Natural Protected Areas in France, An Effective Approach to Slow the Impact of Human Development on the Land

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Protected areas with very little human development, little agriculture and that are rich in wetlands.

Compared to the rest of the French land area, protected areas are generally characterized by their low degree of change due to human activity; it is non-existent in national parks, since the few roads and buildings there are not taken into consideration. This can be explained by the location of national parks in mountain zones (except for Port-Cros), by the initial determination of their boundaries excluding built-up areas, and by their high level of protection. On the other hand, the regional natural parks (PNR), large spaces of experimental sustainable development covering close to 13% of the country, distinguish themselves from other types of protected areas by their higher rates of development, still lower than half the national rate. In addition, even if the interior of protected areas is generally less developed, this is not the case for their nearby environments. There is a lot of urban development around the Conservatoire du littoral (coastal protection agency) sites, and to a lesser extent, surrounding “Ramsar” wetlands, Natura 2000 sites and natural reserves.

Generally speaking, protected areas are also characterized by their reduced proportion of agricultural land base (except for prairies) compared to the rates observed in France. This proportion is lower in areas that benefit from regulatory protection (national parks, natural reserves, wildlife or forest reserves) than in the areas with less protection (Ramsar sites, regional natural parks, Natura 2000 sites). Moreover, the proportion of agricultural zones in the lands bordering the protected areas is also inferior to the national average, excluding the Ramsar sites.

The wetlands and aquatic environments, notably along the coast, are habitats often rich in biodiversity, and are well represented in most types of protected areas, especially Ramsar sites, given its convention. Few exist in the national parks and wildlife reserves. The proportion of wetlands and aquatic environments surrounding protected areas is clearly lower, except surrounding Conservatoire du littoral (coastal protection agency) sites; although they remain above the national average.

In France, between 1990 and 2000, the most important change in land use was the urban development. 1,230 km2 were developed in ten years, the equivalent of 0.22 % of the country’s land surface, mainly in the form of urban sprawl and on coastlines. This trend had little to no effect on protected spaces.


Institut Français de l’Environnement (IFEN)

Bulletin n°119

Octobre 2007

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