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National Parks of France


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At present France has ten National Parks encompassing a diversity of nature and ecosystems. Calanques, is the most recent addition and the Parc des Forêts de Champagne et Bourgogne, originally called Entre Champagne et Bourgogne is in the pipeline.

These exceptional areas come about by a combination of geology, climate, diverse biology, ecosystems and activities both natural and human. Here you will find flora and fauna in its natural state with minimal interference from man.These protected areas 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’. It is right that we should take a pride in our National Parks and enjoy the freedom of the quiet, open spaces and fantastic scenery.The French government is committed to the concept, aiming for 2% of her mainland to be protected within the next ten years. 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 due to be opened at the end of 2010 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 ‘Entre 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

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. As well as protecting nature, 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. Here tourism is controlled, there are probably guided walks, but dogs are not allowed even on leads, caravans, cars, bikes etc. are banned, no hunting is possible and noise is kept under control. 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 ‘National Park’ 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.

National or Natural?

A protected park tends to get the generic label ‘national’ park but in France there are two distinct categories. The nine National Parks (with two 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.


National Parks Facts File

Les Calanques: In the Bouches-du-Rhône (13) and Var (83) départements. Around 11,200 hectares on land and 78,000 hectares marine.
Periphery: about 34,000 hectares on land and 145,000 hectares marine.
Les Cévennes: Southern Massif Central, La Lozère (48), Gard (30), L’Ardèche (07)
Created in 1970, covering 93,500 hectares. Periphery: 278 500 hectares
Ecrins: Hautes-Alpes (05), L’Isère (38) Opened in 1973, covering 91,800 hectares
Periphery: 178 400 hectares.
Guadeloupe: French territory (971), the park was formed in 1989 covering 21,850 hectares. Periphery: 94 065 hectares.
Guyana (French Guiana): (973) Opened 2007, this equatorial park covers a staggering 2.03 million hectares north of Brazil. Periphery: 1.4 millions d'hectares
Le Reunion: (974) Opened in 2007, the park is 105,500 hectares running the length of the island. Periphery: 87 800 hectares
Mercantour: Alpes-Maritimes ( 06 ), Alpes de Haute-Provence (04 ) Opened 1979, 68,500 hectares. Periphery : 146 000 hectares.
Parc des Forêts de Champagne et Bourgogne - previously Entre Champagne et Bourgogne: Cote d’Or (21), Haute-Marne (52), in the pipeline, total area including periphery covering 80,000 hectares -opening date to be confirmed
Port-Cros: Iles d’Hyères – Var (83) Opened 1963, this is the smallest park, 700 hectares on land, 1,300 hectares marine. Periphery : 1000 hectares
Pyrénées: Pyrénées-Atlantiques (64), Hautes-Pyrénées (65). Opened in 1967 with 45,700 hectares of land. Periphery: 206 300 hectares
La Vanoise: Savoie (73), The first National Park, opened in 1963 with 53,500 hectares. Periphery: 146 500 hectares