Nature protection and biodiversity - State and impacts (France)

SOER 2010 Common environmental theme (Deprecated)
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SOER Common environmental theme from France
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 11 May 2020

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.



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Filed under: SOER2010, biodiversity
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