Learn all about the flora, fauna, landscape and natural world of the Bellwald municipality
The lowest point of the Bellwald municipality lies at about 1,100 m above sea level (Fürgangen); the highest point is at 4,274 m above sea level (Finsteraarhorn). The vegetation is not uniform, but is adapted to the altitude and soil conditions.
You can distinguish between different levels of altitude by looking at the belts of vegetation. The Bellwald area is classed as being at sub-alpine and alpine level. The sub-alpine level, the upper limit of which coincides with the limit of the closed populations of dwarf shrubs over 25 cm high and high-perennial meadows, comprises two clearly separated sub-levels. The lower level below the village of Bellwald is mainly characterised by spruce trees and in dry locations
by pine trees, while the upper level above the village of Bellwald is characterised by a slightly lighter larch forest mixed with spruce trees. The latter reaches up to about 2,100 m above sea level. The areas above the tree line belong to the alpine level. It is comprised mainly of natural alpine pastures as well as talus and rock vegetation. In the upper alpine region, the alpine pastures break up and patches of snow become more frequent. The vegetation takes on a high alpine, arctic character. A few deep-rooted, mostly creeping and cushion-forming plants predominate here (saxifrages, buttercups and rosaceous plants). These include glacier crowfoot - it was discovered on the Finsteraarhorn at over 4,200 m above sea level - and creeping avens, which was depicted on the old Swiss ten Franc note.
While human beings have little influence on alpine-level vegetation, they have a substantial influence on the vegetation of the sub-alpine level. . Outside the forests, this vegetation includes a few rye fields, potato fields and small vegetable gardens with their weeds, mowed and grazed meadows, roadside flora and rock flora as well as fallow fields and meadows. The meadows occupy by far the largest area of vegetation influenced by human beings. These are covered with trees and shrubs such as ash, sycamore, aspen, whitebeam, red elder, birch, rowan, cherry and bird cherry. Steep or very remote meadows with poor soil usually serve as pastures, while the others are mainly mowed. In contrast to hay meadows, pastureland is characterised by low-growing or creeping plants, usually tough enough to suffer little damage from being trampled on. Periodically mowed meadows are divided into rich pasture and poor grassland.
Rich pastures tend to have damp or wet areas and are regularly fertilised with manure, slurry or artificial fertiliser. Poor grasslands are rarely if ever fertilised and are usually mowed only once in summer. They are found mainly in steeper areas, on dry southern slopes or in remote areas. Since the soil there is quite dry in summer, it is also called semi-arid grassland.
Further information on the flowering season of plants, rich pastures, poor grasslands, pastureland, scree, drifts, roadsides, weeds, forests, bushes, hedges, alpine meadows, tall perennial herb meadows and mushrooms, as well as on the use and application of plants can be found in the "Bellwald" book, which is available from the tourist office.
Birds of the forests, trees and bushes
The colonisation of forests or woods by birds is strongly dependent on the composition and structure of the tree and bush populations. Generally speaking, the edges of forests are more populated than the inner areas of woodland and the number of birds decreases and becomes more specific the higher you climb into the mountains. Compared to the forests and woodlands of the lowlands, there are fewer species of birds in our forests, but, on the other hand, there exist those that are not found in the lowlands.
Birds of the meadows, fields and alpine pastures
The kestrel breeds both in the farmed lower regions and higher up in alpine farming areas. To nest, it looks for old crows' or magpies' nests on single trees, in hedges and at the edges of forests. It also breeds in roof spaces or on rocky ledges.
Birds that nest on cliffs and in house walls
The Alpine chough builds its nest on shelves and ledges of rock in the mountains. During the barren months, especially in late autumn and spring, they migrate to human settlements to search for food on roofs and in fruit-bearing trees. But in the evening, the birds always fly back to a higher altitude to spend the night in the shelter of the rock face. For some years now, the golden eagle has started nesting again on the inaccessible rock faces above the
The golden eagle. What a privilege to see this handsome bird of prey when on an alpine hike! The common raven also breeds on the rock faces above the Weisswasser. It is the biggest black bird in our region. Its greater size, strong beak and wedge-shaped tail when in flight distinguish it from the carrion crow. Its call is deep and sonorous. The snow finch is found on rocky ridges, mountain peaks and cliffs at high altitude.
Amphibians include the Alpine newt, which is light yellow to orange-red on its underside, and the brown and dark spotted grass frog. The Alpine newt lives in ponds. In May and June, when it has left its winter quarters under stones and tree stumps, it can be found in large numbers in the pools filled with meltwater in the larch forest above the village. The stump-tailed grass frogs also come here to spawn. In the warmth of the spring sun, tadpoles develop from the spawn. Masses of them swim around and feast on dead plants before finally leaving the water as small grass frogs. This is why you can find the grass frog in meadows and swampy pastures and see it hopping through the grass and across paths in rainy weather.
Apart from rather inconspicuous small mammals like mice, there are about half a dozen other mammal species in the wild. Squirrels can be seen everywhere in the forests, right up to the very last larches and firs. A rare sight in recent years is the European hare. It lives in field copses and coniferous forests. In the upper forest belt and in the treeless, stony area of the krummholz belt, it gives way to the snow hare that is white in winter. In heavy snow it can often become completely snowed in and only emerge when the snow is frosted so hard that it can carry its weight. The fox, despite being a twilight and nighttime animal, can often be seen in forests, copses and fields. The badger, on the other hand, which used to be hunted for its meat and fat, is rarely found. Traces of this nocturnal robber are, however, often found.
meadows combed for roots, mice and insects. In the morning and evening, deer graze in small groups in meadows and fields surrounded by forests and woods. During the daytime, the deer stay mostly in the forest. There is a strong population of red deer in our region. In winter and spring, herds of red deer, consisting of cows, calves and young animals of both sexes, roam in the meadows and forests below the village. They often eat the young seed and in autumn destroy
the potato crop and often pay a nighttime visit to vegetable gardens - much to the annoyance of the owners. At dawn and dusk, during the rutting season from the end of September to October, the deer can be heard bellowing i.e. giving their mating cry, especially in the Steinhaus area. At the beginning of the 1940s, the deer migrated from Graubünden via the Urseren valley into Goms.
The alpine pastures and rocky areas above the forest line are the habitat of the Alpine marmot and the chamois. In summer, the chamois sometimes goes up to the snow line at 3000 m above sea level. Even in winter it can survive for a long time at altitude and only goes down to lower altitudes in March and April, when the snow in parts of the lower areas starts to disappear. These indigenous animals tend to form herds that then stick to the extensive habitat they have chosen. The marmot prefers sunny, overgrown scree slopes in more isolated areas as its summer residence. In autumn it migrates to lower altitudes, often below the upper tree line, and
move into the old winter building or dig a new one. The proudest and most beautiful animal in the Alps - the Alpine ibex - has also been gaining a foothold in our area for quite some time now. A few isolated animals that were released onto the Eggishorn in 1972 spend the summer in the snow-free, barely accessible rocky terrain above the left side of the Fiescher Glacier. Their winter habitats are mainly in steep rocky areas facing south to south-west, where snow either slides off or melts much faster than elsewhere.
For some years now, the lynx has also been in existence in our contiguous forests. This stealthy predator shows a preference for cloven-hoofed game. It hunts deer and chamois in particular if they are new to the forest. The lynx was wiped out in Switzerland in the last century, the last one being shot at the Weissthorpass in the Saas Valley in 1894. From 1971, this species of cat was successfully reintroduced to various parts of Switzerland.