain’s unique and rich array of flora outdoors or at one the fantastic botanical gardens in the major cities. Plant life is Spain is as varied as its terrain and microclimates. The Vedado de Eguaras Nature Reserve is a geological depression where farmland is interspersed with pine woods, whose shade provides an excellent spot to eat and rest. This area is an ideal spot for viewing wildlife such as foxes, badgers, rabbits, griffon vultures, Egyptian vultures, eagle owls and occasionally great bustards. The Region of Castile-La Mancha is something like an avian Grand Central Station, thanks to its location on major migratory routes, so birdwatchers, this is your heaven.

The plants and animals that thrive in the wildly fluctuating seasons of Finland have it figured out: many go dormant and more than half the birds repair to warmer climes during the deepest cold. Special birds to watch for are the white snowy owl, found only way up north in Europe, and the capercaillie, a memorable bird indeed. This one displays like an earth-toned peacock during its elaborate courtship ritual. 

Sweden has gone to the wolves and is just delighted about it. The place to spot wolves in Sweden is in Uttersberg, where there’s a fair chance, with an expert guide on hand, of spotting wolves in their natural surroundings. Spot other wildlife, such as elk and deer, as well as fox, hare, owls and other birdlife. And believe us when we tell you that they're probably watching you. It's their territory after all. A full moon and the chilling howl of a wolf - does it get any better?

In Denmark watch deer, foxes, hares and frogs and innumerable feathered friends, especially at the numerous bird sanctuaries. One of the most fascinating avian events is the Black Sun. This is what you call it when up to a million starlings gather in spring and autumn to do some stunt flying en masse before nodding off for the night. Seals both spotted and grey and porpoises habitually frolic in Danish waters in search of sustenance – or maybe just because it’s fun. They’re quite impressive, the males weighing up to 300 kilos!

Wildlife safaris aren’t restricted to the African continent; Norway offers the equally thrilling northern version, where you can get close to king crabs, reindeer, the rare musk ox, elks and varied bird species in their natural habitats. Arise early and treat your ears to the beautiful dawn chorus or take to the water and watch for whales spouting.

Estonian landscapes are surprisingly diverse: enchanting swamps and rich flora and fauna are just some of the treasures awaiting your visit. Estonia is almost 50% forest, mostly pine, studded with crystal clear lakes and rivers. Coastal attractions are forest-edged deserted beaches, clear night skies, limestone cliffs, waterfalls and the sandy-bottomed Baltic Sea. Yet perhaps for you it will be the meteor craters, juniper bushes and seals on one of Estonia’s 1500+ islands that grab your attention. If luck is with you, lynx, flying squirrels, bears, wolves or one of the many species of rare orchids growing wild are some of the unforgettable sights you’ll see in surprising Estonia.

The plant most associated with Holland must be the tulip, introduced to unheralded success centuries ago. Visit in the springtime to see the fields striped with ribbons of tulips, hyacinths, daffodils. Other plants of note live in the wilder reaches of the Wadden Islands; on Ameland stroll through the nature reserve Het to see rare flower species. The Waddensea, thanks to its diverse tidal and marsh habitats, is teeming with different species. Put your wellies on, hire a guide, and go make their acquaintance!

For peat’s sake, Ireland is a must on your tour of natural Europe. Peatlands Country Park is rich butterflies, moths, dragonflies and damselflies as well as many woodland and wetland birds waterfowl species. Red and grey squirrels, badgers and hares are also present, while lizards and newts can be found in the open bog areas. Walk the paths and see how many you can spot! For more astonishing bird life, visit the Wexford Slobs, an internationally renowned wild bird sanctuary favored by Greenland Whitefronted, Snow, Bean and Brent geese as well as swans from Iceland and Siberia. 

Germany has remarkable natural landscapes. The world famous Black Forest is an area of mountains and forests of fir and pine and across high plateaus. Ferns and foxgloves carpet the woods, while broom and lupines flourish at the sides of the roads. The Schleswig-Holstein Wattenmeer National Park comprises third of the biggest contiguous area of mudflats in the world, which extend from Holland's North Sea coast as far as Denmark. The Wattenmeer is a habitat for around 3,200 animal species. Starfish, crabs, snails, mussels and mud worms all live along the water's edge and masses of migratory birds nest and roost here. The salt marshes support a wide variety of plants, including sea lavender, red fescue and sea plantain.

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