In her nature
Linda Viandier speaks to Lisa Leprêtre who works for the Société d’histoire Naturelle d’autun (SHNA) in the Morvan regional park.
What is the SHNA? The organisation works to preserve and protect areas that are rich in biodiversity, and has been studying the environment in Burgundy for the past 130 years. Réseaux Mares de Bourgogne focuses on raising awareness and the preservation of ponds. It was created in 2008 as studies carried out by the SHNA showed that more than 20% of mares in Burgundy had disappeared over 20 years.
What does your job involve? One area of my work is to preserve the existing hedgerows dividing farmland where a large number of ponds exist due to the extensive rearing of livestock in these areas.
I meet with farmers and people with ponds on their land to make them aware of the biodiversity, including the presence of protected species, and give them advice on attracting wildlife. I also diagnose the condition of ponds with the aim of restoring them and make them welcoming once again.
In addition I create ‘ refuge mares’, whereby the owners agree not to fill them in or pollute them, and not to introduce fish that have a negative impact on insects and amphibians.
Finally, I work in the same manner to protect some very different little creatures: I set up refuges for bats, again with the co-operation of landowners, who undertake to provide shelter and a favourable environment for these small flying mammals. Of the 34 species of bat in France, of which many are relatively unknown and under threat of extinction, 24 are found in Burgundy!
Why is it important to protect the ponds? Ponds are mainly manmade environments, but they are used by, and in many cases, essential to, a great number of species of plants and animals including insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. In proportion to their size, they are a hotspot of biodiversity.
They also provide a much needed alternative to natural wet areas, which have disappeared due to urbanisation and agriculture. Once used for numerous daily tasks, they are the reminders of our rural heritage. In addition, these small reservoirs are veritable sponges, playing an essential role in the filtration of water.
Despite all that, due to the modernisation of water supplies and increasingly intensive farming, many ponds are being filled in or abandoned. Without maintenance they will fill in naturally, so it is essential to inform people of their importance in order to change attitudes and maintain good practices.
How do you persuade people to get involved?
I try to make them see the richness and importance of these environments. I help them identify their own ponds on a map of the region and show them photos of the species that take refuge in the ponds. I encourage them to speak of their memories and experiences; a lot of people reminisce about catching frogs when they were young!
Whenever possible, I take them to observe the pond at nightfall as most amphibians are nocturnal and hide during the day. In spring, you can take a powerful torch to see deep into the water and appreciate all the life crawling on the bottom. The most impressive is observing the newts, kind of small aquatic salamanders.
How can Brits with homes in France spread the word? The Morvan is a popular region with foreigners, especially the Dutch and British. In my experience, those who settle in these rural areas are generally sensitive to the preservation of the countryside and the environment. An efficient way to spread information is by word of mouth, speaking about your own experiences and explaining what is at stake. This way, current or future owners will be aware of their pond’s importance and understand what maintenance to carry out.
Some villages hold cultural activities in spring such as Fréquence Grenouille, which allows people to see pond-dwelling creatures such as amphibians and reptiles at first hand in their natural habitats; it’s the perfect opportunity to learn more.
Without these ponds, many species would be threatened
Ponds come in all shapes and sizes but they’re all important for the environment