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Nature protection and biodiversity (France)

Why should we care about this issue

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

French species diversity: a rich but threatened heritage

France’s position at the crossroads of four of the EU’s nine biogeographical regions (Continental, Atlantic, Mediterranean and Alpine) gives it one of the richest natural heritages in Europe, as illustrated by the following examples:

·         there is considerable habitat diversity: of the 216 habitat types of Community interest, i.e. habitats within the territory of the EU which are rare or in danger of disappearing, 131 (61%) occur in France;

·         in metropolitan France, of the 696 species currently being evaluated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 13 are classified as extinct and 140 (20%) are in danger of disappearing;

·         France is one of the four EU regions with the highest level of mammal diversity, having more than a hundred known species;

·         France is also one of the richest EU countries in reptiles, with 40 species.

Moreover, because of its overseas territories, French territory is home to a natural heritage of worldwide importance:

·         it is the only territory to be involved in five ‘hot spots’ of world biodiversity (the Mediterranean Basin, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, New Caledonia and Polynesia) and one of the earth’s three major forest zones (Amazonia);

·         French overseas territories, which are very rich in biological terms, and occur in three of the world’s great oceans, are home to some 3 360 plants and almost 240 vertebrates, i.e. more than the whole of Continental Europe (on only 0.08% of all emerged land);

·         France’s huge maritime territory, the second largest in the world (with an exclusive economic zone of approximately 11 million km²), contains 10% of the world’s coral reefs and 20% of its coral atolls;

·         the most diversified seabird colonies in the world are at home in France’s Southern and Antarctic Territories.

Overseas, the rate of extinction is estimated to be more than thirty times the rate observed in metropolitan France. Purely owing to the large number of its tropical species, France is in fourth place in the world ranking for threatened animal species, and in ninth position for plant species.


Diversity and endemism of metropolitan and overseas France


Diversity and endemism of metropolitan and overseas France

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

ZNIEFFs (natural areas which are of particular interest in terms of ecology and wildlife) – the tool used to measure biodiversity

The inventory of natural areas of particular interest in terms of ecology and wildlife (ZNIEFFs) is a programme introduced by the Environment Ministry and launched in 1982 by the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN). It consists of a census of noteworthy terrestrial natural areas within metropolitan and overseas territory, and is one element of the expert evaluation of the impacts of development projects on natural environments.

There are two different types of area:

·                      Type I ZNIEFFs, covering small areas, are homogenous spaces from an ecological viewpoint, and are home to at least one rare or threatened species or habitat of not only local but also regional, national or Community interest;   

·                      Type II ZNIEFFs are large areas of rich or largely unaltered natural areas which have considerable biological potential; they may also include Type I areas and perform a functional role as well as possessing ecological and landscape consistency.


Initial evaluation of habitats and species of Community interest: overall conservation status unfavourable


The ‘Habitats, Fauna and Flora’ Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora) obliges Member States to evaluate the conservation status of habitats and species of Community interest every six years, which means habitats and species that are rare or in danger of disappearing within Europe’s territory. The first evaluation, carried out for the period 2001-2006, can serve as a basis for comparison when carrying out the next evaluation (for the period 2007-2012).


Evaluation of the conservation status of habitats and species of Community interest: 2001-2006

Evaluation of the conservation status of habitats and species of Community interest: 2001-2006

Note : The number of habitats or species evaluated is given in brackets.

N.B.: 20% of the 65 habitats of Community interest evaluated for the continental area have a satisfactory conservation status, 25% e an unsatisfactory status, and 45% a poor conservation status, while for 6% the conservation status is unknown.

Source : MNHN, 2009. Processing: SOeS (Observation and Statistics Service).


Among the 131 natural or semi-natural habitats of Community interest which are present in France and which have been evaluated, bogs and fens, dunes and coastal and marine habitats are the most severely affected, with most of the habitats having poor conservation status, and none – or almost none – having favourable status. The evaluation also shows a worrying situation for grasslands and meadows in the Atlantic and Continental biogeographical regions, mainly as a result of a substantial reduction in their size. The Alpine region is the one in which habitats are least degraded, a third of them having favourable status.

In France, 290 species were evaluated, of which 199 were animal species (not including fish). The Atlantic and Continental biogeographical regions had the greatest proportion of species with poor conservation status, and the smallest proportion of species with good conservation status. Of the animal species, the taxonomic groups most affected are amphibians, molluscs, crustaceans and the Odonata, (the order to which dragonflies belong). The butterflies of the Atlantic region are particularly badly affected, with 58 % of them having poor conservation status. The situation is better for terrestrial mammals (except bats), for which, on average, the conservation status is favourable. The conservation status of most marine mammals and the majority of bats is unknown.


A substantial increase in wild ungulates in the forests and mountains of France


Between 1985 and 2005, the numbers of red deer quadrupled, reaching a total of 151 000 head, as the area of woodland colonised by them expanded. In the mid-1980s they occurred only in small numbers in the southern half of France, but the present trend is for stocks to become homogenised between North and South, with a marked increase in numbers in mountain areas. The latest update of the inventory (for the period 2000-2005) shows that the species is continuing to expand, particularly in the départements of Tarn, Ariège, Gard and Ain.


Developments in national hunting hunting figures for red deer between 1973 and 2008

Developments in national hunting hunting figures for red deer between 1973 and 2008

Note : This illustration shows numbers of individuals outside parks and enclosures.

Source : ONCFS (National Hunting Organisation), based on data from the “Cervidae – Wild boar” network  – FDC.


Developments in numbers of wolf and lynx


The wolf, which two hundred years ago occurred in 90% of France’s territory, disappeared from this country at the end of the 1930s. Figures provided by the ‘Wolf – Lynx’ network show that the species has multiplied and is once again colonising territory, on the basis of individual animals that crossed over from Italy into the Mercantour National Park in 1992. Two thirds of their numbers are concentrated in the Southern Alps. In the winter of 2008-2009, there were almost 80 individuals and 26 ‘zones of permanent presence’ (ZPP) were identified, including one in the Eastern Pyrenees and one in Cantal. Over the past five years numbers of wolves (and) ZPPs have almost doubled. New ‘zones of temporary presence’ have recently appeared in Tarn and Vaucluse, showing that the process of geographical colonisation is continuing.

  Distribution of the wolf in France


The French lynx population is concentrated in three nuclei. The most demographically active of these is the Jura nucleus which numbers between 74 and 108 individuals, the result of a spontaneous return in 1974 following its reintroduction in the neighbouring Swiss Jura Mountains. Two secondary nuclei have also been identified: the Vosges nucleus (between 23 and 34 individuals) and the Alps nucleus (between 15 and 22), and there are several presence indicators which suggest a possible connection between them. Thus their overall regular range in 2005-2007 showed an increase of 12% compared with the corresponding range in 2002-2004, reaching an area of more than 10 000 km² (an increase of 14% in the Jura, 4% in the Vosges and 15% in the Alps). Although in biological terms this is considered a ‘small population’, the trends observed and the demographic models produced suggest that the overall conservation status of the lynx in France is quite favourable.


Developments in the presence of the lynx, by mountain range, between 1996 and 2007

Developments in the presence of the lynx, by mountain range, between 1996 and 2007


Note : The regular range corresponds to the stabilised sectors of the population. The recent range is  evidence of the potential colonisation of new areas. The irregular range, assumed from areas in which the animals’ presence is detected intermittently, is not shown in this diagram owing to interpretation difficulties.

Source : ONCFS, based on data from the ‘Wolf – Lynx’ network, 2008.


Reduction in numbers of common birds


Although there are many programmes and projects dealing with what is known as ‘remarkable’ biodiversity, we must not forget so-called ‘ordinary’ biodiversity. The monitoring of common species is just as necessary to our understanding of current developments as that of heritage species. Birds appear to be good indicators of biodiversity status owing to their high position in the food chain. In this context, the numerous data collected and analysed by the STOC programme, which monitors common birds over time, are very important.

The latest results of the STOC programme, which since 1989 has been devoted to the monitoring of 65 species of common birds, show a 14% drop in numbers. The situation varies according to which species are examined: over the period 1989-2009, the numbers of farmland birds fell by 25% while the number of birds with habitats in built-up areas fell by 21%. The numbers of woodland birds fell by 12%. On the other hand, the numbers of generalised species, i.e. those which are not linked to a specific habitat, increased by almost 20%. These trends show that there is a risk of fauna homogenisation among common birds in metropolitan France. There are many reasons for this decline, but degradation or loss of habitats is the main threat.


STOC programme index of abundance of common birds, as a function of type of habitat

STOC programme index of abundance of common birds, as a function of type of habitat


Nesting birds of prey

Birds of prey, as higher predators, are very sensitive to the availability of their prey species and to the concentration of various pollutants within the food chain (pesticides and heavy metals). They are therefore regarded as good indicators of the state of the environment and its development.

France’s position at the crossroads of four major biogeographical regions, its large area and the diversity of its landscapes and environments account for the presence, within metropolitan France, of over 60% of the nesting birds of prey in Europe (25 of the 40 species, of which 23 are regular). Thus France occupies second place in Western Europe, behind Spain (26 species). Two thirds of the species of diurnal birds of prey of Western Europe breed in French territory. Of the 23 species nesting regularly in France, seven are regarded as very rare (fewer than 100 pairs) and four consist of no more than 2 000 pairs.

At the European level, France’s responsibility as regards the conservation of nesting birds of prey is considerable. It is home to between 286 000 and 392 000 breeding pairs, or 21% of the West European population of birds of prey. More than two thirds of these consist of just two species: the buzzard (Buteo buteo, 43% of the numbers) and the kestrel (Falco tinnunculus, 25%). For half of the species occurring in its territory, France occupies first or second place in Western Europe in terms of abundance. For 12 species, it provides a home for more than 10% of the European populations. The French populations of the hen-harrier (Circus cyaneus) and the black kite (Milvus migrans) alone represent over half of the populations of Western Europe. The Auvergne, Rhône-Alpes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Midi-Pyrénées are among the regions where nesting birds of prey are most abundant.

The great diversity of birds of prey in metropolitan France is supplemented by the wealth of species which live overseas. Almost 40% of these species are rare or localised. French Guiana alone is home to 80% of the birds of prey which occur in the DOM-TOMs. The species which occurs in the greatest numbers in New Caledonia is an endemic species, the white-bellied goshawk (Accipiter haplochrous, more than 2 500 pairs). The Réunion harrier, or papangue (Circus maillardi) is also an endemic species, whereas the Frances’s sparrowhawk (Accipiter francesiae) is a subspecies which is endemic to Mayotte.

STOC programme index of abundance of common birds, as a function of type of habitat

Numbers of nesting bird of prey species, by département

Source : SOeS, 2009, after J.-M. Thiollay and V. Bretagnolle, 2004.


Migratory fish


The main large migratory fish occurring in France are Atlantic salmon, sea trout, shad, eel, lamprey and sturgeon. Although these species were abundant in France up to the nineteenth century, in major rivers such as the Seine, Loire, Dordogne, Garonne and Rhine, the construction of dams and chronic pollution are responsible for a substantial decline in their numbers over the past century.

Stocks declined rapidly, particularly from the 1950s onwards, a period in which salmon became extinct in the Rhine. In the 1990s levels in the Loire gave rise to considerable concern. The stakes were high, however, because this was the last salmon population in Western Europe which had adapted to long migrations (800 km over the Loire-Allier axis).

From the mid-1990s onwards, the river basins were provided with an initial plan for managing migratory fish: dams were gradually equipped with fish passage facilities (‘fish passes’), salmon fishing was banned along the Loire, and fish were counted and monitored. In spite of these essential measures, however, the situation remains fragile.

The stocks of salmon counted along the Loire-Allier axis vary considerably from year to year. Recently, 2003 and 2006 were record years, in which 1 200 and 950 salmon were counted respectively. Apart from these two special years, however, the average number of salmon counted annually at the Vichy monitoring station (650 km from the sea) was approximately 500 individuals over the period 1996-2009, still well below the target of 2 400 salmon initially set for the year 2007. Further upstream on the Allier, at the Poutès monitoring station, the number of salmon counted remains small, with an average of 74 individuals identified over the period 1996-2009 (with a maximum of 153 salmon in 2006).

Numbers of salmon counted over the Loire-Allier axis since 1996

As numbers of salmon monitored

Numbers of salmon counted over the Loire-Allier axis since 1996

Source: Logrami – Onema, 2009 [Logrami = Loire Grands Migrateurs, the association responsible for the management and restoration of migratory fish in the Loire basin; Onema = Office national de l’eau et des milieux aquatiues, National Office for water and aquatic environments].


On the Rhine, an average of 70 salmon (with a minimum of 47 individuals in 2006 and a maximum of 94 in 2002) have been counted each year at the Iffezheim dam, downstream from Strasbourg, since their return in 2000 following the introduction of a fish pass. However, in the Rhine the life-cycle of this fish has not really taken off again in Alsace, owing to the fact that there are still many unmanaged obstacles over the course of the Rhine, the Ill and the Bruche, which are preventing any significant recovery in natural reproduction. New passes have been opened, or are about to be opened, along the Rhine or its tributaries. As for the Dordogne, the stocks counted in this river in 2003, 2004 and 2005 at the Tuilière monitoring station (184, 306 and 122 respectively) were still to a large extent lower than the levels observed between 2000 and 2002. Between 2000 and 2008 a fall in numbers of as much as 70% was also observed along the Garonne during the period 2000-2002. However, there are still salmon in the smaller coastal watercourses, particularly in Brittany, owing to the fact that not many obstacles have been constructed on most of these rivers.


The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Evaluation of the conservation status of species on the IUCN Red List for 2008-2009

France lies in eighth position among the countries which are home to the greatest number of animal and plant species threatened at the worldwide level. This finding is mainly the result of the threats hanging over the considerable biodiversity of the overseas territories, but is also due to the Mediterranean communities, which also represent a hot spot in biodiversity terms.

Red List of species in metropolitan France

Red List of species in metropolitan France


Of the 119 mammal species studied, 11 (10 continental and one marine species) are in danger of disappearing from metropolitan France and three are already extinct: the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus albiventer), the North Atlantic right whale (Balaena biscayensis) and the Spanish ibex (Capra pyrenaica). As many as 9% of the mammals which occur in metropolitan France are in danger of disappearing and 21% at worldwide level. Almost one third of threatened mammals are Chiroptera (bats) and seven species are listed as ‘semi-threatened’. They are mainly victims of disruption due to the disturbance of their lairs, the degradation of their habitats and a shortage of prey owing to the use of pesticides.

Almost half of cetaceans fall into the category ‘insufficient information’ owing to a lack of knowledge and available data. However, some of them could be threatened in France. They are affected by various types of pressure, such as sound pollution caused by shipping and military sonars, chemical pollution, accidentally being caught in fishing nets owing to the use of gill nets, overfishing, which reduces their food supply, and climate change.

Of the 277 species of nesting birds evaluated, 73 species are currently threatened in metropolitan France. Moreover, 26% of the species nesting in metropolitan France are at risk of disappearing from the country, while the worldwide figure for threatened bird species is 12%. Some species may occur in France but no longer nest here, and they are therefore regarded as threatened. Five species have disappeared from the country, while 11 are at critical risk of extinction, such as the black vulture (Aegypius monachus), common crane, (Grus grus) and razorbill (Alca torda) and 20 are in danger, such as the greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), black stork (Ciconia nigra) and slender-billed gull (Larus genei). A combination of various threats, such as the intensification of farming methods, the destruction of habitats, and pollution, are causing various bird populations to decline in metropolitan France. Global warming many in future cause changes in the range of many species: in some cases causing them to disappear from metropolitan France as they move north, while new species may occur, coming from the south.

Seven out of 37 reptile species (i.e. 19% compared with 28% worldwide) and seven out of 34 amphibian species (i.e. 21% compared with 30% worldwide) are currently threatened in metropolitan France. Six reptile species and six amphibian species fall into the ‘semi-threatened’ category. The number of threatened species in metropolitan France could therefore double in the years to come.

The drying out of wetlands, the filling in of ponds, the pollution of aquatic environments, urbanisation and the decline in pastoral farming have caused a great reduction in the habitats of many species. In addition to these threats, there is also the illegal collecting of individual specimens as well as competition with introduced exotic species such as the red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) and the bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus), which are a threat to native species such as the European pond terrapin (Emys orbicularis) and various species of green frogs.

The initial analysis carried out on 160 orchid species studied in metropolitan France shows that 27 are in danger of disappearing from the territory (i.e. 17%), of which four are classified as endangered (e.g. the Aveyron ophrys (Ophrys aveyronensis) and Eleonore’s ophrys (Ophrys eleonorae). Another orchid, Anacamptis collina, has already disappeared, and 36 species are classified as ‘semi-threatened’, in other words one species in five.

The draining of marshland and moist meadows, the abandoning of traditional farming practices such as haymaking in dry environments and non-intensive livestock farming which involves the enclosure of certain environments, have caused a decline in several species. In addition, some species are subject to intense pressure from being picked in their natural environment.

The analysis of threats to freshwater fish shows that 15 of the 69 species studied are at risk of disappearing (i.e. 22% compared with 37% worldwide). Two species have even been classified as extinct worldwide, the true fera (Coregonus fera) and the little fera, or gravenche (Coregonus hiemalis), and two others are classed as extinct in metropolitan France, the Spanish toothcarp (Aphanius iberus) and the Valencia toothcarp (Valencia hispanica). The main threat to freshwater fish is the degradation and destruction of natural environments: the extraction of aggregates, the drying out, drainage and clearing of wetlands, as well as various kinds of agricultural and industrial pollution. The position of amphihaline migratory fish, such as salmon and eels, appears to be particularly worrying. These fish, which spend part of their life cycle at sea before returning to breed in rivers, find their way blocked by dams, and are also the victims of overfishing in estuaries, which makes their populations even more vulnerable.



Nesting birds




Freshwater fish






Not assessed


Metropolitan France







Percentage of species assessed by the Red List which are regarded as threatened with extinction worldwide and in metropolitan France

Source : IUCN French Committee, 2009.


The results of the IUCN Red List assessment of endangered species show that the overseas territories are particularly vulnerable. Almost all these territories (with the exception of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon) have a sizeable number of endangered species: 372 for New Caledonia, 247 for Polynesia, 119 for Réunion, 77 for Guadeloupe, 74 for Mayotte, 56 for French Guiana, 39 for Martinique, 22 in the Terres australes et antarctiques françaises (French Southern and Antarctic Lands – TAAF) and four for Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon. These results are only estimates at the worldwide level, and may therefore vary according to the knowledge available. This explains, for example, the low number of endangered species in French Guiana, whereas the true figure is probably much higher. The island nature of most of these territories (except French Guiana) has resulted in the development of a high level of endemism, which places a great responsibility on France’s shoulders when it comes to conserving this heritage.

Although the number of species which are extinct or at risk of becoming extinct remains relatively limited in most of these territories, this is not the case in French Polynesia, where 90 species are regarded as already extinct (79 being extinct only in Polynesia and 11 also extinct worldwide), and 59 species are regarded as at critical risk of becoming extinct. New Caledonia has 82 endangered species, 248 regarded as vulnerable and 147 species regarded as semi-threatened. Thus the number of endangered species in this territory could quadruple if the situation were to deteriorate.


Invasive species: the slipper limpet, a typical case


According to the DAISIE data basis (Delivering alien invasive species inventories for Europe), which provides a census of species introduced into Europe, 1 919 continental species (aquatic or terrestrial) have been introduced into Europe, of which two thirds are plants. In the marine environment, there are113 introduced species along the coasts of the English Channel, North Sea and Atlantic, and 83 in the Mediterranean. The majority of these are, in the first case, crustaceans and molluscs and, in the second, red algae. Approximately 5% of the introduced species are considered to be invasive in both the continental and marine environments.

The slipper limpet is a North American gastropod accidentally introduced into Europe among imported oysters. Its expansion has been facilitated by oyster farming (the transport of infected spawn) and by  fishing with trawlers and dredgers. The highest concentrations are located in the 0-20 m coastal margins of Lower Normandy and Brittany. The population is estimated at over 250 000 t in the Bay of Saint-Brieuc, with biomass levels of over 10 kg / m². It can cause serious homogenisation of the seabeds that it colonises. This has happened in the banks of maerl (calcareous red algae) which are of enormous ecological value. It may also limit dredge fishing opportunities and give rise to substantial costs for cleaning the oysters that it colonises in some production areas such as those at Cancale.

Distribution of Crepidula fornicata (slipper limpet) 

Distribution of Crepidula fornicata (slipper limpet)

Source : DAISIE (Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventories for Europe), after © B. Galil, 2007 and © D. Minchin, 2007.

The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

The national sustainable development strategy has taken on the challenge of ensuring the conservation and sustainable management of biodiversity and natural resources by combating the artificialisation of the environment and the homogenisation of landscapes. The artificialisation of the countryside is a threat not only to potential agri-food production but also to ecosystems and the natural environment.

Development policies must manage conflicts over land usage. In order to do that, they must ensure that equilibrium is respected, the continuity of ecosystems is guaranteed, in particular by the formation of a network of ‘green and blue threads’, and harmonious interpenetration is encouraged between urban, rural, agricultural and natural landscapes. Development policies must also help to preserve the ‘character’ of the environment and landscape as an additional cultural, aesthetic and tourism asset of human activity.


Climate change and biodiversity

The effects of climate change on biodiversity have been mentioned for ten years or so in the context of international conventions, and scientists have been talking about them for even longer. These effects are as yet not all detectable, and uncertainties still exist, above all concerning the severity of disturbances and the capacity of species to adapt to them. Other factors are also involved, such as developments in human activities.

Although there are models which enable us to estimate the effects of climate change on species or habitats, certain phenomena are already starting to be observed. For example, there are reports of changes in the physiology of individuals and their behaviour. Changes are occurring, for example, in  the flowering and fructification dates of plants, and in the dates, routes and altitudes of migration, breeding and resting sites of birds or butterflies. Amphibians and Lepidoptera seem to be the most vulnerable groups. In the marine environment, overseas there are reports of the bleaching of corals, a reduction in their rate of recovery and progressive changes in their reefs. There is a risk that they will disappear in a few decades owing to rising temperatures, aggravated by tourism and sporting activities.

In addition, the geographical distribution of species is changing. Movements have been observed in altitude and towards the north. Generalised species tend to expand at the expense of more specialised species, leading to the homogenisation of communities. Native species are becoming more vulnerable and this, plus the effects of globalisation, facilitates the arrival and expansion of invasive or proliferating species, such as the water primrose (Ludwigia grandiflora), the Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) and the red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii). It also encourages the extension of the ranges of various pests, such as the urticating caterpillars of the pine processionary moth (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) which has been extending its range in metropolitan France for thirty years, also giving rise to health problems and economic problems.

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Knowledge and preservation of the natural environment

Knowledge of the natural environment (characteristics, flora and fauna composition and geographical distribution) is nowadays regarded as an essential prerequisite for the proper management and protection of our natural spaces.  This knowledge has been gradually increasing from the 1980s onwards, as a result of various programmes, such as the ZNIEFF programme, the Corine Biotopes project, etc.

In order to create a network of protected areas representative of biodiversity, a wide variety of measures have been introduced in France, each of which has its own specific objectives, constraints and management methods.

The various types of conservation measures include:    

·            obligations at the international and European level,

·            national regulatory protection,

·            land-control policy,

·            protection and contractual land management.


Obligations at the international and European level


The 29 RAMSAR sites in metropolitan France (RAMSAR = Convention on Wetlands of International Importance) cover 650 000 ha, and the five sites in the DOMs cover 266 000 ha (three sites in French Guiana, one in Guadeloupe and one in Martinique).  The TAAFs (French Southern and Antarctic Lands) have one site comprising 2 270 000 ha and French Polynesia has one site of 5 000 ha. In all, the 36 sites represent an area of 3 191 000 ha of which 80% are situated overseas.

The Natura 2000 network consists of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Aries (SPA). Some SPAs and SACs may overlap. The whole of the Natura 2000 network in France, not counting any area twice, covers an area of 75 215 km², of which 7 015 km² are situated in the marine environment. The terrestrial area of the network represents about 12.4% of the territory of metropolitan France.

Member States have to classify as SPAs those areas of land which are most appropriate, and must give the European Commission full details of any measures taken in those areas. In August 2008 France had designated 371 SPAs, covering 46 086 km² (about 7.8% of the territory of metropolitan France), of which 3 297 km² were in the marine environment.

Member States must also propose to the Commission Sites of Community Interest (SCIs) which, following validation at the European level, are converted into SACs. In August 2008, France had 1 334 such sites, covering 52 188 km² (about 8.4% of the national metropolitan territory), of which 6 043 km² were in the marine environment. Most of these sites are still SCIs, but since 2006 the first SACs have been validated.

National regulatory protection

The national parks protect exceptional areas in their central zones, known as ‘hearts’, which are generally uninhabited or sparsely populated) while encouraging economic, social and cultural development in their peripheral zones. In April 2006, 46 years after the founding law of 1960, a new law was adopted (Law No 2006-436 of 14 April) in order to take into account scientific, legal and political developments. There are nine national parks, six of which are in metropolitan France (Cévennes, Écrins, Mercantour, Port-Cros, Pyrénées, Vanoise) and three overseas: one in Guadeloupe, and the parks of French Guiana and Réunion, created in 2007. The ‘hearts’ of the parks in metropolitan France cover 3 525 km² or 0.7% of the territory, while the ‘hearts’ of the overseas parks cover 20 884 km², of which about 94% is accounted for solely by the Amazonian park of French Guiana.

Nature reserves: in metropolitan France, an area of 2 645 km² is protected by various types of ‘nature reserve’ status, while the corresponding area overseas is 25 840 km², which includes France’s largest nature reserve, the French Southern Lands. There are several types of national nature reserve, which differ in the way they were created and the way they are managed, but they all have the objective of preserving fragile, rare or threatened natural environments of high ecological and scientific value. Every year they receive millions of visitors and thus play a major role in raising public awareness of nature and ecology.

Prefectural Decrees on biotope protection, introduced in 1977, regulate human activities on the perimeters of biotopes which vary greatly in size. They are intended to preserve the biotopes necessary for the survival of animal or plant species which are protected at  the national or regional level. At the end of 2007 there were 645 Decrees on biotope protection in metropolitan France and 29 overseas, covering a total area of 1 630 km².


Land-control policy

The Conservatoire de l'espace littoral et des rivages lacustres (CELRL), the Coastal Protection Agency, which is responsible for the conservation of coastal and lakeside areas, implements a land policy which safeguards natural spaces and landscapes within those areas (in metropolitan France, the DOMs, Mayotte and St-Pierre-et-Miquelon). On 1 June 2008, its area of responsibility covered about 600 natural sites with a surface area of 1 172 km², i.e. about 1 000 km of coastline. This land, which is inalienable, consists essentially of acquisitions made by the CELRL in the private sector but also public-sector allocations.


The Conservatoires d’espaces naturels (CEN) are bodies for the conservation of natural spaces, associations which form a network within a national federation (FCEN) and which benefit from subsidies from local authorities and the State. In the mid-1980s there were 21 of these regional conservation bodies and eight conservation bodies at department level in metropolitan France, which protect and manage 1 376 km² of natural environments spread over almost 2 230 sites. In the spring of 2008 a similar body in Réunion officially joined the network and forms the 22nd regional conservation body.

The national parks, nature reserves and decrees on biotope protection

The national parks, nature reserves and decrees on biotope protection

 Source : ‘Protected spaces’ database, MNHN (SPN) and RNF, 2008.


Contractual land management


The parcs naturels marins (PNM) are marine natural parks created by the Law on National Parks of April 2006. This new legal tool is intended to reconcile protection of the marine environment with the sustainable development of the activities which depend upon it. It provides a framework for concerted governance between all the partners affected by enormous marine spaces which are remarkable for their natural heritage. Greater knowledge of the marine environment is also one of the chief objectives of the PNMs. The first marine natural park, Iroise, was created by the Decree of 28 September 2007. It covers an area of more than 343 000 ha. Several projects are currently being studied, such as the one covering the Côte Vermeille, the one for the Somme, Authie and Canche Estuaries, and the one for Mayotte.


The parcs naturels régionaux (PNR) are regional natural parks which, since 1968, have had the task of protecting and making optimum use of the natural, cultural and human heritage of the land that they cover, as well as implementing a planning and development policy which respects the environment. Each park was created by Ministerial Decree at the initiative of the region, for a renewable period of ten years. The creation and renewal of ‘park’ status is based on a charter, a contractual document which lays down the objectives of nature conservation and economic, social and cultural development. The regional natural parks are managed by mixed syndicates involving those local authorities which have approved the charter. Since December 2000 and the ‘Solidarity and Urban Renewal’ Law, the creation of these parks has been the subject of a public inquiry procedure.

For more information about the PNRs, go to:


Policy on the protection of the landscape

In France, policy on the landscape is the responsibility of the Environment Minister. The first measures to protect the landscape were taken in 1906. Since 1993, French policy on landscapes has been based on the so-called ‘Landscape Law’ and the European Landscape Convention, which came into force, in French law, in 2006. This led to the definition of a national policy on landscapes:

·                      to develop our knowledge of the approximately 2 000 landscapes in French territory and to set landscape-quality objectives, such knowledge to be acquired through the use of different tools such as landscape atlases, the National Landscape Photography Observatory and support for research programmes;

·                      to improve the consistency of territorial policies, so as to understand how landscapes develop, involving the use of landscape charters and plans, which are essential tools for achieving coherent management of landscapes at individual territory level;

·                      to support the responsibility of all those who are involved in the landscape, by increasing the awareness of the public and of the main players  in the protection of landscapes (engineers, design offices, landscapers).

Several programmes and tools have been developed in the context of this policy:

·         landscape atlases which are intended to record and describe the landscapes of a territory and which have to be updated every 10 years;

 ·         classified sites and registered sites: a registered site is described as being ‘a site of an artistic, historic, scientific or picturesque nature’, while a classified site is defined as ‘a site of an artistic, historic, scientific, legendary or picturesque nature, the quality of which requires, in the public interest, its conservation in its present state and its protection from any serious harm’.

·         the National Landscape Photography Observatory which should make it possible to form a database consisting of series of photographs, in order to analyse changes in landscapes and the roles of the different players involved, so as to be able to guide landscape developments in the right direction.

·         landscape charters and plans are frameworks for the drafting, by local authorities, of landscape management projects in the form of landscape charters and landscape plans, which are a form of concerted action on the future of the landscapes of a territory (urban sprawl, preservation of wildlife corridors, etc.). 

For further information about landscapes, go to:


Wetland protection measures

The protection measures which apply to wetlands of major importance are the same as those which cover natural environments in general. The National Wetlands Observatory monitors developments in wetlands of major importance. On record at the observatory are 152 zones representing various ecosystems within metropolitan France. They are divided into four types: Atlantic shoreline, Mediterranean shoreline, alluvial valley and inland plain. A total of 52 mountain masses rich in peat bogs have also been identified and are treated separately. Some 69% of the area covered by wetlands of major importance is protected by a regulatory, land-management or contractual measure. Wetlands are to a large extent covered by designation as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Sites of Community Importance (SCIs).


The new concept of ‘undersea landscape’

Knowledge of habitats is an important prerequisite for the overall and consistent management of all activities in the sea, or for the designation of new protected marine areas. However, undersea biological data are often limited to sectors where considerable research has been carried out and it is not possible to carry out continuous mapping of habitats over vast areas. With a view to filling this gap, for several years new predictive measures have been used in order to define submarine landscapes. Various types of data are used: the nature of sea-beds, bathymetry, luminosity, turbidity, temperature, intensity of surge, and agitation close to the bottom … When all these data are combined, the different landscape classification types can be defined and mapped: sunlit rock, shallow sandy area, mixed sediments with considerable surge stress … At the same time, on the basis of biological data for the test sectors, it is possible to identify the physical and chemical parameters associated with the presence of a particular a habitat (the concept of ‘biotope’ or ‘ecological niche’).

By combining all this information, with the support of statistical methods, it is possible to produce maps predicting the presence of one species or another, or one habitat or another.

Map predicting the presence of Fucus vésiculeux in waters off the Isle of Bréhat

Map predicting the presence of Fucus vésiculeux in waters off the Isle of Bréhat

After E. De Oliveira, J. Populus, B. Guillaumot, 2007. « Prédictive modeling of coastal habitats using remote sensing data and fuzzy logic ».


Physical and economic approaches to the services provided by ecosystems in France


Following the publication of the MEA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment), France started to carry out work with the aim of enhancing the physical evaluation of the services provided by ecosystems. In particular, an exploratory study launched in 2006 by MEEDDM (the French Environment Ministry: Ministry of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and the Sea) enabled a methodology to be proposed for qualifying and quantifying the services provided by ecosystems in France, based on MEA typology. Ecosystems are associated with 43 services, comprising support services, provisioning services, regulating services and cultural services, provided via their ecological functions. This exploratory study will have to be intensified in order to achieve a real ‘MEA France’. Moreover, MEEDDM has launched a study, carried out by the MNHM, on the indicators of ecological functions associated with support services and regulating services. This exploratory study proposes an initial methodological framework for qualifying and quantifying ecological functions, as well as pathways of function indicators, which could be used, for example, for the purposes of environmental accounting or compensation in kind for certain types of harm caused to biodiversity.

In April 2009, a report entitled ‘Economic approach to biodiversity and ecosystems services’ was published by the Strategic Analysis Centre (CAS). It had the following main objectives:

–        ‘to present and critically analyse the methods that can be used to estimate the economic values of biodiversity and ecosystem services;

–        to apply these methods to the ecosystems present in France in order to provide reference values that can be used, in particular, in the socio-economic evaluation of public investments’.

The report sets out possible courses of action for integrating the economic dimension into the approach to biodiversity, and makes a distinction between ‘remarkable’ biodiversity and ‘general’ or ‘ordinary’ biodiversity. The first definition covers entities (genes, species, habitats, landscapes) whose value lies essentially in their exceptional heritage nature, which is difficult to measure by classic economic methods. The second definition refers to ecosystems which are common but in which the multiple interactions of their entities contribute to the production of the services that our societies use.

The document proposes minimum monetary reference values for two ecosystems which form part of ordinary biodiversity (temperate forests and permanent grasslands) which can be used in the context of the socio-economic evaluation of infrastructure projects alongside other tutelary values such as that of carbon.

It also suggests that additional work should be done, taking other services into consideration, thereby significantly enhancing the value of ecosystem services. The report recommends a rapid broadening of the scope of this work so as to cover all national ecosystems for which data from similar ecosystems are available, taking into account predictable variations, in the medium term (30-50 years), in the rates of use of the various ecosystem services. It recommends thinking about the structures responsible for carrying out, discussing and regularly updating this work and specifying how this reference should be used for practical purposes, as well as laying down procedural rules giving it legitimacy and allowing it to be taken on board by all the operators involved.


Economic instruments for the conservation of biodiversity


In addition to the regulatory instruments, France is interested in economic instruments likely to contribute towards preserving biodiversity. A thematic report for the Commission des comptes et de l’économie de l’environnement (Audit Commission for the Economy of the Environment) is currently in preparation on this subject. Amongst other things, this report emphasises fiscal incentives in favour of biodiversity, payments for environmental services, and also the taking into account of the degradation of natural assets in the search for new indicators of measurement of economic, social and environmental performance. Having placed economic tools within the framework of the development of policies preserving biodiversity, the report gives a broad picture of the places where economic tools are used in France and abroad. It analyses 27 types of economic tool. finally, it looks at existing thinking on the conditions for the use of these tools in the French context.

One of the potential economic tools was launched by (MEEDDM) in 2008. This was a trial run of a compensation scheme (similar to the compensation banks which exist in other places, such as the USA and Australia).

This scheme requires an operator to anticipate the potential compensation requirement. The operator acquires land which he rehabilitates with a view to enhancing its subsequent value as compensation for various clients, for whom this arrangement remains optional and applies on the basis of established law.

The first trial run was launched in the plain of Crau in May 2009, by MEEDDM and the operator CDC Biodiversité jointly. CDC Biodiversité acquired 357 hectares of orchards at the Domaine de Cossure, in order to run a rehabilitation project for the Coussouls de Crau nature reserve. CDC Biodiversité will manage the land for a period of 30 years, at the end of which time the operator has undertaken to guarantee the permanence of the site’s ecological vocation.

The operation will make it possible for the value of the land to be increased later, as compensation, via the sale of credit units, for projects likely to have a significant residual impact on equivalent environments close to the Cossure site, in accordance with the currently valid inquiry procedures.


Bibliographic references:


·         Bensettiti F., Gaudillat V. (coord.), 2002. Connaissance et gestion des habitats et des espèces d'intérêt communautaire (Knowledge and management of habitats and species of Community interest) (7 vols.). Paris, La Documentation française, Muséum national d'histoire naturelle. 353 p. (collection: Cahiers d'habitats [Habitat notebooks], Natura 2000)

·         Bernard P. (ed.), 1994. Les zones humides - Rapport d'évaluation (Wetlands – An evaluation report), La Documentation Française, 391 p.

·         Bernard Chevassus-au-Louis, Jean-Michel Salles, Sabine Bielsa, Dominique Richard, Gilles Martin,Jean-Luc Pujol, 2009 ; Approche économique de la biodiversité et des services liés aux ecosystems (An economic approach to biodiversity and ecosystems services) , 348 pages. May be downloaded at the following address:

·         Collectif, 2004. Balades entre terre et mer, sur les sites du Conservatoire du littoral (Walks between sea and land, on Coastal Protection Agency sites). Paris, Dakota Éditions. 248 p.

·         Comité français pour l'UICN (French Committee for IUCN), January 2005. La France et la biodiversité : enjeux et responsabilité (France and biodiversity: risk and responsibility. UICN - France, Paris, 8 p.   

·         Fustec E. et Lefeuvre J.C. (ed.), 2000. Fonctions et valeurs des zones humides (Functions and values of wetlands). Paris, Dunod, 426 p.     
(collection: Technique et ingénierie, série Environnement).

·         G. Rocamora, D. Yeatman-Berthelot, 1999. "Oiseaux menacés et à surveiller en France" (Endangered birds and birds to be monitored in France) . Société d'études ornithologiques de France/LPO, Paris, 598 p.   

·         Giran J.-P., 2003. "Les parcs nationaux : une référence pour la France, une chance pour ses territoires" (The national parks: a reference for France, an opportunity for its territories) (Official report by the Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development). Paris, La Documentation française. 104 p.

·         IFEN (French Institute for the Environment), 2000. "La flore de France, enjeu majeur de la politique de conservation de la nature" (The flora of France, a major stake in conservation policy), collection: Les données de l'environnement, n° 54, 4 p.   

·         IFEN, 2002. "Le patrimoine naturel" (Natural heritage) in Environment in France. Paris, Orleans, La Découverte, IFEN, pp. 115-136.   

·         IFEN, 2006. "La biodiversité " (Biodiversity) in Environment in France. Orléans, IFEN, pp. 273- 296.    

·         J.-M. Thiollay, V. Bretagnolle, 2004. "Rapaces nicheurs de France" (Nesting birds of prey in France) . Collection: La bibliothèque du naturaliste (The naturalist’s library), Éditions Delachaux et Niestlé, Paris, 175 p.

·         Léonard Y., Moris P., 2008.  “Bilan du suivi hivernal 2007/2008” (Status report on winter survival), Quoi de neuf ? Bulletin d’information du Réseau Loup (What’s new? Information Bulletin of the Wolf Network), n° 19, June 2008. pp. 12-17.

·         Marboutin E., Duchamp C., Boyer J., Moris P., Léonard Y., Catusse M., Briaudet P.E., Migot P., 2008. “Le suivi du statut de conservation de la population de Lynx en France : bilan pour la période triennale 2005-2007”, (Monitoring the conservation status of the lynx population in France: situation during the three-year period 2005-2007), Bulletin d’information du Réseau Lynx (Information Bulletin of the Lynx Network), ONCFS, n° 14. pp. 20-27.

·         CGDD-SOeS, 2010. Données de synthèse sur la biodiversité (Survey data on biodiversity). Orléans : SOeS. 88 p. (collection: Références).

·         Réserves naturelles de France, 2004. "Les réserves naturelles au cœur de la politique du patrimoine naturel" (dossier) (Nature reserves at the heart of national heritage policy), La lettre des Réserves Naturelles, Special Edition 77. 35 p.

·         Saint-Andrieux C., Klein F., Leduc D., Landry P., Guibert B., 2004. “La progression du Cerf élaphe en France depuis 1985” (The development of the red deer in France since 1985), Faune sauvage, ONCFS, n° 264. pp. 19-26.




·         Data bank on Ramsar sites:

·         French Committee for IUCN:

·         Inventaire national du patrimoine naturel (INPN) (National Inventory for Natural Patrimony):

·         Porta; of the Natura 2000 network:

·         Service de l’observation et des statistiques (SOeS) :
Keywords: ‘Environnement’ > ‘Observation et statistiques de l’environnement’ > ‘Données essentielles’ > ‘Nature et biodiversité’.

·         Vigie-Nature :



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