Natural resources come to mountain rescue
Protecting mountainous terrain from erosion and improving the local environment was the main goal of the Ecovars project undertaken by the Pyrenean Botanical Conservatory. Backed by EU support, this project involved the restoration of plant cover following various types of construction work. By replanting seeds at newly developed ski resorts and on the sides of newly built roads, this project sought to protect and improve the Pyrenees by restoring its verdant alpine grasslands.
“One of the main achievements of the project has been the setting up of a network of wide-ranging players: researchers, administrators, ski resorts, territorial authorities, farmers, associations, schools, etc. which have been made aware of the replanting project and of the importance of preserving the Pyrenees surroundings during renovation. Today, these same players make up the promoters of the approach and some are developing their own projects towards better planting practices.”
Gerard Largier, Director, Pyrenean Botanical Conservatory
Through various partnerships with experts in seed production, plant conservation and genetics, the Ecovars project was able to apply the best possible ecological solutions to the Pyrenees region. Using local seeds, a long lasting protection was erected against erosion.
Replant to restore
The idea of using local seeds was first developed in the 1990s to restore small areas in the Pyrenean National Park. The Pyrenean Botanical Conservatory then recommended its widespread use throughout the Pyrenees mountain range, particularly for the restoration of plant cover following the construction of ski resorts.
The conservatory got together with a geneticist from the French national institue of agronomy (INRA) and set up the Ecovars project. The two parties ran the project alongside the authority responsible for coordinating agricultural development in the Pyrenees (SUAIA-P). While the conservatory provided expertise in plant conservation, the SUAIA-P provided expertise in seed production and the INRA expertise in genetics and social science.
Scaling up from the park to the Pyrenean Massif increased the amount of seeds needed and required the production of seeds of native species. The partners went about their threefold objective of choosing and collecting pioneer species whose ranges covered the Massif, clarifying what local actually covered by taking into account the genetic differentiation of the targeted species along the Massif and producing the seeds.
The use of non-local species for restoration can increase the risk of poor adaptation and pose a threat to local plant populations. It was essential therefore to have on board a range of experts to assess the complexity and specificity of the restoration projects and to find the appropriate solutions.
To guarantee the special restoration techniques would be applied systematically following construction work, the Ecovars partners worked with ski resorts and local authorities helping them with the actual restoration and supplying seeds.