A group of French environmentalists took matters into their own hands when their country was failing to protect wildlife by starting the first ever private wilderness reserve.
The Grand Barry in the village of Véronne, Drôme by the French Alps, is an area of 110 hectares where nature and its critters are allowed to grow and roam free, without fear of any human attack.
The reserve opened last month and it is owned by the NGO Association for the Protection of Wild Animals (Aspas), who bought the land from various individual owners solely with private funds. The NGO turned down any public subsidies because it wanted to do what France has so far been unable to do: protect wildlife completely.
“Natural parks and reserves no longer protect biodiversity as before, frequently allowing hunting and logging, but we have developed a new approach to provide lasting protection for wilderness,” said Pierre Athanaze, the head of Aspas. “Since 2010 we have been buying land with the aim of letting it evolve freely.”
While France has various governing bodies in charge of wildlife protection like national and regional parks, the country has faced a challenge marrying their mission with tourism and urban development. As a result, many exceptions have been made and today over two thirds of national reserves allow hunting within their grounds.
At Grand Barry, however, no exceptions are made. Humans can only walk on the grounds and only on restricted areas. There is no hunting and fishing, logging and farming, stock-raising, motor vehicles, fires, waste disposal, unleashed dogs and even harvesting of wild foods anywhere within the 300 hectares of land that Aspas owns, which includes Grand Barry and other pockets of land not yet considered reserves. Volunteer guards make sure the rules are followed.
“Hunting has been forbidden here for almost two years and we are already seeing more large ungulates [deer, wild boar and the like],” said Roger Mathieu and Françoise Savasta, both members of Aspas. “We did not see any of the many chamois, roe or red deer that have settled in the reserve. But the frequent tracks and droppings, and the camera-traps mounted on trees, are evidence of their presence.”
According to Mathieu, Aspas is keeping a log of the wildlife residing in their land, an inventory of all the species it protects.
Aspas has over 11,000 members and with their donations, legacies and help from another NGO, Fondation pour une Terre Humaine, Aspas raised the €150,000 ($202,000) required to buy the Grand Barry area to protect biodiversity their way.
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