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Mayors ban pointed walking poles on fragile French coastal paths

Decrees state that poles should have rubber tips to prevent the millions of visitors from wreaking environmental damage on pathways

Hikers on the coast in Cap Frehel in Brittany

The hiking poles commonly used by tourists can cause severe environmental damage to the paths along the French coasts Pic: canadastock / Shutterstock

Several mayors across France, especially in Brittany, are banning pointed hiking poles in coastal areas, saying they cause severe damage to paths and biodiversity.

David Samzun, the mayor of Saint-Nazaire (Loire-Atlantique), said that the poles “are ruining our pathways”. At the end of June, he took out a decree requiring the pole spikes or ends to be covered in a rubber tip as a means of protecting the ground.

The poles otherwise cause severe damage to the fragile coastal pathways, causing erosion and damage to vegetation and biodiversity, the mayor said, especially as a result of the heavy traffic from tourists.

The local 83-kilometre part of the GR 34 hiking path, a popular route which in full runs between Mont-Saint-Michel (Manche) and Saint-Nazaire (Loire-Atlantique). is especially popular with hikers, particularly in the summer.

Mr Samzun told 20 Minutes: “Like ice axes, these spikes pierce paths and can wreak havoc.”

The poles often have steel, pointed tips, which can cause holes in the soil and destroy vegetation. Water can seep into the larger holes, and increase the risk of collapse and erosion.

The mayor has made a similar decision in Belle-Île-en-Mer (Morbihan). Tibault Grollemund told France 3 Bretagne: “Since the start of spring, we see hikers arriving in large numbers. 

“We thought we had to do something. The ground on the island is chalky, it’s not granite, so it’s very crumbly.” 

Educational campaigns have also been launched to raise awareness of the issue among tourists and hikers, and specialist shops are being encouraged to sell special rubber tips for the poles. Posters have been put up to explain the issue to tourists and local hikers.

‘You don’t need this fancy equipment here’

The French hiking committee in Finistère has called on all hikers to buy and use these. The group’s president, Jean-Yves Jaouen, said: “All sports shops sell them, they only cost a few euros and they really avoid these problems.

“Having pointed metal poles in Brittany is sacrilege. You don’t need to have this fancy equipment, we’re not in the high-altitude mountains here.”

Didier Olivry, regional delegate of the Conservatoire du littoral, said: “Today, nine million hikers go on the GR 34 per year. That’s a lot of people. The problem is that the GR path is in a zone that is already fragile, subject to erosion, in areas that suffer from wind and rain.

“On the paths, the coastal law requires us to use earth [to reconstruct the path], which can be destroyed very quickly.

“Fortunately, most of the hikers are aware of environmental issues. They quickly understand that, in natural environments, it is better to put a rubber tip [on to their hiking poles] so that future generations will also have the chance to walk on these paths.”

Mr Olivry said that other decrees had been taken in Cap Fréhel and la Pointe du Raz, which respectively receive a million and 800,000 visitors per year.

This is not the first time that the issue has been raised; in 2010, authorities in Perros-Guirec (Côtes d’Armor) raised the alarm over the damage that the hiking poles can cause.

Mayor Erven Léon said: “800,000 to one million people take the Ploumanac’h way every year. We have to restore certain parts [of the path] every five to six years. People understand that it’s an important part of our heritage that we need to protect.” 

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