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 chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) is a majestic tree. It can reach 40-metre height and its trunk can measure up to 3 metres in diameter at the base. A same tree has male and female flowers which grow on long catkins. After pollination, the female flowers become bugs where 2 or 3 chestnuts will grow. This tree, which needs a schist or granite subsoil, is the tree-symbol of the Cévennes, where it is very abundant. Chestnuts have been grown there since the Middle Age, under the Benedictine priories’ leadership. And in the 16th century, chestnuts have become the main crop….
The Aubrac cattle is a French breed of domestic beef cattle, which originates on the Aubrac region. It has a wheat-coloured coat, and dark muzzle and eyes. This hardy breed is perfectly adapted to the mountain climate and the harsh weather conditions of the Aubrac region: wind, cold, sudden temperature changes… In May, you can see the transhumance, which is a real celebration. From May to October, in the mountain pasture, the animals graze freely day and night and feed on a very rich and varied vegetation, which guarantees a meat of unbeatable quality. Formerly, the Aubrac cattle was kept….
Carlina acanthifolia is the plant-symbol of the Causses: it is a sort of big thistle which is today a threatened and protected species. This plant is well adapted: its thorns protect itself against sheep which graze on the Causses, and it grows on the ground level. It has a crown of leaves in the middle of which is a big yellow flower. Carlina acanthifolia was formerly dried and nailes on the doors in the villages as a decoration or a lucky charm. It was also called the shepherd’s barometer. In fact, when the heart of the flower closes, it indicates….
The common genet (Genetta genetta) is a small and shy carnivorous mammal, with a black speckled fur and a long ringed tail. It is difficult to see a genet, because it is a nocturnal animal, but it is possible to seek traces of its passage thanks to its excrement: in fact, genets defecate at specific latrine sites, which are often located at the edge of their territories. During the day, the genet rests in hollow trees, among thickets, in a vacant burrow… Even if the genet is an excellent climber, it hunts mainly on the ground. It feeds especially on….
In the AUbrac region, about 40 different plant species can be found in the natural meadows, and even 70 in the richest of them! Among these species, one of the rarest is Fritillaria meleagris. This plant grows between 20-40 cm in height. The flower has a chequered pattern in shades of purple. The name Fritillaria comes from the Latin fritillus meaning dice-box, which may refer to the shape of the flower. The name meleagris means “spotted like a guineafowl”. The common English name is snake’s head, which probably refers to the somewhat snakelike appearance of the nodding flower heads on….
Let’s admire the flora in the most mediterranean part of the way to Saint Guilhem! Breathe the way… Eat the way… Contemplate the way… In this fragrant landscape, the heady perfume of honeysuckles mixes with the scents of boxwoods and blooming serviceberries. In this tasty landscape, you can pick thyme or wild asparagus. On these dry and rocky soils, asphodels and many other treasures grow: come and admire them! The Etruscan honeysuckle (Lonicera etrusca) produces from May to September white or yellow and purple flowers. As early as March, the asparagus can be picked!
The Dogtooth violet (Erythronium dens-canis) is a bulbous plant in the family Liliaceae. This is a mountain species you can see on the way to Saint Guilhem, in the Aubrac region. The name comes from the Greek adjective erythros, “dark red’, because of the colour of the flower but also of the leaved, which are green flecked with purplish red. What about the doog’s tooth? Well, the bulb of the plant is white and stretched, as a dog’s canine tooth.
Digitalis purpurea (foxglove, or lady’s glove) is a biennal plant: it vegetates the first year and flowers in the second year. From June to September, you can admire its clusters of purple flowers. The shape of the flowers, which look like little gloves for fingers, has given the name to the plant (digitus means “finger” in Latin). But be careful: due to the presence of the cardiac glycoside digitoxin, the foxglove is poisonous to humans and can be fatal if ingested.
The Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) is the biggest snake in Europe: more than 2 meters long! Unfortunately, very few of these animals grow to such a size: many Montpellier snakes are killed by road traffic… This snake is greyish or greenish brown on the back and yellow on the belly. It lives in garrigues and bushes. Its choice preys are lizards, snakes, small mammals, but it can also eat birds or young rabbits. If it is rushed or if it feels threatened, the Montpellier snake may sometimes rise up, blow sharply to impress its adversary, and as a last resort….
The Short-toed eagle (Circaetus gallicus) is a medium-sized bird of prey. You can easily observe it when it flies or when it is perched in a tree or on a rock. The upper parts of its plumage are brown, but when you seeit flying, it can be easily recognised by its predominantly white underside (with little brown flecks). It has an owl-like rounded head, with yellow eyes. When quartering open country, it frequently hovers like a kestrel in order to locate its preys. This migratory bird comes back in spring, when snakes reappears. In fact, the short-toed eagle feeds on….