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The Natural Environment


Although much of Europe, particularly the west, was originally covered by forest, the vegetation has been transformed by human habitation and the clearing of land. Only in the most northerly mountains and in parts of north central European Russia has the forest cover been relatively unaffected by human activity. On the other hand, a considerable amount of Europe is covered by woodland that has been planted or has reoccupied cleared lands.

The largest vegetation zone in Europe, cutting across the middle portion of the continent from the Atlantic to the Urals, is a belt of mixed deciduous and coniferous trees—oak, maple, and elm intermingled with pine and fir. The Arctic coastal regions of northern Europe and the upper slopes of its highest mountains are characterized by tundra vegetation, which consists mostly of lichens, mosses, shrubs, and wild flowers. The milder, but nevertheless cool temperatures of inland northern Europe create an environment favorable to a continuous cover of coniferous trees, especially spruce and pine, although birch and aspen also occur. Much of the Great European Plain is covered with prairies, areas of relatively tall grasses, and Ukraine is characterized by steppe, a flat and comparatively dry region with short grasses. Lands bordering the Mediterranean are noted for their fruit, especially olives, citrus fruit, figs, apricots, and grapes.

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