As Swiss meteorological records point out, July proved to be the wettest month in 50 years. Precipitation was four times higher than normal putting a severe dampener on Swiss tourism. The Lake Geneva region, Bernese Alps, Valais and Jura have all endured exceptionally high rainfall. Many resorts have reported cancellations, particularly among weekend vacationers seeking to escape to the mountains.
With rising rivers, including the Rhone, inundating houses, streets and railway lines, the flooding is also a reminder that no one, not even the Swiss, can control the impact of climate change and other aspects of excessive weather. The protection office at the Federal Department for Environment in Bern has warned that the rains have resulted in a “precarious” situation in the northern Alps. Soil is saturated to the point that any new storm may produce destructive surges. What is required, the office points out, is “at least 10 days of no rain to allow the land to empty out.”
One of the reasons behind the inability of soil to absorb such high amounts of water is the growing tendency to lay asphalt for roads and around housing to the point that there is nowhere for water to escape. Another curse is a rising trend to tar or cement country trails. Marked by the renowned yellow signs indicating both direction and walking times, Switzerland’s 66,000 km of hiking paths are increasingly being covered – primarily to facilitate access for farmers.
Geneva’s 346 km of trails are now 59.5% laid over – the highest in the country. Vaud’s 3,433 km of pathways are 42.2% covered, while Valais’s 8,481 km stand at 12.9%. In 2000 alone, over 1,000 km of dirt or gravel trails were surfaced, despite the known health hazards for hikers to walk on hard trails and a 1987 law prohibiting such forms of cover.
The Swiss Rando Association would now like to halt further surfacing. It is also demanding that the federal government, the principal funder behind recent surfacing, undo what it has implemented. Swiss Rando wants to see all hard trails reduced to 10% throughout Switzerland both for environmental and health reasons. But, as the Fribourg Hikers’ Association also points out, the summer heat can make asphalted trails “unbearable”.
And finally, on the subject of the outdoors, there are two further points of concern. One is wolves. The Canton of Valais, much to the relief of conservationists, has decided not to allow the hunting of one canine which allegedly has attacked 28 sheep and two goats.
The farmers are none too happy, but they also need to be encouraged not to leave their flocks untended in the mountains. If they really wish to protect their animals, one agriculturalist pointed out, they need to bring in Pyrenean Mountain or other specialised dogs, which are regarded as the most effective for scaring off predators.
As if flooding and wolves are not enough, the Tribune de Genève ran a story this week with the claim of a female hiker in the Salève near Geneva that she had been attacked by a cow while trying to cross a field. It was only by playing dead that the animal stopping trying to gore her, she said. Local farmers seemed dubious, maintaining that they had never heard of such a thing. Pointing out that a full-grown cow weighs between 600-800 kg, said one “If she had been gored, she would not have stood up.”