Saturday, July 30, noon. I’m coming back from a little entomological prospecting on a sunny hillside, my arm sore from too many energetic reels of my sweep-net in the grass and the brambles, when an article by Reporterre (“Laurent Wauquiez “unzip” the protected areas of Auvergne Rhône-Alpes”). We learn that the region has disdained to apply for European funds intended for Natura 2000 sites (she prefers to point them to other destinations, editor’s note)which I already knew, but especially the pattern.
According ReporterreLaurent Wauquiez would have described the work of the Natura 2000 site coordinators, employees of associations such as France Nature Environnement (FNE), the Conservatoire d’Espaces Naturels or the LPO, “on the edge of fictitious employment”. These “employees who receive public subsidies are the backbone of your electoral campaigns”he launched, still according to Reporterreto these actors.
Preservation of territories
What campaigns? FNE not presenting candidates for the elections, it seems that it is necessary to imagine facilitators of Natura 2000 sites working on the sly for Europe Ecology, instead of carrying out the planned tasks. Did he see them drop leaflets from the back of a bearded vulture, instead of negotiating the planting of hedges in the Saône Valley?
Political warfare? Not only. The challenge is the preservation of ten thousand square kilometres, or 13% of the region, of territories with exceptional ecological qualities. Rare species of which, for some, the Auvergne or the Alps are the bastion, vital ecosystems to save what can be of our water resources, our climate. If the region persists, the operation of these sites will end in 2024.
To general indifference, because in France, apart from a few professionals, no one knows what Natura 2000 sites are, nor what the work of the associations running them might consist of. The protection of nature has been reduced to a matter of local technicians, competent, efficient, but who work too far from view for the French to know it, and to be able to defend them against hostile policies. It is highly probable that you have already traveled without knowing it on a Natura 2000 site. So what is this strange acronym? Already, it is not always, and not even often, a nature reserve in the sense of a parcel of territory solely devoted to the preservation of its fauna and flora to the exclusion of any other activity.
heron and owl
The principle and strength of Natura 2000 is, on the contrary, its implementation on larger, inhabited areas, with an economic fabric and in particular agricultural, forestry or fishing. The sites are chosen on the basis of criteria appearing in the European bird and habitat directives: there must be significant numbers of particularly remarkable species, whose presence reveals great ecological qualities.
For example, the purple heron, a rare marsh nester, or the little owl, which haunts country landscapes rich in large insects, rodents, old trees, and which for this reason is called “umbrella species”: given its needs, take care of its populations leads to the protection of the entire ecosystem. Environments in themselves can also be “determining”, such as the exuberant humid forests, or on the contrary the “limestone lawns”, dry environments and level with the hillsides crushed by the sun, with their unique orchids, butterflies and locusts.
A way of inhabiting the territory together
Once the site has been designated, comes the steering committee, which will bring together all the actors of the territory: elected officials, farmers, companies, foresters, associations of local residents, fishermen, hunters, cyclists. The site manager is responsible for getting everyone to agree on a way of living together in this territory that preserves or enriches its biological qualities in order to safeguard this precious common good.
In the document of objectives that they will produce together, we talk about the maintenance of hedges, the maintenance of extensive grazing, mowing dates adapted to nesting, hiking circuits favorable to a respectful discovery of these splendours, or even protection of the banks that does not affect the naturalness of the watercourse and its fauna. Pike spawning grounds are restored, sheep are grazed to contain the undergrowth. And of course we inventory, we measure, we evaluate the state of the fauna and flora to ensure that we are on the right path.
This is where the European funds disdained by Laurent Wauquiez go. Suffice to say that the host does not count his hours and has little time to indulge in electoral antics. If he is “militant”, it is to defend the very thing that he is responsible for protecting, a refuge for this biodiversity attacked from all sides and of which only shreds already remain. Nature under the concerted protection of all: this is what Natura 2000 is. This is what could disappear in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.
Unthinkable. The elected officials should protest. And they do! Natura 2000 is a tourist asset. It is even more the guarantee of a territory able to resist ecological shocks: the richer and more complex the fauna and flora, the more the natural functions are redundant, and therefore robust in the face of heat waves, storms or droughts. This common good could be dispersed in silence. Its only chance is to make known the thread by which its protection is held and, thereby, our chances of inhabiting a living and livable world tomorrow. Too much of this work has been done behind the scenes. Today, it’s time to know: the protection of nature is not a fictitious job, and this job needs us.