The only French national park in the low mountains, the Cevennes National Park is home to a storied cultural heritage along with a significant permanent population of French citizens.
This peculiarity gives it a role that is not necessary shared by other national parks: the research into conditions of a balanced development integrating the protection of heritage and ensuring the continuation of agro-pastoralism necessary to maintain the biodiversity and the landscapes of the area. Basically, how can the park thrive along with the citizens who depend on the land.
General features: Total surface of the protected area : 3210 Km’, of which,
91,270 ha (82 % in Lozère, 18 % in Gard) distributed over 52 communes among which 117 hamlets or farms are inhabited by over 600 inhabitants. This core zone includes 3% of grounds owned by the Park administration, 7% of grounds owned by communes, 30% by the State and 60% by private owners. It is strictly protected by law. Over one hundred farms actively contribute to keep large surfaces of land open (33%) while the rest of the area is covered by forest (49% of which is privately owned).
Peripheral zone : 230,110 ha (54 % in Lozère, 36 % in Gard, 10 % in Ardèche) distributed over 117 communes (around 4 000 hamlets and 41 000 inhabitants). This area has no legal status but a specific management programme aimed at promoting local economic initiatives and at strengthening the actions of protection undertaken in the core area.
Altitudes : highest one, 1,699 m (mont Lozère) ; lowest one, 200 m (Basses Cévennes) ; average altitude of core area, 1 200 m ; average altitude of peripheral zone, 650 m.
Causse Méjean, limestone plateau belonging to the Grands Causses system (Sauveterre, causse Noir and Larzac) ; mean altitude : 1000 m ; grazing of sheep (for meat and milk).
Mont Lozère, granitic massif; highest point: 1,699 m; breeding of cows, transhumance of sheeps.
Bougès mountain, granitic and schistose massif, wooded northern slopes ; highest point : 1,421 m ; breeding of cows and sheeps, forestry.
Gardons valleys, all excavated in the schiste : the Vallée Longue watered by the river Gardon d’Alès, the Vallée Française by the river Gardon of Sainte-Croix and the Vallée borgne by the river Gardon of Saint-Jean ; breeding of goats and sheeps ; bee-keeping; chestnut grove.
Mont Aigoual and Lingas, schiste and granite ; highest point : 1,565 m ; forests of pines, spruces, firs and beeches ; forestry ; transhumance of cows and sheeps.
Rivers : Atlantic watershed, Lot, Tarn, Mimente, Tarnon, Dourbies, Trévezel, Jonte ; mediterranean watershed, Gardons, Cèze, Hérault.
Climates : mediterranean, oceanic, or continental ; from hot with an estival marked dryness (Gardons) to extremely cold and damp (more than 90 days of frost per year) at the hilltop of the mont Lozère.
Fauna : kept away from intensive agriculture and chemical treatments, the conservation area has become a refuge for fauna and particularly for small animals such as insects. However, the decrease of land under cultivation and the progression of moors and forests have also recreated favourable conditions for larger wild animals. In the last few years, a number of species have naturally returned to the area (otters, black woodpeckers, owls, vultures). Furthermore, the park has reintroduced red deers, beavers, copercaillies, mouflons, tawny and black vultures. Today, among the 2,410 species reported within the park, there are 70 species of mammals, 195 of birds, 31 of reptiles and amphibians, 23 of fishes and 1,824 of insects.
Flora : there is a wide range of vegetation, from the sub-alpine meadows of the Mont Lozère, home to some species typical of the polar circle to the warm rocky sheltered valleys of the Mediterranean side where species from the dry sub-tropics grow. Also of interest are the vegetal associations linked to the evergreen oak (hot and dry climate) and the natural beech and fir grove in the heights of the northern slopes (wet and cold climate).
The park’s ecosystems (incl. in the peripheral zone) are home to some 48 endemic species and another hundred rare or threatened plants. There is also flora specific to sub-alpine meadows and marshes (sphagnum peat bogs, carnivorous plants…). 33 of the 400 protected species of French flora are present in the park (Lilium martagon, Adonis vernalis, orchids…) and over 2,200 species in total are found within its boundaries.
The forest – half broadleaf and half evergreen – covers some 52,000 ha of the core area. Two-thirds of the species are originated from the region and one-third are evergreens introduced to the area. The large State forest of the Aigoual is the work of foresters at the end of the X1Xth century. The chestnut grove, cultivated for more than a thousand years features a typical landscape.
Management : the Cévennes National Park is managed by a public body, answerable to the Ministry of the Environment. Its headquarters are located in Florac (Lozère). Its management board (52 members) includes representatives of the local population and the national community. It is assisted by a scientific council and a panel of specialized advisory committees. 10 of its elected members form the permanent committee in charge of all general matters. The director, assisted by a deputy director, heads a team of 70 persons including field officers (wardens and chief-wardens) and specialized officers (in sciences; protection and land use management ; information and communication ; administration). Seasonal personnel (20) completes the regular staff. The financial resources of a national park proceed mainly from the State and represent some 0,50 FF/year by French. The peripheral zone’s management programme has its own budget provided by different ministerial sources. It is made available for specific projects aimed at maintaining a permanent population, at enhancing the quality of life and at developing tourism.
International Dimension of the Cévennes National Park
In 1971, UNESCO launched the worldwide Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) with the purpose of enhancing scientific cooperation in studying the interactions between Man and his environment and the major concern of reconciling conservation and development. This programme has been directly applied within an international network of Biosphere Reserves in which the Cévennes National Park was integrated in 1985.
Twinnings : with the Saguenay National Park (Québec) since 1984 and with the Montseny National Park/ Biosphere Reserve (Spain) since 1987. They enahle fruitful exchanges of personnel and experiences.
Discovering the Park
Three Ecomuseums : The multifacetted heritage of the park is presented area by area through three visitor tours. The Ecomusée of the mont Lozère houses a permanent exhibition at Le Pont de Montvert (tel. 04 66 45 80 73) which relates the natural and human history of the area. The Ecomusée of the Cévennes, in the “Vallée franqaise” is made up of 15 places of interest which present the Cévenols’ life and heritage. The Ecomusée of the Causse, with its worldwide famous sites, explains the human and ecological interactions between the gorges and the plateaux.
Walking in the open air : the park offers the highest density of footpaths (GR) in France and 22 educational walks (booklets and guides available in our information centres).
During the summer, the park’s “Festival Nature” offers a wide range of in- and outdoor cultural activities throughout the region. Many tours and activities led by professionals such as hiking, canoe- kayak, climbing, speleology etc…are organized. Horse riding, cross-country skiing, mountain biking and cycle touring are other available possibilities.
Attendance and information : your visit should start at the Florac castle which hosts our main information ccntre (open all year around, except on weck-ends in the low season). During the summer another 20 information centres are open. All the park’s editions, guides, maps, hooklets are available there (mailing possible upon request) as well as from local bookshops and tourist offices.
Chambres et tables d’hôtes, Gîtes d’étapes et de séjours, Rural lodgings or B&B, fitted up with the help of the park offer exceptional conditions of stay with the inhabitants. Many rural inns, camping sites and hotels are available in the peripheral zone.