By Nicholas Heas
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Classified site Nature 2000the marsh sector of Talmont Saint-Hilaireincluding in particular the Veillon beach and its forest, has everything to please. The number of visitors to this one each season speaks for itself. The problem with this site is that it is also very fragile, even more so at the moment with the maximum risk of fire in the department of Vendée.
Not to mention the erosion of the beach, accentuated by the trampling of the dune. “We are jeopardizing the site and compromising its opening for the next few years”, warns Guillaume Da Silva, Natura 2000 facilitator.
It is with this in mind that the eco-guards were created. Founded with several partners including the department of Vendée, the coastal conservatory and the municipalities of Talmont and Jard-sur-Mer, their role is to protect this site. An arduous task, complicated by the current risk of fire.
“Since mid-May, we have already had six fire starts in the area, including five volunteers,” explains Guillaume Da Silva. For the latter, it is generally unconscious acts that cause them. One of these fires was started by people “lighting pine cones”. This is where the eco-guards come in, “by raising people’s awareness and doing education”.
“It’s a profession of passion”
Three horizontal green lines on their navy blue polo shirt. With this uniform, similar to those of the police, the eco-guards manage to be heard in their mission by the various onlookers with whom they intervene. “People are quite respectful,” says Thomas, 23, year-round ecoguard.
Because that is the difference. Previously, a “blue brigade” was launched with the same objective of prevention and awareness. But these were only active in the summer. “We made the ecoguards permanent over the year,” explains Jannick Rabillé, vice-president in charge of the environment for the Vendée Grand Littoral community.
This time, there will be a year-round ecoguard, accompanied by seasonal reinforcements during the peak of attendance from May 15 to September 15, allowing the presence of a permanent pair of ecoguards during this period. Out of season, they will take care, for example, of carrying out or mapping various developments on the site. “Pure and hard management”, explains Thomas.
Nor is the objective to prohibit all activity in the area. It is a question of combining tourism, the main source of income for the surrounding municipalities, and the protection of the environment. “We don’t want to create dogma of the type, it’s fragile so we don’t touch, no one comes here anymore. This is not the goal, ”explains Jannik Rabillé. Hence the mission of ecoguards to explain to people why such behavior is at risk for the site.
A natural and logical choice
“Only communication and awareness will prevent other fires”, intervenes Guillaume Da Silva. An idea of pedagogy and a passion for nature on which the ecoguards also meet.
For Faustine, a young 18-year-old trainee in BTS environmental management and protection, it was “an obvious choice”. Same thing for Gaël, 23, for whom it was “natural and logical to work here”. “It’s a passionate job,” he adds. With Thomas, the employee for the year, they have already intervened on numerous occasions since mid-May to alert people to the right actions to protect this sensitive site. Security meetings with the gendarmes, the municipal police, the fire brigade, the SNSM and the first aid station also take place regularly.
Ecoguards are not law enforcement officers. But, unlike the old blue brigades, they will be sworn in from 2023 to be able to verbalize repeat offenders. No fines for this first year, we prefer to make a first contact with people. But from next year, things will change according to Guillaume Da Silva. If the red line is crossed, “it will be zero tolerance”.
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