Ramsar's Senior Advisor for Europe reports on a "full size" river plan for the Loire in France

03/08/2010

The river Loire in France is known to many for its outstanding cultural landscape of great beauty, containing historic towns and villages, great architectural monuments (the châteaux), and cultivated lands formed by many centuries of interaction between their population and the physical environment, primarily the river Loire itself. This was formally recognized through the inclusion of a part of the Loire valley in the List of the World Heritage Convention in 2000. The Loire is the longest river in France (1013 km), its catchment basin covers a fifth of the national territory, and its floodplains are among the most natural ones in Western Europe, where human activities adapted to the water flows and inundation cycles. Plans to designate the Loire river for the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance were elaborated already in the 1990s – and may be implemented soon?

Triggered by the conflict about planned new flood prevention dams in 1989, the environmental consciousness about the Loire floodplain management grew rapidly, leading to the creation of the NGO “Loire Vivante” and to detailed analysis of the ecology of large rivers, such as those initiated by Ramsar Award winner Monique Coulet (see previous article here).

These activities lead to France’s first governmental action plan for the Loire in 1994, to prevent flood damage, to maintain water quality and quantity and to restore natural diversity. It was followed by a second plan in 1999 which included also the objective to enhance the value of the natural and cultural heritage and the particular landscapes in the Loire valley. Currently, a third “full size” plan 2007-2013, named “Loire Grandeur Nature”, is structured along six platforms focusing on flood prevention, maintenance of security dams, water, habitats and species, heritage values and sustainable development, research and information, as well as on the specific issues of the Loire estuary.

On 9-10 June 2010, the Water Agency Loire-Bretagne of the French Ministry of Sustainable Development, together with the French Federation of Nature Conservancies (Fédération des Conservatoires d’espaces naturels) invited for a mid-term assessment of the actions of the platform “water, habitats, species” (Eau, espaces, espèces) at the occasion of a meeting in Orléans. 200 actors convened in the royal city to focus on different wetland-related aspects, illustrated by a number of selected projects. For more details (in French) click here.  

Plenary sessions, workshops and panel discussions took place in Orléan’s modern conference centre


The Orléans “encounters” showed that the many efforts for the conservation of the Loire river are probably not much known outside of the Loire basin, or France? So, the closing session provided an opportunity to compare the Loire with the experiences made at national level, and through the work of the International Commission to Protect the Rhine, as well as by those eager to maintain the river ecosystem of the Vistula in Poland. The Ramsar Secretariat was invited to introduce the topics for a panel discussion on how best to make use of the Loire experience for other large rivers in Europe and beyond. This focused on the need to maintain and restore ecological connections along rivers (upstream-downstream), laterally in the floodplain, and within the entire catchment basin, the need to provide sufficient space to allow river dynamics and biodiversity restoration, the need to deal with pressures from navigation, urbanisation and water quality degradation (through agriculture), and the opportunity to sustainably manage increasing activities of recreation and river tourism. All in all, the results of these very rich encounters merit to be more widely known.

Participants enjoyed an evening reception on the river shores, opposite Méung-sur-Loire



 

 

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