Four new regional parks created in France

- but no extra cash for them

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Special environmental protection is to cover 30% of the area of France, with high protection for 10% within two years, President Macron has promised.

Currently, almost a quarter (23.9%) of the country is covered by national or regional reserves and parks, Natura 2000 sites, and marine natural parks.

At least four new regional parks – Mont Ventoux, Baie de Somme, Parc de Corbières-Fenouillèdes (see photos below) and Doubs Horloger – are also to be created in the next few years, bringing the number up to 58.

The four areas have all long been studied as candidates for such a move.

Rules for regional parks are less restrictive than for national parks – France has 11 of these – but communes must sign a 12-year charter to protect local nature, culture and the landscape.

On a recent visit to Chamonix, Mr Macron said that 2020 would be a key year for climate change, adding that his visit to the fast-receding Mer de Glace showed urgent action is needed.

He announced that a special zone would be created around Mont Blanc this year to restrict access and protect the mountain. The move prompted the mayor of the nearby commune Saint-Gervais, Jean-Marc Peillex, to declare: “We have saved Mont Blanc.”

The zone will stretch for 2,200 hectares around the mountain – the highest in Europe – and anyone breaking the rules, which have yet to be drawn up, could face heavy fines.

Already numbers allowed on the mountain are limited and climbers have to reserve a place in one of three existing refuges. “Wild camping” can be punished with a €300,000 fine and two years’ jail.

Mr Peillex has campaigned for 15 years for greater protection of the mountain, and was critical of former Royal Marine Matthew Disney, who abandoned a rowing machine after trying to climb to the summit with it to raise money for charity.

He was also angry when a tourist plane landed near the summit to allow two Swiss tourists to “climb” to the top.

The government intends to lead by example on key environmental issues, Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne has said.

Ministers will switch to electric or hybrid-engine rechargeable vehicles and will be encouraged to use trains for non-urgent trips of less than four hours.

It was also decided that civil servants will get an annual €200 bonus for cycling to work, or car-sharing, while the State will stop buying throwaway plastic products from July.

The measures followed a government meeting focused on reducing the environmental footprint of France’s large state sector.

So far, no new money has been put forward for the creation of the new parks, leading to renewed debate over the possibility of an entrance fee.

The subject was raised in a 2018 report, which said that the public pays to visit parks in the US, Chile, Mexico, South Korea, Poland and Japan.Entrance fees, paid parking and charges for services were suggested.

Despite recognising this could mean parks would not be accessible to the less well-off, the report suggested the government “think deeply”.

Jérôme Bignon, senator for the Somme department, who has recently put forward a bill to limit access to natural sites to protect them, said: “Free access to nature is a French cultural principle. [Charging] would not be welcome and would mean people would no longer go.”

Baie de Somme

One reason the Baie de Somme, where the river Somme drains into the English Channel, was chosen is its unique wildlife.

It has the largest colony of seals in France, with around 400 common harbour seals and 100 grey seals which can be seen basking on the sand.

Every year 300 species of migratory birds stop off en route from Scandinavia to Africa.

There are two different trails with hides allowing visitors to watch the birds which include wigeon, shelducks, curlews and oystercatchers.

A more recent arrival is the most modern horse breed in France, the Cheval de Henson, which was only recognised by the French government for breeding in 2003, and had its birthplace in the Baie de Somme.

It was bred to obtain a hardy horse adapted for all forms of equestrian tourism, and is a cross between light saddle horses and heavier Norwegian Fjord horses.

In winter the horses are left to graze freely on the bay’s salt meadows along with sheep.

The Baie de Somme will make up just part of the new regional park (full name Baie de Somme Picardie Maritime) which will stretch back along the valley of the river Somme to cover 165km² and 137 communes.

The dramatic Mont Ventoux

Parc de Corbières-Fenouillèdes