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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

France’s interior minister Gérald Darmanin said yesterday (November 2) that he was prepared to deploy as many gendarmes “as needed” to prevent a protest against farming water reservoirs in Sainte-Soline (Deux-Sèvres) from becoming a ‘ZAD’. 

Read also: Protests over ‘absurd’ farming water reservoirs in France injure 91

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

Where have French ZADs been set up in recent years and what is the situation today?

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 

Paris museum thwarts activist’s attempt to throw soup over painting

Climate protestors let down tyres of SUVs in southwest France

Eco Zad action targeting up to 50 sites

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