National parks in France warn visitors to respect flora and fauna

A surge in visitors and hikers over the summer has prompted authorities to expand a pictorial campaign aimed at promoting good behaviour in the natural spaces

Hikers are among those warned to be respectful when spending time in national parks in France
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National parks in France are suffering from excess visitor numbers, prompting authorities to expand an awareness campaign on how to best respect the environment.

The Fédération des Parcs naturels régionaux raised the alarm after noticing that too many visitors were putting the spaces at risk, especially as foreign tourists began to return following the pandemic.

In Occitanie, southern France, 20% of the region is covered by national parks, which stretch across 583 communes. Overall, there are 58 national parks (and natural spaces considered to be worthy of similar protection) in France.

Countryside hikers are among those advised to take special care to protect birds and small mammals and respect the flora.

Léa Chariol, federation member, told France 3: “If your dog is off-lead during a hike, it can run off the trail and disturb birds nesting on the ground or small mammals living in the natural area.

“In terms of the flora, the main problem is trampling over it, if you do not stay on the marked path, or if you pick flowers and berries.”

The federation has now launched a new campaign designed to alert tourists and local residents to the risks, and enable people to continue to visit the parks without risk to the environment. The campaign is intended to be light-hearted and eye-catching.

It features 20 pictograms, which are now displayed in natural areas. All of them have a colourful design and the instructions are based on well-known song lyrics. All the pictograms can be seen on the federation website here.

They include warnings on:

  • Respecting the biodiversity
  • Not picking berries or flowers
  • Not moving or disturbing wild animals or birds
  • Keeping your dog on a lead
  • Avoiding setting any fires
  • Taking litter with you and not leaving it in the countryside
  • Keeping darkness dark (no light pollution)
  • Respecting other users (such as bikes and hikers sharing the same path)
  • Driving slowly on roads

Ms Chariol said: "The risk of fire is the big news this year, but not respecting path markings is also a major risk. These little behaviours add up. When it’s just one person, it doesn't really have an impact, but when there are dozens and dozens of people, it starts to cause problems.”

The scheme was first piloted last year in the Catalan Pyrenees, but now covers the whole of France. It is set to be expanded further throughout Occitanie especially, where two new national parks are being created.

Over the next 10 years, 884 communes in the region will be encompassed by national park zones.

It comes just days after managers at the Parc national des Calanques (Bouches-du-Rhône) warned hikers and other trail users not to build large ‘cairns’ – small piles of pebbles or stones – along trails or paths as this can cause damage to fragile ecosystems.

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