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Changing face of France's national parks

A national park veteran explains the past, present and future of France's protected natural wildnernesses

France's newest national park - the Parc National des Forets de Champagne et Bourgogne - opened in November.

It covers 250,000 hectares of ancient forests containing rare flowers and animals, including wildcats and boar. 

It means France now has 11 national parks. The first, Vanoise National Park, was created in 1963 in the Alps.

We spoke to long-serving staff member Mr Jean-Luc Étiévant, who has worked at Vanoise since 1987, about what he loves about France’s parks and to see what advice he could give the ‘new kid on the block’.

Mr Étiévant (above, left) began work as a monitor in the park - first in Valse, then Champagny and Termignon.

In 2002, he became manager of the Termignon sector, then Haute Mariaenne in 2014.

He said: “I have been a police officer in charge of the environment, the application of protocols for monitoring fauna and flora, school activities, tourist animation, park infrastructure maintenance like trails and signs.

“I was responsible for the management of the park, running the team and relationships with politicians and professionals.

“And I look after the of buildings and trails of the National Park - installing and rehabilitating the 60 buildings that belong to us.”

Mr Étiévant said that he has seen lots of changes over the years. “When I returned to the park, my tasks were only carried out in the protected area, oriented towards the protection of the natural environment and the knowledge of animal and plant species: Animal count, mountain practice, National Park police, displays to the public.

“But in time, the national park opened to the peripheral territories, our follow-ups spread in the peripheral zone, our interventions as police of the hunt were extended to policing of the environment in general and our displays were transformed into awareness of the environment, school and tourism.”

Mr Étiévant added that the role of the park had extended from protecting to the environment to bringing in tourists and forming a key part of the summer economy in the area.

And he told us he was lucky to have such a unique job - that is the perfect fit for him. “Even in the most difficult moments since I came to the park,” he said, “I have always been aware of the fit between my personality, the things that give me meaning, and this work.

“This work is quite unique in our modern society and I think no other would have brought me elements as rich and varied as this one.

“I like being in nature, alone, working in a protected area in rough and wild places, in contact with animals and beautiful landscapes but I also like human contacts and participate in the organisation and the life of my community.”

The new park - a three-hour drive from Paris - will have a budget of more than €3million and have 30 employees.

We asked Mr Étiévant what advice he had for them. He said: “Do your work with, conviction, modesty, sometimes with firmness but without fundamentalism or pretension and with a real respect for nature, the wilderness, and human beings.”

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