Switzerland boasts an extraordinary variety of landscapes and habitats, ranging from the Central Plateau to the high peaks of the Alps. Its abundant natural ecosystems like the Alps, wetlands and forests are in close proximity to urban centres and are a particular feature of the Swiss landscape. The country may be small but it is home to no fewer than 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Nature – Facts and Figures
The diverse landscape and varied climate mean that Switzerland has many different natural habitats. The country has around 100 species which are found nowhere else in the world. The Alps is home to many of them.
Drinking water – from stream to tap
Switzerland has 6% of Europe's freshwater reserves. It is considered the 'water tower of Europe'. These reserves are fed by excess rainwater, spring water and run-off from snow and glacier melt. Groundwater provides 80% of drinking and process water, and 40% of tap water does not require treatment before it reaches consumers. Swiss households consume an average of 162 litres of water per day, per person. The water in most Swiss public fountains is safe to drink. Since the 1980s, total water consumption in Switzerland (including industry, trade and agriculture) has fallen by around 30%, even though the population has grown. Roughly 56% of the electricity generated in Switzerland comes from hydropower. Two thirds are produced in the mountain cantons of Uri, Graubünden, Ticino and Valais.
Clean air thanks to sensible legislation
Switzerland is renowned for the excellent quality of its air. According to the WHO, it is the 13th least polluted country in the world. Air quality varies from place to place, from season to season and from altitude to altitude. There is more air pollution in urban areas on the Plateau, which are exposed to road traffic, than in the Alps and the Jura. Since the mid-1980s, air quality in Switzerland has improved year on year. These advances are the result of federal, cantonal and municipal clean air policies, in particular the Federal Clean Air Ordinance which came into force in 1986. It draws on the Environmental Protection Act and contains a catalogue of measures (transport, agriculture, industry) to reduce air pollutant emissions. Air quality in Switzerland is constantly monitored and analysed by the 16 stations of the National Air Pollution Monitoring Network (NABEL).
Forests – A renewable habitat
Some 31% of Switzerland's surface area is covered by forest. Over the course of the 20th century, the total surface area covered by forests has risen steadily. In 1876, the country introduced a law to protect its forests and curb deforestation. Today, the federal and cantonal authorities oversee the stewardship, protection and conservation of Switzerland's forests and woodlands. As well as their economic role as a source of building material and energy, forests offer essential protection against avalanches, floods and rockfalls. They also help stabilise the soil and hilly terrain, and provide an important habitat for many species of flora and fauna. Swiss forests are home to over 30,000 different species of animal, plant and fungi. Spruce, beech, silver fir, maple and oak are the most common trees.
Nature in numbers:
- There are 162 sites on the Federal Inventory of Landscapes and Natural Monuments of National Importance (ILNM). They cover 19% of the country.
- Protected areas of national importance cover around 23% of Switzerland's territory.
- Biotopes of national importance cover around 2% of the country and support 1,060 different species.
- Switzerland has 50 tree species.
- Roughly 30% of forests and woodland are privately owned; the remaining 70% are in public hands.
- Switzerland has a dense network of hiking trails, stretching over 65,000 km in total, or 1.5 times the circumference of the earth.
- There are 20,000 marked cycling and mountain bike paths in Switzerland.
- The mean elevation in Switzerland is 1,307m. Switzerland has 49 mountain peaks that are at least 4,000m high, a European record.