Piping/tunnelling erosion is a widely spread process in the Plio-Pleistocene marine clays of the Basilicata region in southern Italy. The pipes are often closely concentrated along the surface drainage networks at different depths with a tunnel (length) and a diameter varying from just a few centimetres to some metres. The formation and evolution of pipes in the badlands can be explained through: (1) gee-structural characteristics of the clay, (2) material properties such as a high exchangeable sodium percentage, (3) favourable climatic conditions, and (4) hydraulic gradient along the path controlled by the gully or ravine bottom that is acting as a local drain. The exposure and the extension of joints at the surface and in the bedrock along the slope are the main factors required for development of the pipes. The absence of the piping erosion on the slopes, where a reasonably thick layer of the soil material covers the open joints, shows that although certain material properties and climatic conditions play an important role, they are not sufficient to develop extensive piping erosion in the area. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.