Protected Sites and Nature Reserves on the Channel Coast
The coastal environment is a living, dynamic one, simultaneously exposed and fragile. The shoreline, as a point of contact between land and sea where salt and fresh waters meet, is a zone of great biological diversity, as are all such interfaces. It boasts an incredible variety of natural biotopes. Although the French coastline is particularly rich, it is also under threat, which is why the government has the key responsibility of ensuring that it is passed on to future generations in a healthy state.
• Biosphere Reserves.
The UNESCO label of ‘Biosphere Reserve’ is awarded to organisations that establish a policy of sustainable development and management of a given zone in conjunction with local partners. There are currently 2 biosphere reserves in France. The main stakes involve maintaining biodiversity, establishing a tricky balance between encouraging tourism and preserving the natural environment, and educating visitors and young people to the importance and fragility of nature.
The Iroise Sea (Brittany).
The Iroise Sea is part of the Parc Naturel Régional d’Armorique and covers 50,000 acres. It contains two inhabited islands, Ouessant and Molène. It was created by UNESCO in 1988 and became France’s first oceanic nature park in 2007. The Iroise Sea constitutes a true dividing line between the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. The many islands in it certainly represent the most authentic and wild part of Brittany. Sites truly worth the journey include
the peninsula of Crozon, which stretches its two arms, cross-like, between the bays of Brest and Douarnenez.
• Regional Natural Parks
Amorique (29). Brière(44). Caps & Marais d’Opale (62). Marais du Cotentin et du Bessin (50).
• Marine and coastal preserves
Mainland France has a wide range of environments along its 5,632 km of coastline: 35% is composed of sand or pebble beaches, 13% is dominated by cliffs, 28% is coarse rock, and 24% is marshland and mud flats. Along this coast, 34 national and regional nature preserves extending over 300,000 acres protect maritime and coastal habitats. Of these preserves, 23 are located on North Sea, Channel, and Atlantic coasts, while 11 are found on the Mediterranean coast (including Corsica).
The Cotentin Peninsula, the highest cliffs in Europe
The rocky spur of North Cotentin begins at the vague sandy coastline of Baie des Veys and projects out into the sea. This ‘land’s end’ teems with rugged cliffs and strands backed by heathland covered in gorse and heather. The cliffs at Joburg reach 128m high, making them the tallest in Europe.
Mont Saint-Michel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Mont Saint-Michel, ‘the Wonder of the West’, rises from a vast bay regularly swept by the largest tides in Europe. Aubert, the bishop of Avranches, built and consecrated the first church on the mount on the 16th
of October, 709, at the request of the Archangel Michael, the ‘chief prince of the heavenly host’. In 966, the duke of Normandy invited a community of Benedictine monks to establish an abbey on the rock. For the next eight centuries the Benedictines would continuously build, enlarge, and embellish an abbey that by the 13th century was already dubbed a ‘Wonder’.
A masterpiece of architecture – of various architectures, we should say – the abbey of Mont
Saint-Michel allows 21st-century visitors to meditate in a pre-Romanesque crypt, admire the power and majesty of Romanesque construction, and be carried away by the beauty of the Gothic features. Along with Rome and Santiago de
Compostela, Mont Saint-Michel was one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the medieval West.
Nature lovers will enjoy the extraordinary bird reserve known as the Parc Ornithologique of Marquenterre. A major halting point for many European migratory birds, it is located between the Authie and Somme estuaries. This extraordinary nature preserve includes dunes, forest and marshland accessible via (discreet) paths that extend through most of the area.