top cx logo
cx logo
Explorearrow down
search icon

Explainer: What is a ZAD land zone and where are they in France?

We look at France’s ‘Zones à défendre’ environmental protest sites (present and past) and their aims

We look at what ZADs are, where they are (and have been) in France and what they aim to achieve Pic: Pierre-Olivier / Shutterstock

Police cleared protesters from the A69 motorway project once again last weekend, preventing the creation of a 'ZAD'.

Radical environmentalists had attempted to set up a site to continually protest the motorway's construction, but over 1,500 police and gendarmerie descended on the site to disperse the protestors.

Read more: Protestors removed from A69 motorway project site in south-west France

We look at what ZADs are, where they are (and have been) in France and what they aim to achieve. 

The acronym ZAD originally stood for Zones d'Aménagement Différé (meaning deferred development zones) but this has often been changed in recent years to 'Zones à défendre' in the media and general speech.

This acronym refers to a procedure created in 1962 which allows local authorities to pre-emptively purchase land for future developments. To prevent any speculation, the price reference is set at the value of the land one year before the creation of the ZAD. 

Since early 2010, however, the acronym has become better known for standing for ‘Zones à défendre’ and designates the ten or so locations in France where protesters, ‘zadistes’, oppose large-scale development projects they consider harmful for the environment or common good.

In short, a ZAD is a place where a conflict has broken out between environmentalists and project owners.

The area is normally occupied by zadistes so as to block the development of a project. 

The zadistes might establish themselves in the Zone à défendre, and sometimes create a community. They might live and work there for an undefined period of time

What are some famous ZADs from the past?

E7 motorway project, Bordeaux-Valence

Demo against the E7 motorway project between Bordeaux-Valence and the bypass at Oloron-Est. A ZAD was set up in June 2017 and the zadistes were expelled in late 2019.

Center Parcs project, Roybon forest (Isère)

From 2014 to 2020, environmental activists settled in the Chambaran Forest near Roybon to fight against a Center Parcs development on a natural area of land. In 2020, the group Pierre et Vacances announced that it had abandoned the project.

Cigéo project in Bure (Meuse) 

In 2016, opponents of the nuclear waste burial project, Cigéo, created a ZAD in a commune near Bure. The zadistes were evicted by police in 2018.

Airport project at Notre-Dames-des-Landes

This relates to a struggle against a project aiming to transfer the Nantes-Atlantique airport to Notre-Dame-des-Landes. The zadistes installed there claim they formed a real ‘society’. 

The airport transfer project was abandoned in 2018 and the site is now considered a ‘normalised ZAD’.

Amassada in Saint-Victor-et-Melvieu (Aveyron)

This involved a struggle against electricity network operator RTE's plan to build a high-voltage transformer to interconnect the region's wind farms. 

In 2015, zadistes built a hut there and named it Amassada, ‘embassy’ in Occitan. More than 300 zadistes were evicted in 2019.

Grand Contournement Ouest de Strasbourg project

Zadistes opposed the toll motorway project 42 GCO, which involved the destruction of several hectares of farmland and forests. The zadistes settled on the 24km of the future motorway. They were evicted in 2019.

Urbanisation project on the Plaine de Montesson (Yvelines) 

Called ZAD Patate, this unoccupied ZAD was used to fight against the urbanisation of this area where potatoes are grown.

Sivens Dam project (Tarn)

This was in opposition to a dam project to create an artificial lake in the Tescou valley to facilitate the irrigation of surrounding farmland. The project was abandoned in 2015 and a new dam project has been under consideration since 2019.

The industrial farm in Buigny-Saint-Maclou (Somme)

Demonstrations against a proposed industrial farm, which nevertheless went ahead and is now home to a herd of 800 cows.

High speed rail project in the Susa Valley (French-Italian border)

A ‘No TAV’ ZAD was set up to fight against the high-speed train line project between Lyon and Turin in the 1990s. 

EuropaCity project in Gonesse (Val d’Oise) 

ZAD opposed the construction of EuropaCity, a mall belonging to the Auchan group, on agricultural land in the Triangle de Gonesse. The project was abandoned by the government in 2019.

Grand Port Maritime de Nantes-Saint-Nazaire project in Frossay (Loire-Atlantique)

Put on hold since 2020 following protests, this related to the creation of an industrial park "dedicated to marine eco-technologies". The zadistes were removed in 2021.

Related articles 

Anger as French ecologists deflate hundreds of SUV tyres in Toulouse

MAP: See where in France motorways are currently planned

Resident or second-home owner in France?
Benefit from our daily digest of headlines and how-to's to help you make the most of life in France
By joining the newsletter, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
See more popular articles
The Connexion Help Guides
featured helpguide
Income Tax in France 2023 (for 2022 income)*
Featured Help Guide
- Primarily aimed at Britons, covers pensions, rent, ISAs, shares, savings and interest - but also contains significant general information pertinent to readers of other nationalities - Overview of online declarations + step-by-step guide to the French printed forms - Includes updates given automatically after this year's site opened
Get news, views and information from France