Sunday, 2 July 2017

Owls in France - List of names

In France there are 9 species of Owl and unlike the UK they have a name prefix that divides owls with visible ear tufts from those without visible ear tufts. 

It seems even most French people are unaware of this as they only learn the name and not the reason why. Most of these owls have other popular names including many of which that are local. 

Full list with names in French - Latin - English can be found here in PDF format you can save.


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Spring bees in France - solitary and bumble

Living where we do it's highly unlikely that I will see anything but the most common species of either solitary bees or bumble bees and even those are under increasing pressure as almost all the available land surface is constantly plowed for the production of cereals and crops for the animal feed industry. It's mainly the ground nesting species that are suffering although increasingly people also spray insecticides on the solitary species that nest in the outside walls of their houses or block the tiny holes and spaces they use. Many people also spray ground nesting bees in their gardens but I'm sure in most cases this isn't malicious but simply because people don't know what they are or the important role they play in our environment.

Of course even the common species are a joy to me and I see a reasonably large number at our place. Here are a few I've managed to spot so far this spring which given the rather poor weather it isn't too bad. 

Click on or tap photos to enlarge.

Male Andrena fulva, Tawny mining bee, not managed to get a decent photo of a female yet, perhaps when the rain stops.
Solitary bee - Tawny mining bee France
Female Andrena haemorrhoa, Early or Red tailed mining bee. Females of this species are easily identified by the combination of a foxy brown thorax and foxy brown tip to the tail.
Female red tailed mining bee France solitary species.
Female Andrena nitida, Grey patched mining-bee.
Solitary bee France Andrena nitida female
Andrena gravida, Banded or white bellied mining bee. Probably a female judging by size alone and what a stunningly pretty bee. 
Solitary bee Andrena gravida France
Male Andrena cineraria,  Ashy mining bee. A species that may be benefiting from the extensive cultivation of Oil seed rape in the region, (or in much of France), as only takes pollen from certain Cruciferous plants, (mustards, rapes, charlocks etc).
Solitary bee  Andrena cineraria France
The above Ashy mining bee was found about 20cm, (8 inches), from this Nomada lathburiana, Lathbury's Nomad which is a "cuckoo bee" or cleptoparasite for the Ashy mining bee. The Nomada female detects incomplete host cells which are still open and being provided with food and places her egg in it. When the Nomada hatches it will destroy the egg or the larva of the Andrena species and consume the provisions. 
Solitary cuckoo bee France

Male Anthophora plumipesHairy footed flower bee having a few moments rest from feeding and trying to defend a patch of violets from other males. Haven't seen any females yet this year. 

Male hairy footed flower bee France
Queen Bombus pratorum,  Early bumblebee or early-nesting bumblebee.
Bombus pratorum France
Xylocopa violacea, Carpenter bee. Always plenty of these here, (just let one out of the house that came down the chimney). A docile bee that frightens some people that don't know what they are. 
Xylocopa violacea France

Now when is that rain going to stop so I can go outside and get on with the garden, (and play).


Monday, 30 January 2017

Pine processionary moth and Napoleon 3rd of France

So now it's warmed up a bit following that rather nasty period of cold weather there are the inevitable sightings of Pine processionary moth, Thaumetopoea pityocampa, caterpillars and all the usual corresponding scare comments that we, our children, our dogs, cats and horses will all die if they so much as get near them and that the vets and hospitals all over France will be unable to cope. Let's face it there is nothing like a bit of shock and horror to lighten up our dull winter days.

Of course this is not to say that the caterpillars can't be a problem and that due diligence is required when walking anywhere near Pine trees, equally that logic would normally dictate that if you have a Pine tree in your garden and knowing this potential danger it may make sense to remove it - there are very few parts of France where they belong naturally. 200 years ago in most places you would have been hard pushed to find one in most areas and it is another example of how commercial / economic interests with the demand for softwoods and quick returns have changed both the landscape and the environment dramatically. We see a similar issue with Poplars being used in wetlands.
It was in fact Napoleon 3rd that in effect put in place the possibilities for this species of moth to spread across France with..
"la loi du 19 juin 1857, également appelée loi d'assainissement et de mise en culture des Landes de Gascogne, va encourager le drainage, la plantation de pins, le développement de l'économie sylvicole, tout en condamnant en l'espace d'une génération le système agro-pastoral"

which roughly translates as......

"The law of June 19, 1857, also called the law of sanitation and cultivation of the Landes de Gascogne, which will encourage the drainage, the planting of pine plantations and the development of an economy based on siviculture, while at the same time condemning in the space of a generation the pastoral system, (of small sheep farming that was carried out on the wetlands)."

Since that time Les Landes has become a massive region for the production of pine and there are corresponding plantations all across France all heavily infested with this Pine processionary moth. This combined with garden planting and climate change has made this one of the most successful species we have in France today.

As a footnote, the sheep farmers on the mairais or marshes of that region at that time would spend their days watching their flocks on stilts, now that's something to think about.

Berger landais


Sunday, 1 January 2017

Large creamy white grubs in French gardens - Stag beetle, Rose Chafer & Cock Chafer

People are always asking on Facebook and elsewhere what the large creamy white grubs or larvae are that they find in their gardens and hopefully this page goes some way to answering that without all the complications of seeing how they crawl. 

Go to the link:

Stag beetle, Rose Chafer & Cock Chafer


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.