Vipère d'Orsini - Conservation of French populations of Orsini's viper (Vipera ursinii)

LIFE06 NAT/F/000143

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Contact details:

Project Manager: Corinne DRAGONE
Tel: +33 4
Fax: +33 4 42 90 90 91
Email: c.dragone@arpe-paca.org

Project description:


In France, populations of Orisini’s Viper (Vipera ursinii) are known to exist in just 12 locations (with unconfirmed sightings in three other places). Its range covers around 9000 ha, of which 5750 ha (more than 60%) are part of the Natura 2000 network. The French populations are highly isolated from other European populations (the closest of which are found in the Central Apennines, Italy) and they make up the Western edge of the species’ range. Thus, their current situation poses a threat to their survival and offers great potential for conservation measures.

In fact, populations of Orisini’s Viper have already experienced rapid declines at four sites, and may have disappeared altogether at three others. Five factors are either certain or likely to have contributed to this decline: increasing size of forested areas; controlled fires (though the effects depend on the date, area and intensity of the fire; development of recreational sites in the mountains; collection or deliberate destruction of the species; and stochastic extinctions inherent in small populations. Studies carried out since 1992 have revealed the key steps needed to protect the species.


The objectives of the project were to:

  • Protect and restore the habitat and increase its function and functionality.
  • Limit the development of recreational activities that could have a negative impact on the viper’s habitat In the mountain zones.
  • Restrict illegal removal and deliberate destruction of vipers in these natural populations.
  • Allow better management and protection of populations in France and beyond by encouraging collaborations among specialists (both scientists and managers) and by making accessible the data obtained during the course of this project.

  • Results

    More than 575 ha of favourable habitats were restored during the project, and fragments of disconnected habitats were reconnected. This was achieved through three different techniques: experimental controlled fires to control the growth of bushes and brushwood without destroying habitats or populations (20.1 ha of grasslands); brushwood clearance to restore open habitats (204.27 ha of forests or woods) and tree-felling to restore open habitats (350,92 ha).

    The removal of brushwoods and residues of tree-felling proved to be technically difficult and expensive, mainly because the area of remaining woodland is difficult to estimate. Only one controlled burning of brushwood could be organised before the end of the project, instead of two as initially planned, because of unfavourable weather conditions.

    The project successfully limited the impacts of recreational activities on two sites, through the definition of concrete actions that were then included in local management plans, the development of partnership and consultation of the various stakeholders and surveillance operations. A protocol was also defined to ensure that viper conservation is taken into account during the organisation of a sports event: during the project, the partners worked together with the event organisers of Tour de France and Mondovélo to reduce the impact of these events on viper populations.

    On some sites, surveillance operations were carried out annually throughout the project to prevent any illegal removal or deliberate destruction of vipers. The presence of a surveillance team on site seems to have been dissuasive since no such operation was observed. The surveillance actions also contributed to informing the public and raising awareness of the species and its conservation.

    The activities carried out to restore favourable habitats brought nature experts together and fostered co-operation. Such collaboration will ensure the maintenance of favourable habitats in the long term. The project helped improve the effectiveness of the Natura 2000 network by developing synergies. Consequently, it was possible to develop and then implement agri-environmental measures and Natura 2000 contracts that are compatible with viper conservation.

    The project greatly improved the existing knowledge concerning populations and the factors that threaten their conservation and led to up-to-date information of the species’ status. Several protocols were developed including a reliable method for determining the presence of the species on a site. Many exchanges and collaborations took place during the project with experts working on the species in other countries.

    The project's results show that the species is not as endangered today as it was in the 1980s. Nevertheless, the beneficiary is cautious not to conclude that the conservation status was definitely improved by the LIFE actions. This will have to be confirmed through long-term monitoring.

    The project helped restore favourable habitats and reconnect fragmented habitats. Monitoring showed that the viper has already started recolonising one of the sites where habitats had been restored. For the other sites, it is not yet possible to assess the effectiveness of the actions. Nevertheless, the project most probably improved the prospects of the populations.

    By the end of the project, it was found that focusing only on Natura 2000 areas was clearly a limit to habitat restoration and to the prevention of damage. Additionally, information and awareness campaigns remain necessary to limit deliberate destructions of vipers.

    Throughout the programme, various communication tools were created: a travel exhibition, outdoor information boards, a poster, a film, species recognition sheets and an organic beer with Orsini's viper featured on the label.

    A National Action Plan for Orsini's Viper was developed concurrently to the project. It is largely based on the project's work and results. Its recent validation by French authorities should ensure the continuation of the project's activities.

    Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report(see "Read more" section).


Environmental issues addressed:


Species - Reptiles


endangered species‚  protected area

Target species

 Vipera ursinii     

Target Habitat types

  • 8130 - Western Mediterranean and thermophilous scree
  • 4060 - Alpine and Boreal heaths
  • 4090 - Endemic oro-Mediterranean heaths with gorse
  • 5110 - Stable xerothermophilous formations with Buxus sempervirens on rock slopes (Berberidion p.p.)
  • 6170 - Alpine and subalpine calcareous grasslands
  • 6210 - Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Festuco-Brometalia) (* important orchid sites)

Natura 2000 sites

SCI FR9301530 Cheval Blanc - Montagne de Boules - Barre des Dourbes
SCI FR9301540 Gorges de Trévans - Montdenier - Mourre de Chanier



Coordinator Agence régionale pour l'environnement Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur
Type of organisation Regional authority
Description The ARPE is a public authority based in Aix-en-Provence. It aims to enhance the environmental and natural aspects of projects carried out in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region.
Partners Conservatoire et Etude des Ecosystèmes de Provence, France Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes – Laboratoire de Biogéographie et Ecologie des Vertébrés, France Office National des Forêts, France Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage, France Syndicat Mixte d'Aménagement et d'Equipement du Mont Ventoux, France


Project reference LIFE06 NAT/F/000143
Duration 01-AUG-2006 to 30-APR -2011
Total budget 1,492,540.00 €
EU contribution 746,270.00 €
Project location Provence-Alpes-Côte d' Azur(France)


Read more:

Brochure "Programa LIFE Conservacion de las populacions francesas de vipèra d'Orsini" (12.6 MB)
Brochure Brochure of the project (FR)(5 MB)
Brochure Brochure of the project (7.3 MB)
Leaflet "Restauration des habitats de la Vipère d'Orsini e ...
Leaflet Leaflet of the project (FR)(2.3 MB)
Project web site Project's website (FR)
Publication: Article-Paper Lettre d'information n°3
Publication: Article-Paper Lettre d'information n°2
Publication: Article-Paper Lettre d'information n°1
Publication: Article-Paper "Prescribed fire and conservation of a threatened ...
Publication: Layman report Layman's report
Publication: Layman report Rapport de vulgarisation
Video link "Les serpents de France" (9')
Video link "Dans les pupilles de l'Adret" (33')
Video link "Throught the eyes of Orsini's Viper" (33')


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version