Surrounded by high mountain ranges on all sides,
the Matter valley has an unusual micro-climate.
It is exceptionally dry and sunny, with over 200 days of sunshine
per year. In fact, the driest point of Switzerland is on the
opposite side of the valley - with a mere 520 mm of rainfall
annually. Thanks to melt water from the glaciers above, however,
the area remains relatively green throughout the summer. The
Riedji is normally covered by snow from December to April.
In the winter, temperatures can fall to -20°C (-4°F)
or less at night, even though they rise to comfortable levels
in the mid-day sun. Summers tend to be dry and hot. Flower
meadows and snow-capped mountains in spring or colorful foliage
and warm days with spells of fog and rain in autumn give the
two seasons in between their distinctive atmosphere.
In this ancient cultural landscape, pristine nature and traditional agriculture
blend into one another.
Ibex (Steinbock) and chamois (Gams) are common sights and
a rare pair of golden eagles breeds nearby. Even wolves occasionally
pass through the area, as they cross over from the Italian
Alps. The mountain meadows are habitat for a wide range of
plants and insects - including a large population of Edelweiss
(Leontopodium alpinum). The forest above the Riedji has barely
been cultivated for decades and has largely reverted towards
its original state. One can hike from an altitude of 2,000
to 4,000 meters without encountering any man-made structures.
A journey to the next human settlement on the other side of
the mountain range would take 2 to 3 days. Not surprisingly,
this area is being considered for the establishment of a
new Alpine national park.
The Riedji remains a time capsule in many
respects, but the negative side effects of modernity can still
be felt. On the way to St. Niklaus many faceless buildings
spoil the Rhône valley and to a lesser extent the villages
of the Matter valley. From the Riedji, many man-made structures
can be seen down below and on a clear day the noise of traffic
can be heard from the distance. More than elsewhere, the climate
change is being felt here in the Valais. During the past 150
years, Swiss glaciers have lost half of their ice mass and
the seasons have changed notably, with hotter summers and milder
winters. The Alps are home to some of the most spectacular
landscapes in Europe, a complex ecosystem and a rich cultural
heritage. Fortunately, this is now widely acknowledged and
a multitude of initiatives are seeking to preserve this unique
region. It is hoped that the Riedji project will be able to
make a small contribution to these important efforts.