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The European rural model

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LEADER in Livradois-Forez
Auvergne, France)

A "plus" for the Park

France's "Regional Nature Parks" operate
on principles identical in many ways to
those of LEADER (territorial and integrated
approach to development, partnerships,
networking, etc.). However, the Community
Initiative for rural development enables
those Parks benefiting from it to go even
further by facilitating their local development
work, helping them explore new approaches and
giving support for innovations and the
risk-taking that goes with it. The Park of
Livradois-Forez in Auvergne is living proof.


Ask any motorcyclist if he knows Cunlhat and it is very likely that he will tell you he does. This town with its population of 1 400 has in fact been hosting for the past twelve years the most important gathering of Harley-Davidson motorcycles in Europe. In August, 23 000 bikers converge on Cunlhat for the "Free Wheels"[1]. "Most of them descend on the village at the last moment. A lot of them wait until the event begins in the surrounding area. The gathering lasts five days but not a room is to be found within a thirty kilometre radius one week before and one week after the event. Of course that is excellent for local business." Annie Chalet who runs a bed and breakfast in Olliergues a few kilometres from Cunlhat is a supporter of Free Wheels. But although there is no outright opposition, not everyone shares her enthusiasm for the event. Aside from the feeling of insecurity people have with any motorcycle rally, Cunlhat is not exactly on the outskirts of Paris - or in the Nice area which hosted the first Free Wheels in 1987 before giving it up - but in an extreme rural area that is at the heart of a regional nature park. "It's not exactly 'sustainable' development," recognises the mayor of Cunlhat, Henri Rigal, "but in twelve years there has never been any serious problem and it helps revitalise the country. You know, here, everyone and everything was leaving, young people, money... This year, Free Wheels attracted 60 000 visitors. We estimate that it brings in over a million euros a year for the municipality and nearly six million euros for the region..."

Do not blame Henri Rigal for seeing local development purely in financial terms! He knows the concept of "sustainable development" and supports it. As president of the Intermunicipal Union of the 'Pays de Cunlhat' in 1982, he was among those who sold the idea of creating a Regional Nature Park that would bring together two steadily declining areas of Auvergne: Livradois and the western side of the Monts du Forez east of the Massif Central. The will to bring these "pays" back to life led to the creation of the Livradois-Forez Regional Nature Park in 1986. Today, 180 municipalities adhere to its charter[2] whose primary aim is "to reconcile the development of the region's natural, cultural and ethnological heritage with its economic and social development".


LEADER perspective

"With its vast area of medium-sized mountains (over 3 000 km2), Livradois-Forez is not the better known Auvergne of volcanoes," explains Jacques Fournier, director of the Park. "This is the Auvergne of granite rock where the poor soil nonetheless supported around the end of the 1880s one of the densest populations in the Massif Central. The population was so high that it could not grow enough food on the increasingly smaller plots resulting from successive divisions. In short, this difficulty to survive had three results: temporary exodus (as soon as the hard work in the fields was finished, the men would go to work in other regions of France as pit sawyers, peddlers, ragmen, etc.); work at home (production of cutlery, weaving, hat making) to supplement incomes; and finally, the definitive exodus. In the end, so many young people left for good that within barely three generations it caused a collective traumatism whose effects have still not been fully measured today. In a number of rural municipalities, there has been a tenfold decline in the population! This has led to an elderly population pyramid and a fatalistic people who no longer believe in the possibility of building a future locally. Most of them have given up the idea of doing anything for future generations..."

"A report published in the late 1970s stated that the region was in decline," notes Eric Cournut, deputy director and LEADER official of the Park. "The number of farmers in the mountains fell by 50% in ten years and in the Dore valley, a vital communication route within the area, industrial firms were affected by the economic crisis... The Union of Municipalities took action without waiting for the Park's creation and set up a team of development workers. Already in the early 1980s, we were working according to a 'LEADER logic', which was to initiate and assist local development actions, bring together the area's living strengths, creating local networks...".

"In parallel, we also had to 'tell' the area's story," adds Jean-Pierre Fournioux, in charge of heritage. "Before 1986, 'Livradois-Forez' did not exist as a compound name. It was through extensive work on the various forms of heritage - natural, historic, economic, social, cultural - that we were able to show that the territories concerned had always maintained very close socio-economic and even emotional ties. We then had to build an image, gain outside recognition..." The area has certainly now become recognised: in May 2000, using research by the Park part-funded by LEADER, the prestigious French publisher, Gallimard, published a complete tourist guide on the area.

"The region is a 'mountain workshop'," explains Brigitte Liabeuf, director of the Museum of Cutlery in Thiers. "The water of the Dore river fed the oil, paper and saw mills but also and especially provided the necessary energy for the grindstones of the cutlery works. It is in fact the manufacture of cutlery, an activity that has existed here for five centuries, which is behind the strong industrial tradition that we find here." And there have been spin- offs from this traditional industry: still representing 70% of France's knife production today, Thiers has seen many of its blacksmiths become subcontractors for the automobile industry whereas the making of knife handles has led to the development of a plastic moulding industry; further south, in Ambert, the manufacture of laces and beads has led to industrial twisting and cable manufacturing, sectors in which several local SMEs are leaders in France, and even in the world in some cases.

"If we add to that an age-old tradition of multiple job-holding in the most rural areas, there is a strong culture of enterprise here," believes Eric Cournut. "These are, however, small businesses active in subcontracting. They are therefore at the mercy of competition and have to constantly innovate. And here too, LEADER can help."

And the deputy director of the Park sums up the route followed by the "developers" of Livradois-Forez these past fifteen years: "between 1986 and 1991, the Park was only financed by the municipalities, the two departmental councils covering the Park's territory (Puy-de-Dôme and Haute-Loire), the Regional Council of Auvergne and the State, guarantor of the Regional Nature Park label. And then LEADER I arrived and that gave us wings. LEADER I enabled us to considerably strengthen our engineering and coordinating work. We were able to hire 6 development workers. In 1996, LEADER II enlarged our partnership to the 20 communities of the area's municipalities and to the chambers of commerce and industry, which were directly involved in the programme's management. The Park's new charter in 1998 was an opportunity to consult the locals on a wide scale (3 000 people took part) and helped consolidate the local partnerships. Now, our LEADER+ proposal aims to open the programme's management - and not just the actions this time - to the voluntary sector. But on the whole, LEADER has been a wonderful opportunity for us to fund innovative 'risk' actions that we had dreamed of but couldn't make a reality."

In all, with LEADER II the Park has implemented over 200 actions, for an average total cost per action (animation not included) of EUR 20 000 of which one third was financed by the Initiative. But each of these actions falls within one of the fifteen collective operations that the Park has launched: spatial management (see LEADER Magazine No. 15), business start-up contest, creation of an expertise fund for local businesses and communities, support for cultural and tourist networks (creation of a "Trail of Trades" bringing together some forty local craftsmen, network of hotel keepers, etc.). For this report, the Park's officials wanted to highlight three LEADER operations: support for the environmental competitiveness of local businesses; the Park's action for schoolchildren; and, regaining green areas and landscapes.


Businesses and the environment

"The 1990s were a time of quality, the first decade of 2000 will be a time of environmental standards," the representative for economic development, Etienne Clair, likes to repeat. In 1998, the Park and the chambers of commerce and industry of Livradois-Forez began an action to help businesses adapt to new standards and acquire certification and to encourage them to take account of the environment in their manufacturing processes and in their development strategy. The aim is not only to respect the environment but also to consider it as a factor of competitiveness for businesses. For this purpose, the LEADER instrument has been used in three phases: the complete financing of a "preliminary" environmental diagnosis of the company; the part-funding (50%) of a more in-depth eco-audit; finally, the co-funding of the investments to be made, as recommended by the audit. Here are two examples:

    The Arno Industrie company (20 employees), which manufactures a whole range of hand tools (pruning shears, monkey wrenches, etc.), used chemical salt baths for soaking its steel. The LEADER audit recommended replacing this process, dangerous for the personnel and harmful to the environment, by the modern method of high frequency thermal soaking.

    As a result of the environmental audit, the company has stopped discharging its polluting fluids and is no longer doing the surface treatments (nickel-plating, chromium-plating) itself. It has now subcontracted that work to a specialist whose facilities are fully up to standards.

    A fourth recommendation concerned dust removal from the air in a workshop. LEADER financed the purchase of an industrial vacuum cleaner and the transfer of the workshop to another part of the plant. The operation cost EUR 50 000, of which LEADER provided EUR 8 000. Of the 34 companies participating in the operation, Arno Industrie is one of the six to have completed the entire process (preliminary diagnosis / audit / investment).

    "Our customers haven't yet asked us to be environmentally-friendly, but I prefer to anticipate; it's a question of image and credibility," declares Pascal Jodas, who recently took over the company. The eco-audit was also a legal requirement for the person selling the business in case of an environmental problem later[3].

    As for the 2CA company (96 employees), which makes all kinds of polyester objects (air cleaners, outdoor fixtures, emergency telephones and even the noses of high-speed trains), it is quite simply the market that led it to do the environmental audit. In the end, the company invested in a reclaimer for solvents and invented a mechanism for waste treatment. "The LEADER action was in the forefront, but now the impetus is coming from contractors, head offices and customers who are now thinking in terms of environmental responsibility," explains the young head of the company, Gilles Duissard.

    "The suppliers have to support the action. The market is now demanding that companies be environmentally friendly. Our German contractors, for example, went over the audit with a fine-tooth comb; there's no doubt that that counted in winning the Shanghai contract..." The contract in question is nothing less than the manufacture of benches in the large Chinese city's new metro. Now, like other industrious companies of Livradois-Forez, 2CA has become engaged in a long-term procedure. It wants to obtain the ISO 14001 standard that certifies the company's management of the environment.


Tourism for the young

Though it may not yet have the same level of activity as the volcanic region of Auvergne, tourism is developing in Livradois- Forez. But the season is short. To make it longer, the Park is focusing on the niche of young people and schools. "The notion of tourism for 'young people' is relatively recent," points out Benoît Barres who is responsible for tourism.

"Until the end of the 1980s, the expectations of this age group were rarely taken into account in rural tourism. Service providers found it hard to adapt to the changes in demand. Some of them offer interesting products (train, museums, etc.), but often the proper educational approach is lacking. This customer base, however, has good potential that should be developed. At a very early age, young people can be made aware of all the problems relating to the environment and to the natural, cultural, industrial, architectural and human heritage. This type of tourist group is quite particular in that it gains in economic importance over time and it also conveys an image and remains faithful. By attracting, for example, discovery classes, the hope is that parents will find out what the area has to offer and in the longer term the former pupils who have become adults will continue to come. Finally, by catering to this group, the tourist season becomes longer, particularly outside the school holiday period."

The Park therefore began working to have Livradois-Forez recognised as a destination for young people, to raise young people's awareness of the environment and heritage, to help develop a coherent supply of tourist products in this area by emphasising the area's identity and wealth and by taking advantage of its special "nature" and "know-how". With LEADER, a three-step procedure was implemented:

  • a comprehensive analysis and a market study of tourism for young people were carried out in winter 1996-1997;

  • a strategy and an action programme were defined between 1997 and March 1998. Work was to focus on two main objectives: to develop facilities for stays of schoolchildren and discovery classes lasting approximately 5 days; and to improve the facilities for children at the sites visited (castles, museums, farms, horse-riding centres, etc.);

  • 44 tourism providers formally committed themselves to a two- year programme (March 1998-March 2000) of actions ranging from the organisation of various training courses to the creation of a quality charter endorsed by France's ministry of education and ministry of youth and sports. Each provider involved in this programme could benefit from the following financial aid under LEADER: aid to purchase educational material and equipment specifically designed for children; aid to consult professionals (access to expertise to improve the scenography, museography, etc.); and aid to publish guidebooks for children and educational documents for teachers.

Speaking of teachers, the Park was behind the establishment of a network of some twenty teachers appropriately called "Tête de Pont" in French ("Bridgehead"). Indeed the network is the "forward-looking elite" of the Park. Through the educational role that its members play, it is actually preparing the area's future. For Tête de Pont, the future begins with learning about the environment but also about filmmaking. In addition to developing ecotourism for young people, Tête de Pont is busy working on another innovative operation in Livradois-Forez: "Cinémôme" ("Cinekid").


"Cinepark", "Cinekid"

In 1989, Livradois-Forez had a roving projectionist who toured the municipalities of the Park. In 1992, LEADER I helped create a second film projection network. Called "Cinéparc" ("Cinepark"), the system enables 31 villages to see the latest films every three weeks (30 in 1999), ensuring up to 28 000 admissions a year in the area.

In 1995, Cinéparc launched a film distribution operation for children in primary schools called "Cinémôme" ("Cinekid"). To help start this action in good conditions, Cinéparc was granted LEADER II aid, which was used to manage the action and to purchase a projector and other equipment. The aim was to offer the schoolchildren a selection of high quality films together with materials to study the films in class with the teacher.

A national operation similar to this local innovative operation was launched the following year in 1996, operation "Ecole au cinéma" ("School in the cinema"). Cinéparc therefore joined the national programme, which made it easier to rent films and obtain the educational materials for the teachers. The first year, the operation enabled 2 000 pupils from 40 schools to begin their cinematographic education.

The planned objective was already more than satisfied and the situation quickly evolved in the school year 1996-1997 with 3 200 children from 78 schools.

In 1997-1998, the operation reached 4 300 children from 100 schools, and the following year there was a slight drop to 4 000 children from 91 schools. In 1999-2000, a new pilot operation was created: "Cinématernelle" (Cinema in Pre-school). It is for the very young and operates along the same principle as Cinémôme. "What we would like," explains Robert Gidon, "is to have the cinema accompany young people throughout their school years and to set up real 'picture courses' where the teaching project focuses on the cinema." A member of the "LEADER teachers" of Tête de Pont, Robert Gidon is the representative of Cinéparc.


Landscape renewal

Back in Cunlhat, although not for the biker rally this time, the Park is with LEADER's help testing actions to fulfil the main purpose of its charter: "To offer a quality landscape and environment". "Restoring green areas is our main concern," says Jean-Luc Monteix, head of operation "Paysage" ("Landscape") which is being tested in Cunlhat and the surrounding area. Livradois-Forez is faced with a declining agricultural sector and widespread fragmentation of farmland. The owners are therefore inclined to reforest the land, with the result that the landscapes are becoming covered in trees, "suffocating" certain villages, which are disappearing under an ocean of coniferous trees. However, like everywhere, there remains the problem of visual pollution, caused by structures such as high-tension power lines, mobile phone antennas or unsightly commercial buildings.

The Park has therefore opted for a global approach: "my mission," continues Jean-Luc Monteix, "is to bring together all those who have an influence over the landscape and architectural environment, namely, members of the local community, socio-economic actors, the electricity company, mobile phone operators, owners of wooded lots, the local authorities, and so on." Between 1998 and 2000 LEADER II was in this way able to implement various actions using a three- pronged approach: the design and implementation of a landscape plan in partnership with the Community of Municipalities of the Pays de Cunlhat; the development of experimental operations in regional planning (integration into the landscape of industrial buildings, improvement of outdoor accommodation...); and raising awareness among key local figures of the landscape and local planning.

The implementation of this plan was an opportunity to support three specific actions: the publication of a Pays de Cunlhat landscape awareness document; the organisation of "landscape days"; and, the creation of an advisory service provided by a landscape architect. Eventually, the Pays de Cunlhat's landscape experiment will be extended to other parts of the Park. Meanwhile, other comprehensive awareness operations concerning the "building landscape" are being carried out in parallel. These are addressing architectural aspects (revival of a nearly extinct local tradition of painting the fronts of buildings, return to the use of local wood in the construction or renovation of buildings) and the planning of town centres.


Cultural revolution

"But there are a lot of aspects which we cannot control locally," regrets Jacques Fournier when asked about the future of Livradois- Forez. "To begin with, we need a 'cultural revolution' in the government agencies. LEADER means action, it's fundamental, all the decisionmakers recognise it, but the message has not reached everyone... Having said that, we're witnessing the end of the farming world here. To borrow the expression of the geographer, André Fel, we've gone from 'too much to too little'. Nonetheless, our area is still relatively alive in comparison with areas that look like they're doing better than we are but which ten months out of twelve have nothing to show but scenic villages that are empty because they essentially consist of second homes. We think that we have a lot going for us: a good living environment, healthy products, new ways to organise work - teleworking, the 35-hour working week - which are opening up new perspectives.

The cultural networks are also very important: culturally active towns like Cunlhat - we have fifteen of them - can play a role as centres of attraction. The challenge is clearly whether we will succeed in convincing the new generation to stay and avoid making Livradois- Forez a place for retired people. We must also not give into the temptation to have tourism at any cost. Our strength is our entrepreneurial culture in a wide range of sectors."



Area: 3 220 km2
Population: 109 000 inhabitants
LEADER II financing: EUR 6 554 000
EU: EUR 2 684 000
Other public funds: EUR 3 087 000
Private: EUR 783 000

Parc Naturel Régional Livradois-Forez

a/s Eric Cournut, responsable LEADER
Maison du Parc, B.P. 17,
F-63880 Saint-Gervais-sous-Meymont
Tél: +33 4 73 95 57 66
Fax: +33 4 73 95 57 84


[1] "Roues Libres". See the web site:

[2] To benefit from the label
of "Parc naturel régional" ("Regional Nature Park"),
granted and controlled by the State,
the Regional Nature Parks draw up a
"charter" defining the main purposes of
their actions. The charter is valid for 10
years. At the end of this time, the results
are assessed and a new and updated charter
is again submitted to the State, which may take
away the label.

[3] According to French legislation,
a business owner is responsible for life for
environmental damage that his company may
cause, even if he sells it.


source: LEADER Magazine nr.25 - Winter 2000/2001

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