The high plateau of Aubrac, the Causse Méjean, the Mont Aigoual, the causses of Blandas and of Larzac aren’t under pressure from agribusiness, to say the least! Only extensive breeding is practised, as well as some cultivation for animal feed.
The sheep and cattle trails are free of industrial intrusion and also, forest largely covers these biologically natural environments. Nature is present, as well as a rich biodiversity of species.
The low population density also plays an important role, leaving large open spaces from one village to another. Nature is maintained there, but not necessarily massacred!
The Cévennes National Park, created in 1970, has contributed with perseverance to the reasonable protection of sites between Aigoual and Causses.
The Salzmann pine (Pinus nigra Salzmannii) is a subspecies of Austrian pine. Formerly, the Salzmann pines were very common in the Mediterranean Basin; now, they are in decline and in danger of extinction. There are several residual populations in France: the biggest is the forest of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. This pine, whose shape is often crooked, grows in a landscape of ruiniform chaos. Its original habitat is in fact composed of rocky areas where the other tree species can’t compete with it in the long run. There the Salzmann pine grows: it is stunted, but it grows and subsists, and is the….
The Red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio) is a medium-sized passerine bird. Its beak is hooked, like that of a bird of prey, reflecting its predatory nature. If the female is duller, the adult male is easily identifiable: grey head with a typicalblack stripe through the eye, reddish upperparts, salmon pink underparts. The genus name, Lanius, is derived from the Latin word for “butcher” because of the feeding habits of the bird. In fact, shrikes are known for their habit of catching insects and small vertebrates and impaling their bodies on thorns, the spikes on barbed-wire fences or any available sharp point…..
You will admire wild orchids all the way. Don’t cut them! It is also useless to try to transplant them: the orchids don’t survive out of their habitat, where they live in symbiosis with other organisms. More than a dozen of species can be observed from the Aubrac region to the most southern part of the way: elder-flowered orchid, bee orchid, lizard orchid, pyramidal orchid, monkey orchid… or even the beautiful and rare lady’s-slipper orchid… Look for them from April to June on the slopes, in the meadows, and in the limestone soils! Amongst the orchids, the Ophrys look like….
Every year, in April and May, the meadows in the Aubrac region become astonishing flowerbeds: poet’s narcissus (Narcissus poeticus) and daffodils cover the moutain. These wild flowers have an extraordinary scent. They are cut and brought to perfumeries. Narcissus harvest and processing industry in the Lozère region are a unique know-how.
The Apollo (Parnassius apollo) is a big white butterfly (one of the biggest in Europe): its red and black eye-spots are typical. This endangered and protected species can be found on the way to Saint Guilhem, especially on the Causse de Sauveterre. In fact, this mountain butterfly requires wide open spaces and a large surface of lawns (the scarcity of the species is due to habitat loss). You may see it flying when the weather is sunny, in June or July, foraging nectar from purple flowers (thistles, scabiosa…). It alights as soon as there is a cloud.
In the Tarn river, a very rich fauna – and especially otters and beavers – can be observed. The Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) is a carnivorous semi-aquatic mammal, which is mainly nocturnal. Brown above and cream below, this long and slender animal is well-equipped for its aquatic habits. It is an excellent swimmer with its waterproof fur and palmed feet. It is usually a solitary animal, which occupies a territory of 5 to 15 km in area along riversides. When it comes out of water, it rolls on the grass to dry its fur. The otter’s holt (den) is usually….
Messicole plants flower at harvest time in winter cereal fields (wheat, barley, oat, rye): field poppy, matricaria, corn cockle, cornflowers, but also field gladiolus… For centuries, these plants have been present in cereal fields, but they have declined significantly since the second half of the 20th century because of herbicides and mechanization of agriculture. Messicole plants are an important food source for many species, and especially for the Eurasian skylark which, during winter, feeds on seeds of dozens of wild plant species (and not on grains of cereals). Every skylark must eat about 8 grams per day (that is to….
Introduced for hunting in the 1950’s, the European mouflon (Ovis orientalis musimon) , originating in Corsica, has become an iconic animal on the Aigoual massif. This medium-sized animal doesn’t exceed 75 cm at the shoulder. The ewe is smaller and its coat is less dark. It rarely gives birth to more than one lamb per year, in mid-April. The mouflon lives about 14 years. The age of the males can be determined by the number of the horn rings. In fact, the helix-shaped horns of the rams have a continuous growth. Females have usually no horns. A successful introduction….