The purpose of nature reservesis to protect exceptional or threatened natural habitats. This includes fauna, flora, soil, waters, minerals and fossils, above the ground, underground or at sea, throughout metropolitan France and the French overseas territories.
There is a total of 327 (May 2008) reserves, including 161 national reserves, 160 regional reserves and the six nature reserves on Corsica, which cover close to three million hectares.
The largest is the Réserve Naturelle des Terres Australes Françaises (2.27 million hectares), and the smallest, the Réserve Naturelle Géologique du Toarcien, in Deux-Sèvres.
Their areas of intervention include:
- the preservation of species and habitats, in particular those that are exceptional or threatened with extinction
- the rebuilding of animal and plant populations and their habitats
- the conservation of botanical gardens and arboretums
- the preservation of biotopes and exceptional geological, geomorphological or speleological formations
- the preservation or building of stopping points on the major migration routes of wild animals
- scientific and technical studies aimed at the development of human knowledge
- the preservation of sites for the study of life and early human activity
Nature reserves are a tool both for the protection and conservation of biodiversity, and for environmental education.