Monday 5 December 2016

Adders in the Réserve naturelle nationale de la vallée de Chaudefour, France

The Common Adder is not found in the warmer parts of France and is generally to only be found in the north and east. As such I thought this information about Adders in the Réserve naturelle nationale de la vallée de Chaudefour, France maybe of some interest. It certainly sounds like a great place to visit if nothing else.

The Vallée de Chaudefour is a glacial valley in the heart of the volcanic massif du Sancy in the Auvergne National Park with a unique range of species many of which are unique to mountain environments. It has no less than 976 species ranging from mammals such as chamois, mountain sheep and marmots to the Apollo butterfly, (Parnassius apollo), rock thrushes (Monticola saxatilis), and a population of Common Adders, (Vipera berus).

The Chaudefour Valley which is between 1137 and 1854 m above sea level has 820 ha of terraced landscape was classified as a National Nature Reserve in 1991. The syndicate of structures that manage the park together with the ONF, (Office National des Forêts), put in place a program that ran from 2011 to 2016 to record and document the adder population.

The inventory has been realised by Frederic Durand, of the Société d’histoire naturelle Alcide-d’Orbigny. The methodology consisted of field surveys with a systematic search and in all 248 Adders have been counted inside the reserve and 19 outside the reserve. They have all been identified, named with an individual tracking record. The colouring, the patterns of the head and arrangement of cephalic scales allow individual photographic recognition, rather like finger prints in humans.

The effective boundary between where the Asp Viper is to be found at lower altitudes and the Adder is directly on the boundary of the reserve where a hybrid pregnant female was found and is the third known case of such a hybridization identified in France.

In June of 2016, officers from the departmental ONCFS, (Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage), for the Puy-de-Dôme participated in a day of recognition where 1 Grass snake  and 19 Adders were measured, weighed and photographed.

The ONCFS officers were able to practice finding the vipers which can be hard to find, especially males, (females that bask on rocks to thermoregulate are usually easier). They also had the opportunity to handle the snakes and discuss the monitoring program with specialists, (sounds like a fun day out).

The implementation of this virtually unprecedented comprehensive monitoring program and the relatively large number of snakes detected where they were thought to be scarce is very interesting given that overall this species is rapidly becoming threatened in much of its range. In general the loss of habitat and fragmentation of the population elsewhere has pushed this species from the status of "least concern" to "vulnerable" category on the 2015 red list. 

Principle source ONCFS

Office National des Forêts  ONF

Réserve naturelle nationale de la vallée de Chaudefour HERE

Adders in France HERE

Cheers, Chris

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Stopping hunting on your land in France

As this is another subject that keeps cropping up here is a little reminder that you don’t have to have the chasse trundling across your land or through your garden if you don’t want them there. 

It would take far too much space to write everything about the subject, so to keep it simple, we could say that after the revolution hunting became something of a free for all until the main law which relates to the situation now was passed in 1964, the so called “Law Verdeille” named after Fernand Verdeille the senateur who proposed it. This regularised the situation somewhat and gave rights to hunters to form Associations known as d'associations communales de chasse agréées or ACCA which have a contract with the commune, (renewable every 5 years), and gave the rights to hunt on all the territory within that commune in return for an indemnity to control species that cause damage to agriculture or forestry. The only alternative to this was for landowners with 20 hectares or more to create an area of private hunting.  There is also a requirement for an ACCA to “set aside” a minimum of 10% of “their” territory as hunt free zones, a rule which is frequently operated in a cynical manner placing these zones where no one would or could hunt anyway.  The  main flaw in this law was that it didn’t give the choice or right to landowners to withdraw their land from hunting completely.

This changed with the French bill n°2000-698 of 26th July 2000 which amended the rural code allowing owners opposed to hunting to withdraw their land from the ACCA, thus giving them the opportunity to create a "wildlife sanctuary" or hunt free zone. This change in law was brought about by a case brought before the European Court by a group of landowners and on 29th April 1999, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Law Verdeille was incompatible with the rights of a private landowner in a case that was defended and lost by the French State. This still doesn’t allow for someone who is not in principle against hunting but simply wants to prevent it taking place on their land to do so as they have to be willing to give up the right to hunt themselves anywhere in France, as a person using this law can not be in possession of a Permis de Chasse, (hunting permit).  

Should anyone wish to prevent hunting and hunters on their land see this link - Stopping hunting on your land in France


Monday 14 November 2016

Organic or Bio food in France

It would be negligent in the extreme to ignore the importance of Organic food production if we are to be serious about preserving our wildlife and the environment. All of the major French Bird and Wildlife Associations are now forming relationships and working closely with Organic farmers to enable them to be even more “Wildlife friendly” including installing ponds, hedgerows, bird and bat boxes. 

Although the consumption of organically produced food or Bio as it is known in France still only represents 3% of the total food consumed both the growth in demand and availability are increasing at an unprecedented rate with sales in 2015 reaching 5.75 billion euros which in itself is probably an underestimate. France itself at the end of 2015 had 28,725 certified organic farmers and 1.3 million hectares of certified land.

Of course a considerable amount of the organic food purchased in France isn’t actually produced in France but is imported from other countries. In some cases this is simply because the food in question couldn’t be grown in France, (Bananas, Coconuts, Pomegranates, Citrus fruits are good examples), or because France simply can’t or doesn’t produce sufficient quantities of some produce which can be for a number of reasons such as not having enough people or land in the given sector or because another country has a better climate and length of season providing greater productivity.

The issue of where the food is actually produced and how it is marketed is needless to say contentious and understandably so. Some people are of the opinion that all our needs should be met by buying local produce from a local producer and this is certainly something that makes good sense but there are limits to what can be purchased in this manner and at best will only supply a small part of a person’s diet. Much will depend on what local producers are present, what distance you would need to travel and when bearing in mind that people have work and other commitments. Many local producers do sell from home whether that be a farm, market garden or their house but frequently with fixed times and perhaps only for a couple of hours a week in addition to which they may be present at one local market a week.
Click photos to enlarge.
Fresh Organic produce from a local grower
Depending on where you live there may be a specialist organic or partially organic food /health shop within a relatively comfortable travelling distance and these will usually stock produce from a number of different local producers as well as stocking some produce from further away with dry and pre-packaged foods from other countries. These smaller retail outlets along with some of the growers often provide a more personal service and many will also take orders by phone or e-mail as a “box” service and may deliver to market.  Frequently these outlets will also perform other functions providing a place where people will connect socially or perhaps find information regarding alternative therapies and other less mainstream groups or events. 
Above: Monthly Organic producers market at an Organic farm.  
Above: Organic cheese producer Grégoire Masse with his marbled Goat and Cows milk cheese.

Then we have one of the major drivers of growth in the Organic sector, the Supermarkets that have really started to come into their own in France over the last couple of years and recently some such as Auchan are pushing forwards providing a great range of interesting produce. Many people have fundamental objections to Supermarkets but the reality is that they are of great importance making available to the consumer types of organic produce that they wouldn’t be able to source elsewhere which has to be good for both peoples health and the environment where production takes place.
Photo above: Organic Spelt bread mix that can be used either by hand or in a bread machine.

Above Left: Organic pure pomegranate juice.  Right: Organic rice milk

This gives us more or less three different supply lines to the consumer all of which have an equal role to play in providing people with produce that is both kinder to the environment and healthy to use or eat either of which should be a good enough reason to buy organic wherever possible.

It should be mentioned that an argument that is frequently made is that not everyone can afford to buy organic produce but this really isn’t the case and although it may not be possible to “go completely organic” it is well within most people’s budget to make a large proportion of their purchases organic. It may require some changes in lifestyle, perhaps trying different meals that use different ingredients and avoiding fast food. Reducing meat, poultry and dairy consumption will save money and provide health benefits as well as reducing the burden on land use.

With over 40% of consumers in France making some organic purchases every week and 10% on a daily basis in 2015 the signs are encouraging and hopefully this will continue to grow. With pesticides and industrial food production being the major causes of environmental destruction leading to both habitat and species loss it’s something where we can all make a real difference just by changing what we buy. 

Together we can make a difference. 


Thursday 27 October 2016

Ivy in France - too important to ignore

I was always lead to believe when younger, (as were many people), that Ivy “strangled” trees and was a thug to be removed but contrary to popular beliefs Ivy is not a parasite, does not normally damage sound buildings or walls, is rarely a threat to healthy trees and if we look around it shouldn’t take long to find plenty of examples of large old trees supporting Ivy that is of a great age.......

Read more - Link to web page.


Thursday 20 October 2016

Goat Moth - a spectacular caterpillar

Caterpillars can be some of the most spectacular and pretty creatures that we can encounter here in France and the caterpillar of the Goat moth, (Cossus cossus), is a classic example and it's the caterpillar that gives this moth its name as it emits a strong and rather unpleasant smell reminiscent of a male goat although having handled a few I’ve never been aware of it myself. 

The moth has a wingspan of 9cm or so, have light grey wings which are covered in black speckles.  Sadly I have never seen one and it may well be that there aren’t many where I live, (my wife did see a caterpillar about 10 years ago on a nearby track but nothing since), however this isn’t so unusual as apparently they aren’t regularly observed and the moth doesn’t feed. By all accounts they aren’t a common species and as we will see the larvae are regularly destroyed which may account for their decline.

Twice a year in May and October Hope Association holds a three day fund raising event at Clussais La Pommeraie in the Deux-Sevres departement of France where I have a table selling my honey. Some years ago my attention was drawn to a caterpillar someone had found and it was unmistakably that of a Goat moth that seemed likely to have emerged from a large Oak tree that is directly in front of the building that is used for the event. The tree had some damage in the form of exit holes but not a huge amount but this year when I was there a few days ago there was sawdust all over the ground at the base of the tree and clinging to the bark. Of course it’s probably nothing different from any other year except that this year we haven’t had any significant rain to wash it away. 

“”The eggs are laid, usually in small batches, in crevices or on bark of living trees near old burrows or other damage. Young larvae enter the tree, at first remaining under the bark, later boring deep into the wood on which they feed. The slow-growing larvae do not become fully grown until the third or fourth year. The burrows of the fully grown larvae are circular in cross-section and up to 20mm in diameter. Sap often seeps from the holes the larvae make at the trunk’s surface, with frass ejected from these, often accumulating at the base of the trunk. Trees can support one, a few or perhaps many larvae. Severe infestations can kill the tree, but this may take several years. In their final autumn, from August onwards, some larvae leave the tree, hibernating in a silk-lined cell in the ground. Other larvae remain in the tree. Pupation takes place in April and May, the larvae in the tree making an exit ‘window’ in the bark by gnawing away all but the outermost surface before making a silken cocoon in which they pupate.”” 

There is no doubt that they can cause serious harm especially to fruit trees, usually older ones that have surface injuries and are considered to be an agricultural pest in orchards however in the case of large oaks the tree should be able to support their presence in the same way they do the larvae of Cerambix cerdo - Le grand Capricorne. 

A few photos of the tree concerned and one of the caterpillars from it. Click on photos to enlarge.


Monday 18 April 2016

A few French frogs and newts at Chaunay.

When the LGV from Tours to Bordeaux was being constructed there were a large number of environmental impacts that had to be considered as a matter of law these days and I will go into them at a later date. Here I only want to touch upon one site, Le bocage humide de Chaunay a wetland site site in the south west of the Vienne departement of some importance.

All in all at this site some 120 hectares were purchased by Réseau ferré de France, (RFF), which is the company that owns and maintains the French national railway network.  The land is comprised of moderately managed small copses and hedged fields that have been cut for hay. It’s something of an exception among the wetlands of the department. With no connection to any river an alluvial aquifer feeds directly into the pools and ditches creating large area of seasonal surface water. With a handful of man made ponds left in existence another 7 have or are being created on the 45 hectares that have been contracted to CREN, (Conservatoire d’Espaces Naturels de Poitou-Charente), for 25 years. CREN in turn are establishing a management plan with farmers that use the land regarding types and timing of any hay cutting that will take into account the various species present.

The site is particularly rich and includes some of the rarer and endangered amphibian species that have been lost in huge numbers due to the vast destruction of ponds and habitat throughout the region over the last 50 years or so.  I bet like me you must get sick of hearing this, everywhere we look it’s the same old story and sadly not getting any better.

Anyway, on a positive note this particular site is relatively safe although there are some issues that will be difficult to resolve as we shall see.

When observing or compiling records for amphibian species at any given site it’s necessary to do this at night essentially combining two different means. The first is to listen and identify any of the frog or toad species present. To do this, having approached the pond, we then turn off all lights and wait 5 minutes as little by little they settle down and get back into their calling. As with most other creatures each species has its own unique call and for some it may be the only way we can determine their presence.  

Next it’s light and time for a careful search in the shallow margins. The water will be slightly warmer here and it’s where mating takes place for most amphibians. For many species there is no need to actually capture them, simple observation is enough, indeed strictly speaking it’s illegal to capture them without being authorised and absolutely illegal to deliberately harm or move one.

Of particular interest is the Triton de Blasius a hybrid newt that results from the mating between a male Great Crested Newt, (Triturus cristatus), and a female Marbled Newt, (Triturus marmoratus), which obviously requires the prescence of both species. Biologically the males are sterile and females only partly fertile. There is no typical Blasius but the essential features are the back with the markings of a Marbled Newt and the belly of a Great Crested Newt.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Photos below of Triton de Blasius.

Photo below of Male Common tree frog 

Photo below of an Agile frog

Photo below of Female Palmate Newt

Photo below of Female Great Crested Newt

Other species are also present at the same site - Marbled Newt, Common toad and Parsley Frog. 

There remains as I mentioned one not so small issue and that is the presence of Procambarus clarkii, Red Swamp Crayfish  an introduced species from the USA. This species can reach 85-90mm total length and are aggressive in behaviour presenting a threat to the native amphibian species that are there. Due to  the protected nature of this site only authorised trapping can take place but as it is a species that will move through ditches and indeed overland in wet conditions total eradication is unlikely. 

 Photo below  Procambarus clarkii, Red Swamp Crayfish


Saturday 16 April 2016

Having honey bees without keeping them.

There appears to be more and more people that just want to have some honey bees in their garden or on their land. These same people are often met with a barrage of it isn’t possible, they will all die, you need to be trained, (like a donkey?), or you will be spreading disease and every other evil that paranoid beekeepers can dream up to protect their image of being masters of their craft and keepers of the grail. Fortunately not all bee keepers are that precious or narrow minded.


However would it surprise you to know that actually it’s perfectly possible and reasonable to have honey bees without playing with them?

LINK HERE Having honey bees without keeping them.

Hope you enjoy it, Chris