In a territory full of contrasts as Liguria, enclosed between the mountains and the sea, the area of the Beigua Geopark represents an exemplary section of the region, where it is possible to find also within short distances such varied environments and landscapes as to impress the unaware visitor: a wonderful balcony made up of mountains overlooking the sea, where nature, history, culture and ancient traditions represent elements of extraordinary value and interest.
Besides the rich evidence relating to the geological heritage, the area offers other extremely interesting elements, which, together with the geological sites, represent very good reasons of attraction for visitors and tourists.
Due to their peculiar localisation in between the Apennines divide and to their position near the sea, the Beigua Mountains are considered as one of the richest areas in Liguria with relation to biodiversity. Wolves regularly pass along their steepest paths, hidden from the human being's eyes, and the tapered profiles of spouting whales are not unlikely to be seen in the sea in front of Varazze from their overlooking ridges.
But the territory boasts an exceptional avifaunal value. The rarity rate at regional level of the species of birds identified (103 among sedentary, breeding and wintering) is rather high: 15 are rare and 18 not very common. Among these, as demonstration of the relative integrity of the trophic networks, the variety and richness of the species of breeding diurnal birds of prey (golden eagle, peregrine, kestrel, goshawk, sparrow hawk, honey buzzard) are outstanding.
The Beigua Geopark district is crossed by the migratory routes of almost all the avifaunal species passing through Italy and it offers ideal habitats for temporary stops for many species. The coastal strip between Cogoleto and Voltri represents in northwestern Mediterranean an extremely important area for spring migration, since it constitutes a "bottleneck area" for many gliding birds. As a matter of fact, the site is one of the areas of European importance of B1 category according to IBA (Important Bird Areas) standards. In particular for the short-toed eagle, the area is absolutely one of the main migration sites in Europe and in the Mediterranean.
The aquatic torrent ecosystems are rather interesting not only for some amphibious species but also for several aquatic invertebrates and for the river crayfish. The fish population, generally deeply modified by fishing policies, presents widespread common species; for the brook trout the presence of a local variety distinguished from its similar forms has been identified.
Finally and in the purpose of a correct faunal-hunting management of the territory some important species must be taken into consideration. Some of these (red-legged partridge, hare, roe deer and fallow deer) are strictly linked to habitats having a high level of ecotone (wood edges, clearings, grasslands with trees and cultivated lands). Especially on the northern sides of the territory some animal species typical of forest environments are considerably widespread and they grow in quantity; their expansion can be correlated to the expansion dynamics of woods towards areas which, in the past, were used for agriculture and grazing. Among these species, the ones that can be managed with greater difficulty are undoubtedly the wild boar and the roe; their presence, which in the valleys of this territory sometimes reaches high density, constitutes a significant element of socio-economic tension because of the damage provoked seasonally to cultivations in the context of the local economy based on agriculture, forests' exploitation and farming.
Flora and vegetation
The structure of the ecologic situation of the area is heavily affected by the geological and geomorphological elements which determine the peculiar features, basically recognizable through the lithology of the pedogenetic substrata and the climatic vegetational belts, with varied aspects. On these basis it is possible to identify 26 main types of "environmental units", characterised by different interacting vegetation units, by passed and present anthropic features and by morphology.
The territory at issue also represents the point of minimum distance from the sea of the Apennine Tyrrhenian-Po divide, thus constituting a geographical barrier between the two sides. But these ridges represent at the same time an ecologic passageway as well as an hinge point between the Apennines and the Alps, thanks to which Alpine, Apennine and Mediterranean chorological elements can meet because of the particular morphologic, geologic, altimetric and climatic conditions.
The flora of the Beigua Park district is rather rich since it is made up of about 1130 taxa.
A further element of interest is represented by the distribution of many species with relation to the altitude since in this area they can found at lower altitudes if compared with standard levels.
The flora of rocks, stony grounds and screes, is rather peculiar and it is undoubtedly affected by the plant adaptation to the selective action performed by the ophiolitic rocks; this situation gives rise to the great variety of the species present in the Beigua Park : obliged serpentine plants (which grow exclusively in presence of green rocks, such as Viola Bertolonii, Cerastium utriense, Sesleria of the Voltri Group), preferential serpentine plants (which are mainly found on the ophiolitic substratum, such as Asplenium cuneifolium, Robertia taraxacoides, Linum campanulatum, Sesamoides pygmaea var. firma), relicts living on serpentinite (not very competitive species, once very widespread, which found their shelter in those areas where a high content of magnesium in the ground is toxic for most of the plants (Daphne cneorum, Cheilantes marantae).
Some summit grasslands are well developed and they are characterised by a rich mountain flora; the main floristic elements of these lands are two endemic species (Brachypodium genuense e Sesleria sp. nov.)
The plant situation in the Park is extremely rich and varied presenting most of the Ligurian physiognomic elements, from the basal to the mountainous zone.
In the basal zone there are the level of the coastal halophytes (plants which can tolerate very high contents of salts present in the substratum and in the atmosphere), the level of the Mediterranean "sclerofille sempreverdi" (gariga, Mediterranean maquis, grasslands, ilex groves, thermophile pinewoods), the level of the thermophilic and mesophilic broad-leaf plants (English oaks and pubescent oak, chestnuts, black pinewoods, more or less thermophile tree formations, mixed mesophilic woods).
In the mountainous zone several phyto-communities can be identified: mixed woods of more or less microthermic caduceus orofile trees, beech woods, reforestation Scotch and black pinewoods, grasslands and mountain tree formations.
From a geobothanic, phytosociological and physiognomic-structural point of view, the most significant values are referred above all to the communities of the crags and the rubble areas, to the peat bog communities, to summit grasslands and to fully-grown beech woods in association with Taxus and Ilex.
The Beigua Geopark territory also includes three important Regional State Forests, namely "Deiva" in the Municipality of Sassello, "Lerone" in the Municipalities of Arenzano and Cogoleto and "Tiglieto" in the Municipalities of Tiglieto, Masone and Campo Ligure.
Moreover, within the Beigua Park district there are some considerable wetlands. These are extremely important environments both for their high naturalistic values and for the ecologic role that they play in the ecosystems of the Beigua Park. These areas are in themselves ecosystems full of different living forms, having their own delicate balance and representing extremely peculiar micro-environments in the frame of the whole territory. The permanent presence of both free water and water permeating the ground greatly influences the life of plants and animals and, in the first place, it determines the origin of the area itself. These environments are stable throughout long periods of time and they keep the marks of the paleoclimatic events that took place thousands of years ago. The geomorphological, hydrological and biological features of the wetlands are so peculiar that they represent an object of great scientific interest as well as an element of attraction for the wide public fond of nature. Among the most valuable wetlands we can mention the Laione peat bog which represents the largest wetland in the Beigua Geopark.