Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Surveying a ZNIEFF



So what's a ZNIEFF (pronounced 'znuhff', as though you've just coughed or sneezed or something)? ZNIEFF is of course an acronym. It stands for Zones Naturelles d'Intérêt Ecologique Faunistique et Floristique (the equivalent of Sites of Special Scientific Interest in the UK). There is no equivalent Australian designation that I can think of.

The Courtineau valley is rich in fern species. This one is Harts Tongue Asplenium scolopendrium (Fr. Scolopendre).

ZNIEFFs were introduced in 1982 and their focus is and always has been biodiversity surveying. The objective is to identify and describe sites with strong biodiversity and in a good state of preservation. There are two categories: Type 1, which is a site with great biological or ecological interest; and Type 2, which is a site with rich natural assemblages that have not been altered much, offering the possibility of significant biodiversity. Since 2004 the aim has been to create a national atlas of species.

You can tell this is a group of botanists. They are all looking at the ground.

The ZNIEFF species inventories now form a major political tool in the sphere of nature conservation and protection. Any urban development, quarry or nature reserve project must take account of the relevant ZNIEFF lists. Land listed as a ZNIEFF may be developed so long as the natural environment is respected.

The administration of the surveys is done by the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle. The actual work of surveying is done by over 2000 individuals belonging to local associations like mine, the Association de Botanique et de Mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine. On the back of the surveys a report for each site is created which influences its management. The Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy provides the (measly) funding. The point of surveying is to make sure that every site with a rare or protected species is listed as somewhere of scientific interest.

Jean Bouton may be in his eighties, but nothing stops a determined 
botanist from getting a close look at a rarity.

The ZNIEFF I went to help survey on Saturday 16 April is the Valley of the Courtineau, between Sainte Maure de Touraine and Saint Épain. It is one of the most prestigious natural sites in the Touraine, marshy, full of rare and protected plants, but not at all well known. Along the valley there are many gardens and a certain amount of construction. Little by little the landowners down the valley have been drawn into the project and talked into protecting their patch. As you can imagine this was no easy task.

Our survey was ably led by the dynamic François Botté, who made the point that often it is roadsides that provide the most interest. He supports the idea of a new category of ZNIEFF, that of 'ecological corridor', which would include such things as the maintenance trails under high tension electricity lines. They would have to be monitored by groups like ours to see that they were being managed sensitively. François also explained why in France these protected sites are designated as 'zones'. He pointed out that in French the word 'zone' carries with it a nuance of 'protected', 'restricted' or even 'forbidden'. The word 'site' just isn't as strong.

The Vallée de la Courtineau was originally assessed as a Type 1 ZNIEFF, but has been enlarged and upgraded to a Type 2 ZNIEFF, indicating that it is a site of national interest in terms of both natural and historic heritage. There is no longer any government finance to do the surveys. That stopped 2 or 3 years ago and there is 5000 euros of funding for the ZNIEFF programme for the whole of the département (which I suspect pays for a part time admin person).

 Greater Spearwort Ranunculus lingua (Fr. Grand douve).

The D910 road cuts straight through the middle of the Vallée de la Courtineau ZNIEFF in a way that should never have been allowed. It creates a barrier that prevents animals crossing and this needs to be addressed. Because of this when plans for the new high speed train line from Tours to Bordeaux were announced, the route of the line was sent in a great loop around the Courtineau. Ironically this has resulted in more habitat damage than if they had just blasted their way straight through and I accompanied François last year on an outing to survey one of the little conservation areas compulsarily purchased from a farm along the line not far away, near Sepmes.

The two most significant habitats in the Vallée de la Courtineau are the limestone caves which shelter bats, and the orchid rich grasslands on the upper slopes. Happily, both the mayor of Sainte Maure de Touraine and the mayor of Saint Epain are both sympathetic to the idea of protecting the site and keen to encourage nature tourism.

Keel-fruited Cornsalad Valerianella locusta f. carinata (Fr. Doucette carénée).

The Courtineau river arises from a spring near Sainte Catherine de Fierbois and runs almost straight down to the river Manse, cutting a ravine through the soft limestone geology. This means the valley sides drain quickly and on the south side are hot and dry, supporting a suite of Mediterranean plant species. On the north side the limestone slopes are less steep, and remain wetter and cooler, supporting montane species. This combination means a remarkably diverse and rich flora.

Yellow Archangel Lamium galeobdolon (Fr. Lamier jaune).

The plateau the river runs through is impermeable clay and flint. The layer underneath is yellow tuffeau from the Late Turonien, not very high quality and not used for building. Loam, clay and flint is slowly sliding down the cliffs into the valley bottom. The tops of the cliffs are dominated by Downy Oak Quercus pubescens. These higher sections are very calcareous and well drained so areas of Besom Heath Erica scoparia are rare but significant. In the small side valleys, on the mid slopes the dominant trees are Lindens Tilia spp and Sycamores/Maples Acer spp. Down in the base of the valley it is wet and cool.

Update: Here is a link to André's photos of the day: Les Botanistes dans la Vallée de la Courtineau 16 avril 2016. And here are Louisette's photos: Sortie Botanique dans la Vallée de la Courtineau à St Epain 16 avril 2016. You'll see pictures of me in both sets of photos.


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A la cuisine hier: A hybrid macaroni (actually penne) and cauliflower cheese, with some of our now dwindling supply of cheddar. Making the sauce with a mixture of stock and milk makes the dish a touch less rich but more savoury.

Cuban style savoury mince with onion, tomato, cumin, bay leaf, olives and red pepper, served with rice.

7 comments:

  1. Here's hoping the younger generations take as much care in the
    preservation of France's natural beauty. Is there an emphasis
    on this in the schools?

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    1. I don't know how much emphasis there is in schools.

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  2. Françoise Botté is right - it is roadside verges which now hold so many remnant species, something recognised by Edna Walling the famous Australian landscape designer in the 1930s. Looks a beautiful spot.

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    1. I didn't realise Edna Walling made the same observation. I would observe (and so would Francois if you got him down to tin tacks) that roadsides are not a perfect reservoir for remnant species. They are rather too rich in nutrients for some species, they act as heavy metal and other toxin accumulators and they are vectors for weed species. They are vulnerable to compaction by being run over, unsympathetic mowing cycles, salination in cold areas where the roads are salted and disturbance by roadworks or ditch maintenance. But nevertheless certain species cling on there where they have disappeared from almost everywhere else.

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    2. Here's a link if you have time - she was a prolific writer on the topic. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edna_Walling

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    3. Thanks for this. I didn't realise she retired to Buderim either.

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  3. That looked an interesting day out.... Thanks for the info.
    Missed this yesterday

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