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A New National Park in Burgundy

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The French government, committed to developing more protected areas, has announced plans for a new National Park ‘ Parc des forêts de Champagne et Bourgogne ’, the first National Park in the north of France. Just how will this affect the region?

At present France has ten National Parks encompassing a diversity of nature and ecosystems. The French government is committed to the concept, aiming for 2% of her mainland to be protected within the next ten years. Parc des forêts de Champagne et Bourgogne will be park number 11.

As long ago as 1810 the poet Wordsworth described the Lake District in England as ‘sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy.’ Wherever you are, the sentiment is something we hold to this day, National Parks are something we have a part share in and a pride in their immense beauty, their concepts and aims. These are some of the few guaranteed places on earth which will be handed on to our children’s children unsullied. For these are protected areas on the planet where the tourism moguls can’t get their hands on a slice of the action come what may, the fishing fleets can’t denude the seas and pylons cannot dominate the skyline.

These exceptional areas come about by a combination between geology, climate, diverse biology, ecosystems and activities both natural and human. They are in tune with today’s message: ‘be aware of the fragility of the planet, and have responsibility for environment, the planet is your home’. On a more personal level, as our towns become more of a rat race and the pace of life accelerates, the need for the freedom of quiet open spaces grows.

The existing parks are mainly in the mountainous terrain in the south of the mainland: Ecrins in the Alps; the Pyrénées; Cévennes, in the southern Massif Central; Vanoise; and Mercantour. Port-Cros is an island and the new Calanques in the Provence region both include marine habitats within the park. The other three parks are in the territories – Guadeloupe, French Guiana and La Réunion.

Each has a different climate: Mediterranean, Alpine, Oceanic, Continental, and in the case of the French territories, there is also volcanic terrain on the Caribbean Guadalupe and tropical forests on the Amazonian plateau of Guiana. From the 100 different orchids on Guadalupe to the little frogs, (Discoglossus Sardinian) on Port Cros, the parks are conserving some of the wonders of nature.
In the summer of 2009 to a great fanfare, the government announced that a new National Park, number 11 would be formed in the north-east of France called 'Parc des forêts de Champagne et Bourgogne' . This breakaway northwards introduces a new ecosystem to the list, a National Park with a Continental climate, predominantly forest and plain. Discussions are also going on to find a humid area in France for park number 12.

The Heart of the Matter

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The need for National Parks governed by tight laws is clear. Man needs to be constrained otherwise he sets about destroying the most beautiful natural habitats in the world for his own ends. In fact in France it was just such an attempt by commercial entrepreneurs that set the wheels in motion in the first place back in the early 1960s. In the Vanoise a large tourism project was halted by an environmental group, establishing the need for laws to be put into place to prevent ruination occurring in the future.

We have all become much more aware since then realising the need to protect our environment, anticipate climate change, control pollution and preserve and improve the quality of life in the community. The laws relating to the parks have changed over time too as these concepts have developed. In 2006 the French government updated the constitution stating that as well as protecting the biodiversity of the region, the National Parks also needed to strengthen links with the local community and involve them in the projects - the cultural side of life should be preserved, people should be educated about their environment and the long term effects considered.

The 2006 reforms also stated that the parks of the future should not be less than 10,000 hectares in size. There are two distinct zones in each park. At the centre is the heart, le coeur, the highly regulated area, where there is a great richness of nature and little human intervention. Then around the outside, l’aire d’adhésion, a secondary area where there are villages supporting tourism and agriculture and contributing to the protected areas at the heart. Using the Ecrin as an example, around the edges of the park just on double the number of hectares and 61 communes provide the back-up.

Each park is governed locally with the aim of protection and development but comes under the umbrella of the government agency Parcs Nationaux de France.

So what are the benefits to the area? With a National Park, government funding comes to the region; the prestigious tag is attached; technical know-how is brought in not only to protect the flora and fauna but also to help local people; scientific studies are put into action; an educational programme is put in place and tourism gets a great boost. Over 7 million people a year visit the existing parks. As there is consultation in the local community at all levels, a bonding of the community is one of the aims, although anyone involved in politics at a local or national level will know that this high aim sometimes backfires.

Discovering the New Park

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When it was announced in summer 2009 that a new National Park is to be formed covering the northern part of the Côte d’Or region in Burgundy into the Haute Marne department in the Champagne-Ardenne region, there was a great fanfare. This park, number 11, ‘ Parc des forêts de Champagne et Bourgogne ’ will literally put the area on the map.

The name could not be better – until now this area hasn’t received the attention paid to its neighbours, the rich Champagne producers to the north and the famous wine growers to the south in Burgundy. That is about to change.

Due to open in 2017 it will be made up of a mix of forest in the Châtillonnais and plain on the Plateau de Langres. Discussions are ongoing in the communes as to the boundaries of the ‘coeur’ and the l’aire d’adhésion – each commune is asked whether or not they wish to participate in the new park. It brings with it restrictions for within the heart of the park tourist activities will be tightly controlled: aspects of ‘green’ tourism will be allowed such as guided walks, but caravans, bikes, cars and hunting will be prohibited, as will be noise. New tourist and observation centres will be built and a lot of money will be spent on promoting the area.

Arc en Barrois has been chosen as the meeting point for discussion and the trio of towns Châtillon-sur-Seine, Langres and Chaumont, will all play their part in the set-up of the park.
On the western flank of the new park is the town of Châtillon-sur-Seine the centre of an agricultural and forested region. It nudges on the Champagne region with vines that make the Burgundian equivalent of its illustrious neighbour, Crémant de Bourgogne. The town has already received a welcome boost of tourist activity from the new museum in the Abbaye Notre Dame which houses the Treasures of Vix discovered at nearby Mount Lassois. Mount Lassois is one of the areas which is highlighted to be included in a proposed extension to the National Park in the future. Châtillon-sur-Seine is within easy reach of the TGV station Montbard.

The eastern flank of the new park stops short of the boundary of the A31 a main artery which gives good access from northern Europe and the Channel Ports via Troyes and from the south of France. So the new park will be easy to get to. The town of Langres in the Haute Marne department, the other side of the A31, is a handsome medieval town standing proud, overlooking the plateau with its beautiful rivers, lakes and canals.

National or Natural?
In the UK, a protected park tends to get the generic label ‘national’ park but in France there are two distinct categories. The ten National Parks (with one confirmed in the pipeline) are controlled by the government organisation Les Parcs nationaux de France under very strict criteria. These are the crème de la crème.

To complicate matters then there are the Parcs naturels régionaux de France, 46 areas in all, spread across the country, covering 12% of the landmass, and governed by a Federation. The regulation in the Natural Parks is less stringent – sports and leisure activities are encouraged, a lot of financial help is provided to stimulate work with artisans, tourism and agriculture to keep the communities (amounting to three million people) buoyant. Some of the funding comes from the EU Leader projects which ‘promote economic development in these areas through a grass-roots approach.’ Many of the principals applied to the National Parks are the same in the Natural Parks: protection, improvement and understanding of the environment but in a more hands-on way is sort.

In Burgundy the Morvan Natural Park is an area of forest and lakes, rural agriculture and small communities. Tourism is promoted from campsites to country hotels. There are walking and cycling trails, quad biking tours, huntin’, shootin’ and fishing, in short much is done to stimulate the local economy and bring life to the villages.

Map of National and Natural Parks in France