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.