{slider=What is a Regional Natural Park?}

A Regional Natural Park is an inhabited rural area that is nationally recognised for its valuable local heritage and landscape, but also for its fragility (threatened by rural decay, strong urban pressure or overly frequent tourism). Such parks lean on extensive sustainable development plans allowing the protection and promotion of their resources. (Sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” - Definition from the Report of the Brundtland Commission, «Our Common Future», 1987, for the World Commission on Environment and Development. “In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.” - Principle 4 of the United Nations Declaration on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, 1992.)

The territory of a Regional Natural Park is classified by decree of the French Prime Minister after examination of a report by the Ministry of Environment. The classification is valid for a renewable period of 12 years. A Regional Natural Park is managed by a combined association of all the authorities that have approved the Park Charter (see point Can a Regional Natural Park be established anywhere?).

{slider=What is the purpose of such a park?}
The purpose of a Regional Natural Park is to protect and promote the natural resources, human resources and cultural heritage by implementing an innovative and environmentally-friendly policy of land-use planning and economic, social and cultural development.
{slider=What roles does it play?}

The roles (Defined by article R333-1 of the French Environmental Code) of a Regional Natural Park are:

  • to protect and manage natural resources, landscapes and cultural heritage

Regional Natural Parks focus on compatibly managing rural spaces, maintaining biological diversity, preserving and promoting the local natural resources, landscapes and award-winning features, enhancing and invigorating their cultural heritage.

  • to participate in land-use planning

As an integral part of national and regional planning policies, Regional Natural Parks contribute to defining and positioning the developments of its territory so they respect the environment.

  • to foster economic and social development

Regional Natural Parks lead and coordinate economic and social actions enhancing natural and human resources to ensure quality of life and environmentally-friendly development.

  • to provide education and information

Regional Natural Parks foster contact with nature, raise environmental awareness among their inhabitants, and encourage visitors to know more about their region through educational, cultural and tourist activities.

  • to encourage experimentation

Regional Natural Parks contribute to research programmes and work on new procedures and work methods that can be applied to other regions, both in France and abroad.

{slider=How to establish a Regional Natural Park?}

Regional Councils initiate the creation of a Regional Natural Park within the scope of its land-use planning duties. At the start of the process, the minister responsible for nature conservation issues an opinion in terms of opportunity. Upon the deliberating ministry’s request to draw up the Charter, the French Council for the Protection of Nature and the Federation of Regional Natural Parks of France issue an opinion on the benefit of this creation and the relevance of the scope, in particular with respect to the criteria set forth in article R333-4 of the French Environmental Code. The regional authorities are responsible for elaborating the Regional Natural Park project with as much dialogue as possible between the different, valuable stakeholders, from local authorities (Regional Councils, General Councils, city and village representatives, EPCIs(Public establishments of intermunicipal cooperation (amongst villages, towns and urban agglomerations))) to various partners (Governmental services and establishments, socioprofessional organisations, associations, etc.). The joint project is formalised through a contract: the Park Charter, which is subject to public survey.

After all partners willingly subscribe to the Charter, the regional authorities that are concerned approve it and invite the Ministry of Environment class the area among the “Regional Natural Parks”. After having the opinion of the French Council for the Protection of Nature (CNPN), the Federation of Regional Natural Parks of France and other relevant ministries (ministries in charge of local authorities, finances and budget, land-use planning, agriculture, urban planning, culture, industry, tourism, energy, and defence, as well as any other interested ministries (see article R333-9 of the French Environmental Code)) classified, the territory is listed for a renewable 12-year period as a Regional Natural Park by decree of the French Prime Minister.

{slider=How does a Regional Natural Park take action?}

To implement its Charter, a Regional Natural Park relies on the expertise of local authorities and fosters interactions amongst the stakeholders to carry out local nature conservation and sustainable development initiatives. It also drives exemplary and innovative actions, researching and deploying solutions that benefit the environment. A Regional Natural Park’s experience is also intended to benefit other regions in France and abroad. One of Regional Natural Parks’ specificities is to be required to evaluate their action (see point How to have a Regional Natural Park’s classification?).Regional Natural Parks’ action embraces a wide scope of activities:

  • actions undertaken by the authorities that approved the Charter. They can include activities related to urban planning, local heritage, tourism and water quality, depending on their field of expertise.
  • actions undertaken by socioprofessional bodies (associations, farmers, producers, etc.) through partnership agreements (to promote the local heritage, to raise awareness on the environment and sustainable development, to boost sustainable tourism and agroenvironmental measures, etc.).
  • actions undertaken by the government within the scope of land use and regulation.
  • actions undertaken by the park’s management body, and by the multidisciplinary technical team in particular.

{slider=What types of actions does it carry out?}

The actions of a Regional Natural Park are carried out in accordance with the project defined in its Charter and the challenges of its territory. The following are some examples:

  • Actions to protect and manage natural resources and landscapes

These actions include scientific monitoring and implementing methods to protect and manage fauna, flora and landscapes; advising towns and villages on how to manage land and master urban planning and individuals on how to blend buildings into their environment; encouraging efficient energy management; and raising awareness of involved partners and the general public, etc.

  • Actions to revivify and enhance cultural heritage

These actions include emphasising local culture and know-how through special facilities; enlivening local life by organising festivals and other cultural events; and helping local cultural stakeholders to settle and network, etc.

  • Actions to support and develop economic and social activities

These activities include enhancing sustainable farming and short distribution networks, supporting products, services and know-how related to the territory; attributing the “Regional Natural Park” label, setting up a range of tourist sites and activities that respect the environment; encouraging companies to reach high environmental standards and supporting new activities; and providing assistance in maintaining services and businesses in rural areas, etc.

  • Actions to raise awareness and inform

These actions include organising through the «Clearing Houses» and information centres outdoor activities such as thematic walks, nature trails and hikes; supporting local associations and ecocitizen initiatives; establishing educational programmes about the environment and sustainable development for various populations of the local area and nearby towns, etc.

{slider=How are Regional Natural Parks organised?}

The actions of a Regional Natural Park’s actions are determined and implemented by its management body in compliance with the Park Charter. Legally, this management body is a combined association gathering representatives of the French Region(s) and Department(s) involved as well as the other towns and villages having adopted the Charter. The management body may include intermunicipal structures and gateway towns (see point What is a “gateway town”?).

The management body aims to work as closely as possible with local partners through working committees and consultative bodies that enable association representatives, socioeconomic partners and public bodies to work together to define and implement the Park’s action plan.

A scientific committee is also responsible for enlightening the management body using its expertise. To elaborate and implement programmes, the Park management body recruits a director and a permanent team comprising thirty people on average responsible for implementing the Charter, giving ideas and leading actions led directly by the Park management body or a partnership. The team includes members with high levels of expertise in the environment as well as in land-use management and planning, economic and touristic development, promotion of the local heritage and culture, and in informing and raising the awareness of the general public.

These agents are generally civil servants or contract workers for the regional.

{slider=How are they funded?}

Each Regional Natural Park has an operating budget and an investment budget, both of which comply with the accounting rules of local authorities. (The global operating budget for a Regional Natural Park was €2,480,000 per park on average in 2011. This amount was funded on average at a level of 45% by the Regions, 28% by the other member bodies (Departments, towns and villages, EPCIs), 10% by the government (mainly from the Ministry of Environment), 4% by European subsidies and 13% by other sources. In addition to this operating budget, there is an investment budget that varies a lot from one Park to the next.

The operating budget is mainly funded by combined association that manages the park. The budget is further funded by a contribution from the Ministry of Environment and by occasional operating subsidies from various sources. The activities and facilities of the Regional Natural Parks are co-funded in variable proportions, mainly by local authorities and, sometimes within the scope of various European programmes and/or through the participation of the government and its public establishments.

In reference to the Park Charter, these subsidies can fall through an agreement within the «local development» section of the Government/Region project. This agreement can also receive further financial support from the «regional development» section of the contract for the Government/Region project, particularly with regards to assessment and engineering missions that can be performed by the Park.

{slider=Can private sponsors support Regional Natural Parks?}

Private companies and individuals can shore up Regional Natural Parks by financially supporting actions for conservation and enhancement of the natural and cultural heritage, informing and raising awareness of sustainable development, improving the living environment, boosting the cultural life, etc.

These companies and individuals are entitled to tax breaks from their patronage through a “Regional Natural Park of France” fund created in 2012. A Sponsor Ethics Charter governs the shared values that guide the relationships between sponsors and Parks.

{slider=How are the territories of Regional Natural Parks determined?}

The territory of a Regional Natural Park represents, for the region, a remarkable natural area, the qualities of which are nationally recognised. This area is also characterised by a strong identity. The borders of a Regional Natural Park are not established based on administrative boundaries: they can involve some towns and villages, intermunicipal structures, counties, Departments or Regions. The scope of a potential Regional Natural Park is negotiated between all partners and determined by an order of the Region(s) in question. The territory to be classified corresponds, in whole or in part, to the territory delimited by the towns and villages on the outskirts of the potential park, assuming that their local authorities approved the Charter.

The surface area of a Regional Natural Park varies between 48,500 and 395,000 hectares. The territory of a Regional Natural Park tends to include an average of 85 towns and villages.

{slider=Can a town or village refuse to be part of a Regional Natural Park?}
The request to class a territory as a Regional Natural Park is open, voluntary and individual. Therefore, a community can refuse to be part of a Park by not approving the Charter. In such cases, even if the intermunicipal structure to which the town or village belongs has approved the Charter, the territory of this town or village is not classed as part of the Regional Natural Park and the community subsequently won’t be allowed to refer to itself as belonging to the Regional Natural Park (see point Does a Regional Natural Park imply any advantage/disadvantage for neighbouring towns?).
{slider=How do you know you are in a Regional Natural Park?}

Each Regional Natural Park has its own territorial specificities, distinctive landscapes and natural resources.

It is the quality –in terms of nature, culture, heritage and landscape– and the identity of the area that make each Regional Natural Park special. A Regional Natural Park should be easily identified by its inhabitants and visitors. The area is equipped with appropriate signage, information and reception facilities and communications material geared toward the population and general public (including publications, press coverage, and communication campaigns).

{slider=Are they restricted or open areas?}

A Regional Natural Park is an inhabited area, therefore totally accessible as long as private property is respected. Regional Natural Parks are governed by common law, just like anywhere else. Although Regional Natural Parks do not have specific regulatory powers, they do aim to ensure the application of existing regulations on their territory.

However, some sites on the territory of a Regional Natural Park such as nature reserves, and particularly fragile areas, can have their access restricted by the government or local bodies. Likewise, certain activities (such as all-terrain vehicle use, flyovers, climbing...) can be restricted or prohibited by municipal decree in application of the Park Charter.

{slider=What makes a Regional Natural Park different from other protected areas?}

A Regional Natural Park stands out against other protected areas not only due to the complementarity of its protection and development objectives, but also to the voluntary commitment of all stakeholders – towns and villages, EPCIs, Regions, Departments and the government – to concentrate their contributions to benefit the environment and heritage within the framework of the Park Charter.

Hence, a Regional Natural Park implies management and protection measures that are considered contractual for its entire territory, whereas other protected areas are governed by regulations.

A National Park comprises a “central area”, an outstanding natural site, and a peripheral area. By classifying a National Park through decree, the government is responsible for the protection of this “central area” with regard to the international community. The French government entrusts the management of every National Park to a national public establishment with the jurisdiction to apply the special regulations for the “central area” of the National Park. A special Charter conveys the environmental link between the “central area” and the neighbouring territories. The Charter is drafted by local stakeholders, who represent a majority public establishment’s board of directors. Like the Regional Natural Park’s Charter, the Charter for a National park engages the commitment of compliant communities and other public bodies (See the French National Parks act of 14 April 2006).

A National Park cannot also be a Regional Natural Park, and vice-versa.

The purpose of a Nature Reserve is to protect flora and fauna by regulating the use of the area in question and setting forth protective measures, usually over a limited area. A Nature Reserve is created by decree of the Ministry of Environment and is subject to a management plan.

A Nature Reserve is a classified site that can be located on the territory of a Regional Natural Park. For classified or listed sites, the purpose is to preserve the historical, artistic, scientific or picturesque characteristics of exceptional sites of national interest. The Ministry of Environment initiates the classification, and any construction or land use is subject to the Ministry’s authorisation. These sites are not subject to a specific management plan, unless they benefit from the “major national site” procedure (Examples in France include Pointe du Raz, Baie du Mont Saint-Michel, Gorges du Tarn, Gorges du Verdon).

{slider=What makes a Regional Natural Parks different from other regional entities such as the “Pays” and “Urban agglomerations”?}

Regional Natural Parks are not the only structures that carry out a territorial plan based on a Charter and can sign a territorial agreement in application of the contract between the government and Regions. The «Pays» and «Urban agglomerations» are also part of the system, driven by sustainable development or intercommunity purposes.

However, what makes a Regional Natural Park different is that:

  • it preserves the heritage that is at the foundation of its development plan. In order to be classed as a “Regional Natural Park”, the territory must have an outstanding, yet fragile, natural and cultural heritage that is recognised nationally, and which stakeholders, who signed the Park Charter, commit to preserve by developing it while respecting the environment.
  • the creation of a Regional Natural Park is initiated by the Region(s) - a Regional Natural Park is listed by decree of the French Prime Minister according to five, decree-determined classification criteria (see p.16) and is provided with a national brand, which is the property of the Ministry of Environment and is registered at the French Institute for Intellectual Property (INPI)
  • to obtain the classification renewal, a Regional Natural Park must have the implementation of its Charter to verify whether or not commitments were honoured, before submitting a new 12-year plan. Such a review is not compulsory for Pays’ and Urban agglomeration’s Charters.
  • a Regional Natural Park has jurisdiction, notably in urban planning issues (see point What commitments have the signatories of the Charter?).

{slider=Can a Regional Natural Park be established anywhere?}

The Ministry of Environment uses five criteria to evaluate the relevance of a potential Regional Natural Park:

  • the quality of the local heritage and landscapes and the fragility of the area in question,
  • the consistency and relevance of the boundaries of the territory,
  • the environmental quality of the project presented in the Charter,
  • the ability of the combined association to lead the project,
  • the determination of all authorities and involved stakeholders the project successfully.

No quotas are established a priori, therefore, it is essential to be particularly stringent on the scrutiny of the area and the Charter.

{slider=Why can we also see elements that are not very “natural” in a Regional Natural Park?}

A Regional Natural Park because is an inhabited, dynamic territory nature has been and will be shaped by human beings. The presence of people in this living territory is indeed visible and desirable, as some of them strive for preserving the Park’s natural heritage. However, the mission of a Regional Natural Park, explained in its Charter, is to prevent inadequate activities from damaging the quality and diversity of local nature.

Regional Natural Parks also endeavour to clear past deterioration as much as possible. If a Regional Natural Park fails to fulfil its mission, it can lose its status or have its renewal denied.

{slider=What is a Regional Natural Park Charter?}

A Regional Natural Park Charter is a contract that formalises a plan to protect and develop a park’s territory for a period of twelve years.

The Charter establishes the goals to be achieved, the strategies to protect, promote and enhance the Park, as well as measures to implemented. The Charter allows the actions taken by various authorities on the Park’s territory to remain consistent and coordinated.

The Charter represents the commitment of all authorities that have signed it – towns and villages, EPCIs (the Charter needs to be approved by the towns/villages and the EPCIs to which the communities belong for the territory to be classed and subsequently for the decisions and actions to be consistent), involved Department(s) and Region(s) – that have adopted it as well as the government, which approves it by decree. The government’s commitments are by the way in the Charter.

A procedure to renew a Regional Natural Park classification must be initiated by the relevant Region(s) at least three and a half years before a Charter’s expiry date. This procedure involves the Park’s review of the Charter in terms of past actions and changes occurred on the territory. The renewal enables a new 12-year plan to be defined for the territory and to apply for a new classification decree to request.

{slider=Who draws up the Charter?}

The Regional Council(s) initiate the procedure for drawing up the Charter and establishing a Regional Natural Park.

The Region deliberates to determine the scope of the Park’s territory and charges a local association (which will most likely become the management body of the future Park) with the drafting of the Charter together with all stakeholders.

Once the Charter is signed by the local authorities, EPCIs and relevant Departments, the Regional Council(s) validate and submit the Charter through the Region Prefect (when a potential park spans multiple regions, the Ministry of Environment designates a coordinating Region Prefect from the start of the procedure; this coordinating Region Prefect submits the classification request to the Ministry) to the Ministry of Environment, formally requesting the classification of the territory amongst the Regional Natural Parks.

The procedure for renewing a Park’s classification is identical to that of an initial classification request (see point How to have a Regional Natural Park’s classification renewed?). The drafting of a new Charter is then asked to the combined association that manages the Park.

{slider=What is in the Charter?}

The Charter’s content is based on an initial diagnosis of the potential Park’s territory. (The initial diagnosis comprises an analysis of the challenges related to the local heritage and the socioeconomic situation. In the event of a Charter being revised for the purposes of renewing a Park’s classification, the review evaluates the implementation of the previous charter and of the evolution of the territory from the initial diagnosis.)

The Charter contains:

  • the protection and development plan for the territory in question over the twelve years to come and the rules and regulations imposed by the stakeholders for the implementation of this plan,
  • a map that explains the different approaches to apply depending on the various areas of the Park,
  • the management body - the Park’s brand, including the Park’s logo and name, which will be registered by the government with the French Institute for Intellectual Property (INPI) - (see point How is the “Regional Natural Park” brand used?).

Various documents need to be attached to the Charter in a classification request: a three-year action plan, the related operating budget, the Park’s organisation chart, the intermunicipal structure, etc.

{slider=What commitments have the signatories of the Charter?}

In compliance with article L 333-1 of the French Environmental Code:

  • Those signing the Park Charter, the public authorities comprising the Region(s), Department(s), towns and villages, and EPCIs (these agglomerations of villages, towns or cities run their own tax systems) are bound to comply with the approaches and measures described in the Charter when exercising their respective jurisdictions. In particular, the urban planning documents of local bodies must comply with the Charter (See the French Urban Planning Code (L 122-1-12, L 123-1-9 and L 124-2)), or they will be revised.
  • Moreover, in order for the objectives of the Charter to be achieved, partners (e.g., socioprofessional organisations, gateway towns, etc.) can be asked to approve the Charter and their participation would be specified in conventions.
  • Through its services and public establishments at Regional and Departmental level, the government is also bound to comply with the measures of the Charter.

In the event that these commitments are not honoured, a legal remedy may be submitted to the appropriate administrative court.

{slider=How to have a Regional Natural Park’s classification renewed?}

Before a Park’s classification expires the Region must request its renewal by the government renew the “Regional Natural Park” classification; otherwise, the Park is automatically stripped of its status.

This classification renewal requires the Charter to undergo a review procedure. This review is undertaken by the Region, which can, on this occasion, examine the possibility of changing the Park’s scope. Such a Charter revision is implemented by the Park’s management body and is based on the appraisal of the Park’s actions over the past 12 years.

It is through this appraisal and the changes in the territory over time that a new project is being drafted for the Park.

Once all involved partners approve the new project, the Region(s) request that the Ministry of Environment renew the classification of the Park for a new twelveyear period. This renewal is formalised through a new decree issued by the French Prime Minister.

{slider=Can a Regional Natural Park be stripped of its status?}

When a Regional Natural Park fails to fulfil its missions, or at some point during its Charter period no longer meets the criteria for being classed, the Ministry of Environment can issue a decree stripping the Park of its status.

Before doing so, the Ministry asks the relevant Region(s) and the Park’s management body for their observations. Furthermore, if a Charter’s revision is deemed to be unsatisfactory or incomplete, the government can decide not to renew the classification, in which case the Park is automatically stripped of its status.

In the event that a Park is stripped of its status or is not granted a classification renewal, the use of the Park’s brand by anyone (see point How is the “Regional Natural Park” brand used?) is then prohibited.

{slider=What is the “Regional Natural Park” brand?}

The “Regional Natural Park” brand is made, for each Park, of a specific figurative emblem and name, designed in compliance with a national Graphic Charter. A Regional Natural Park’s brand is comprised of three elements:

  • an oval containing an eight-pointed star symbolising the open spaces of Regional Natural Parks and an peculiar symbol (of nature, landscape, or culture) to identify each Park’s territory,
  • the name of the Regional Natural Park in standardised typography,
  • two colours (green and red), which are used in all Park logos.
  • The Regional Natural Park brand is a collective one registered with the French Institute for Intellectual Property (INPI) by the Ministry of Environment, which owns the brand.

    Once a Regional Natural Park obtains its classification, the Park’s management body is allowed to use the brand to identify its territory and promote its actions (see point How is the “Regional Natural Park” brand used?). The use of the brand is granted to the Regional Natural Park’s management body, which remains responsible for it.

    {slider=How is the “Regional Natural Park” brand used?}

    Only the Regional Natural Park management body is authorised to deal with the brand. Under no circumstances may the brand be used without the Park’s express permission.

    A park can use its brand for several purposes:

    • to identify its specific territory and facilities (signage, thematic walks, road signs in compliance with the relevant Ministry, etc.),
    • to fulfil institutional needs (identifying its publications, signing actions undertaken alone or jointly , etc.),
    • to support local development as a tool to place value on certain local products, services or know-how when they perfectly illustrate the objectives of the Park Charter.

    Attributing the brand to these products, services or know-how is not an official quality certification, like «AOC» (French protected designation of origin), «Label Rouge» or «AB» (organic farming) label. Products bearing the “Regional Natural Park” brand must conform with national standards as well as three values carried out by the brand:

    1) Territory: contribute to the development of the Park’s territory and take part in building the territory’s identity.

    2) Preserved and enhanced environment: rise up to the challenges of land-use planning and nature conservation while blending in with the landscape

    3) Human dimension: foster a controlled development facing social issues These values refer to the general rules for using the brand.

    Being awarded the brand also requires the Park to implement monitoring methods. To ensure consistency in using the brand, all branding proposals are submitted to a specific national commission with members from the Federation of Regional Natural Parks of France and the French Ministry of Environment.This commission also supervises the national brand strategy, defining common frameworks, control procedure, communication strategy, etc.

    Third-party use of the brand is authorised for specific products, know-how and services for a renewable three-year period. In case of noncompliance with the general rules for using the brand, the Park is entitled to suspend the authorisation for third-party use of the brand.

    By end of June 2012, 219 products, services and know-how involving over 1,000 producers, service providers and companies were granted the “Regional Natural Park” brand from 38 Parks.

    {slider=Does a Regional Natural Park imply any advantage/disadvantage for neighbouring towns?}

    By becoming part of a Regional Natural Park, towns, villages and EPCIs freely accept to comply with the rules and restrictions negotiated among all parties and to contribute to the implementation of the plan within the exercise of their jurisdictions.

    The policy of a Park is implemented by the related towns, villages and EPCIs, particularly when it comes to their urban planning strategies and schemes, afforestation regulations, municipal law, and planning and development approaches.

    In addition, the Parks provide assistance to communities for implementing regulations on advertisements and motor vehicle circulation in natural areas, by applying the provisions in the Charter (see Environmental Code - p. 58).

    In return, the towns, villages and EPCIs of a Regional Natural Park benefit from advantages such as:

    • involvement in a collective project that benefits the local heritage and environment,
    • improved participation in land use and nature conservation plans to be carried out by the government or other public bodies on the Park’s territory,
    • a nationally-recognised brand image for the territory classed as a Regional Natural Park,
    • a multidisciplinary team to provide support in undertaking initiatives, in compliance with the Park’s Charter,
    • additional funding for developments or programmes entitled to special funding from Regions, Departments, the government and the European Union, in compliance with the Park’s Charter.

    {slider=Does a Regional Natural Park imply any advantage/disadvantage for individuals?}

    A Regional Natural Park does not have any special regulatory authority, therefore it may not in any way modify the general rules and regulations applicable to property, hunting or fishing rights for examples.

    However, since towns, villages and EPCIs committed to a quality approach on their territory when signing the Park’s Charter, their inhabitants must comply with the specific provisions that they apply, (regarding construction, water and waste management, afforestation, motor vehicle traffic, outdoor sports activities, etc.).

    Farmers, foresters and company directors are also encouraged, through agreements between the Park and professional organisations, to improve their consideration for the environment and landscape in their practices. Targeted actions can be to maintain natural environments, control pollution, diversify afforestation, blend buildings into their environment, save energy, to give but a few examples.

    Visitors have to comply with rules of good behaviour like in any inhabited rural area and be aware of the to special regulations that may exist on the Park’s territory, for certain sites like Nature Reserves, or certain practices like motor vehicle traffic, climbing, etc.

    In return, individuals, whether residents or visitors, benefit from the Park’s efforts to provide them with a pleasant environment as well as facilities and services that meet their expectations, such as cultural and educational activities. Residents and visitors also benefit from information forums, publications, targeted think-tanks for project leaders, and more initiatives aiming at enhanced communication.

    {slider=As a Regional Natural Park cannot take disciplinary action, how can it protect its natural and cultural heritage?}

    The capacity of a Regional Natural Park to protect the local heritage and nature lies mainly in the enforcement of its Charter’s objectives defined by all the signatories.

    Regional Natural Parks are invited to give an opinion (see article R333-15 of the French Environmental Code) on land-use planning documents (local urban planning and land development plan), on impact studies and on other documents regarding activities on their territory (quarries, waste, sites and routes, hiking and so on).

    By implementing uppermost specific, action plans with its partners, the Park directly contributes to preserving its heritage; examples are: inventories to improve heritage management, landscape plans, eco-friendly agricultural programmes with farming organisations, environmental assessments for companies, preservation of architectural heritage, assistance in controlling construction in natural environments, river maintenance, to give but a few.

    A Park’s effectiveness comes from its ability to raise awareness of the value of the local heritage and provide environmental education to the people who live, work, settle in or pass through its territory, with a view to modifying their behaviours and practices.

    {slider=Can any equipment or facility be set up on a Park’s territory?}

    The setting-up of some facilities like heavy or polluting infrastructures, can be problematic on the territory of a Regional Natural Park as a whole or in certain sensitive areas.

    There are two possible scenarios:

    • If the facility is deemed compatible with the provisions of the Park’s Charter: the Park’s management body offers the partners in question the methods they need to set up the facility in such a way that it blends in with the surrounding environment.
    • If the facility is deemed incompatible with the provisions of the Park’s Charter: the management body is then responsible for providing all the elements required to assess the project and encourage the competent authorities to reject the facility setting-up.

    Moreover, the Park is systematically consulted when an impact study is required for setting up a new facility.

    In the event of non-compliance with the provisions of the Charter, the Park’s management body may submit the matter to the administrative court.

    {slider=Do mayors of the villages and towns located in a Regional Natural Park feel trapped between the interests of their communities and the interests of the Park?}

    The policy of a Regional Natural Park is established, negotiated and implemented by the local elected officials who collectively draw up the Charter. By signing this Charter, mayors establish common rules and commit to set themselves high standards.

    When approving the objectives of the Park Charter, involves a town, village or an EPCI commits itself for the duration of the Charter, regardless of the changes amongst municipal and intermunicipal staff.

    Therein lies the difficulty - as well as the richness and strength - of the policy and action of Regional Natural Parks.

    {slider=What kind of link is there between a Regional Natural Park and the intermunicipal structures covering its territory?}

    Today, some Park territories overlap with intermunicipal structures – called EPCIs (public establishments of intermunicipal cooperation, amongst villages, towns and urban agglomerations) – which have their own tax system and authority in land-use planning, development, environment, etc. These structures can be included in whole or in part within the scope of the Park.

    As such, these structures take part in drawing up the Park Charter and approving its content.

    In fact, these EPCIs – which are bound to comply with the Charter they signed – are essential players for implementing Park’s policy. They are also bound to comply with the Charter they have approved. They can be part of the Park’s management body according to its articles of association. They can also be involved in the implementation of the Charter by agreement.

    In the case of town communities, in addition to the requirement for their urban planning documents to be compatible with the Park Charter, the intermunicipal body can now expand its cooperation with the Park to various themes of action, including environmental education, ecological programme, tourism, and short distribution networks for agricultural products.

    {slider=What kind of link is there between a Regional Natural Park and the “Pays”?}

    When the various intermunicipal structures related to a Park have gathered up in “Pays”, there may be total or partial overlap of a territory, depending on the specifications of each project. Given that a Charter is enforced by decree, the Pays’ plans and programmes that should be applied to the territory shared with a Regional Natural Park need to be compatible with the Charter’s provisions.

    This obligation for compatibility specifically applies to the land development plans (SCOT) implemented by the Pays.

    Even though agreements between parties are not mandatory, they are strongly recommended to enable connection and coordination between missions with common scopes. It is essential that Pays structures adapt to the Park Charter and implement it with consistency in the areas they’re responsible of, while the Park leads and coordinates actions undertaken on the as a whole.

    {slider=What part do socioeconomic partners play for Regional Natural Parks?}

    The socioeconomic partners of a Regional Natural Park are local driving forces, comprising:

    • professionals, or rather their representatives (for examplefrom chambers of commerce and unions)
    • different organisations and bodies that manage certain areas or facilities of the Park

    These partners take part in drawing up the Charter and are involved in the Park’s operations and action plans. They are act as consultants (certain Regional Natural Park management bodies are “broadened” associations that include for their deliberation, public establishments such as chambers of commerce, the French National Forest Office and the French National Hunting Office, in addition to public authorities) in the Park’s working committees and as the Park’s representatives when carrying out specific actions in the field.

    Partners may also contribute, through their respective actions, to implementing the Park’s project. Finally, the Park work in tandem with local associations, by encouraging them to group themselves according to centres of interest or within an ad hoc body, often named “Association des amis et usagers du Parc”(collective of friends and visitors of the Park).

    {slider=What is a “gateway town”?}

    A gateway town, be it a town or urban agglomeration, is located on the periphery of a Regional Natural Park.

    Regional Natural Parks have always maintained privileged relationships with neighbouring populations welcoming local school pupils, providing tourist information, raising inhabitant awareness, organising training sessions and cultural activities, etc.

    Some gateway towns are members of the Park’s management body and provide funding, in which case their cooperation is set forth in the Charter. Others have ties to the Park through partnership agreements.

    The relationship between the Park and its gateway towns is built on geographic, social and economic complementarity and illustrates some urban-rural cohesion.

    {slider=How can bordering towns collaborate with a Park?}

    The provisions of the Park Charter do not apply to villages, towns or EPCIs located outside the classified territory. However, a Park may, at times, work with peripheral villages, towns or EPCIs to spur local actions required to maintain the quality of its territory. Such actions include river maintenance, management of special nature sites, local development plan, housing improvement, water treatment, etc. These partnerships can lead rise to agreements.

    {slider=What is the government’s role in Regional Natural Park’s management?}

    The government creates Regional Natural Parks following proposals from Regions, then provides financial support for the operations and actions of these parks.

    After examining the content of the Charter, the Ministry of Environment asks the French Prime Minister to issue a decree classing the territory as a Regional Natural Park. The government owns the “Regional Natural Park” brand registered with the French Institute for Intellectual Property (INPI).

    The other Ministries directly concerned by the actions of Parks are called upon to give their opinion to the Ministry of Environment prior to a Park’s classification.

    Moreover, the government helps funding Regional Natural Parks providing 10% of their operating budget and facilities. The subsidies of the Ministry of Environment can be used within the scope of contracts between the government and Regions – and more particularly the “Park contracts” and specific schemes (such as Natura 2000 and Nature Reserves).

    Every related ministry can also contribute to funding Regional Natural Parks within the scope of specific conventions or contracts in application of contracts between the government and Regions.

    The Park Charter specifies the government’s part in implementing the plan within the territory. In the event that governmental interventions on the Park’s territory are strongly incoherent, the Ministry of Environment may request interministerial arbitration.

    {slider=Who comes to Regional Natural Parks and what for?}

    First, we should bear in mind that Regional Natural Parks have a permanently resident population and that, on their territories, there are economic activities just like anywhere else: the primary “users” of Parks are therefore their residents (3,500,000 people live on the territories of the 48 Regional Natural Parks already created in France, and approximately 320,000 businesses (including 72,000 agricultural businesses) are located in these parks).

    The inhabitants of towns that are located in the vicinity of Parks are also privileged visitors: they have access to protected sites suitable for nature discovery, activities, cultural facilities and entertainment, among other things.

    Moreover, due to the quality of their environment, Regional Natural Parks welcome tourists from all over France and abroad who are curious about, and concerned with, protecting the environment and who wish to discover authentic and preserved areas.

    {slider=What kinds of activities are offered to the public in Regional Natural Parks?}

    Regional Natural Parks offer a wide range of specific, high-quality activities for the public:

    • exploration of the Park’s nature sites using facilities and activities that introduce people to the environment (like discovery walks and thematic courses) and through eco-friendly outdoor activities such as hikes, horseback riding, biking, canoeing and kayaking,
    • visits of cultural facilities (exhibitions, museums, themed sites, etc.) and participation in local cultural events and festivals,
    • souvenirs and curios adapted to the local, fragile environment and local hand-crafted and food products,
    • access to specific documentation (maps, hiking guides, calendars of events, etc.), especially in Clearing Houses and information centres.

    {slider=How to get information on activities and events organised in Regional Natural Parks?}

    Each Regional Natural Park runs its own communication on its activities and territory. These communications usually include:

    • printed material: general presentation, calendar of events, guides and topographical maps, specific documents on the local heritage, activities and facilities, regular newsletter intended for inhabitants,
    • information available throughout the park and in tourist offices,
    • a presence at festivals and other local events,
    • regular news in local press,
    • comprehensive information on the Park’s website.
    • The Federation of Regional Natural Parks of France provides general information on Regional Natural Parks. To carry out this mission, the Federation publishes several informational tools:

      • guidelines specifying the Parks’ major policies regarding biodiversity, sustainable agriculture, land-use education, etc.,
      • a collection called “Expérimenter pour Agir” (Experiment to Act), which uses various concrete approaches to present the Parks examples, methods and know-how on various topics of importance,
      • the “PARCS” magazine (18,000 copies - 2 issues/ year), distributed to the Park’s institutional partners to give them updated news on the local and national scales, provide them with thematic presentations of concrete actions, and open discussions on important topics,
      • web documentaries , posted on the website, that present certain initiatives and actions.

      The Federation also offers an online Resource Centre, with exclusive testimonials, documents and extensive data. In addition, the Extranet platform provides live information and dialogue between the Park staff and the Federation’s bodies. Information intended for the general public is given mainly through:

      • the Federation’s website – – which is also the main online portal for all regional Park’s websites,
      • a presentation booklet to inform on the Regional Natural Parks’ missions and actions, and to highlight the diversity of the French territory,
      • the collaboration with publishers to issue books on the Regional Natural Parks.

      {slider=How can the actions of Regional Natural Parks be improved?}

      Each Regional Natural Park’s Charter is reviewed when the Charter comes up for renewal. This review must analyse how the strategies of the Charter were implemented, whether the commitments of the stakeholders – public authorities partners and government – were honoured, and the objectives were met. This review must also be carried out with the view of the development of the territory, taking into account the effects of implementing the Charter.

      On the national level, the Federation of Regional Natural Parks of France and the Ministry of Environment develop a methodology for defining and using a permanent review of the implementation of the Charter, and provide the tools to do so like EVA software, training and publications.

      {slider=What does the future hold for Regional Natural Parks?}

      In late 2010, the Federation launched an important think-tank on the Future of the Parks. This think-tank rallied all Parks, Regions, national organisations and bodies working on environmental, social and economic issues, together with the French Council for Strategy, Research and Outlook.

      Consultations and hearings involving key people, meetings and working seminars supervised by the Federation-established entity called “Mission Avenir” led to the March 2012 approval by the Federation’s General Assembly of a strategy document containing the policies to apply for the Future of Regional Natural Parks (available on the Federation’s website).

      Without calling into question the Parks’ five fundamental roles, this think-tank set the Parks’ new objectives, which are in response to the current and future challenges of their territories:

      • to coordinate the different public policies on their territories,
      • to promote innovation and best practice sharing,
      • to anticipate and adapt to change,
      • to promote social fabric and cohesion,
      • to take part in environmental challenges and energy transition.

      These significant discussions also enabled changes with regards to the laws and regulations applied to the Parks.

      {slider=Is the number of Regional Natural Parks going to increase?}

      Most likely, yes.

      Fifteen potential Regional Natural Parks have been submitted, attesting to the strong interest of Regions and local authorities in this scheme. However, since Regional Natural Parks are by definition outstanding areas, their number cannot be increased infinitely.

      It is the responsibility of Regional Councils to suggest areas they deem most representative of their regional heritage and that are recognised as being of national interest for classification as “Regional Natural Parks”.

      It is also the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment to ensure the specificity of the Regional Natural Parks’ policies by relying on the opinions of the French Council for the Protection of Nature and the Federation of Regional Natural Parks of France.

      It is the level of requirement of the public authorities when examinating a territory and developing a project, as well as the requirement level from the Ministry of Environment in granting and maintaining the classification that will ensure the richness and credibility of the Regional Natural Parks.

      {slider=Can the French Regional Natural Park scheme be adapted to other areas in France and abroad?}

      Regional Natural Parks clearly act as experimentation for assertive, voluntary environmental protection and sustainable development policies.

      The Parks aim to publicise their approaches and concrete actions (through publications, seminars, meetings, resource centre, etc.) so that other territories, in France and abroad, can draw inspiration and benefit from their experiences.

      This original “Natural Park à la Française” formula:

      • implements a sustainable development policy on inhabited but fragile territories,
      • is led by local initiatives and involves local, regional and governmental stakeholders,
      • is based on a contract –the Charter– with a legal scope, and is of interest to numerous countries seeking to adapt it.

      Regional Natural Parks and their Federation are indeed increasingly being asked to share their experiences abroad. The Parks also enrich their own practices through these actions of cooperation.

      In addition to the recognition of some of the parks by international organisations such as UNESCO and RAMSAR, a large majority of Parks are now involved in actions of cooperation on a European or International level, with nearly 30 countries. Such cooperation can take various forms: cross-border actions, technical and methodological training within the scope of decentralized policies undertaken by their Regions and bilateral actions to support emerging similar approaches in other countries (Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Morocco, Benin, Vietnam, etc.).

      {slider=How are Regional Natural Parks connected together?}

      Each Regional Natural Park is administratively and financially independent.

      Nevertheless, Regional Natural Parks grouped together into the Federation of Regional Natural Parks of France to defend their common interests, jointly carry out programmes and share experiences (on a technical and scientific level), and more generally, to inform the public. They can also join forces to conduct an inter- Park programme, either within the same region, or throughout a mountain range, or around a common theme such as how to protect endangered species or test new development and preservation procedures.

      {slider=What is the Federation of Regional Natural Parks of France?}

      Created in November 1971, the Federation of Regional Natural Parks of France is the association of Regional Natural Parks.

      Ideal tool for joint actions, it is responsible for defending the Parks’ interests before administrations, parliamentary assemblies and institutional bodies, as well as informing the public. It is also the chosen entity to enter into dialogue with Regions and national partners when it comes to Park actions, and especially with the representatives of protected areas in France and in the rest of Europe.

      The Federation is comprised of three colleges:

      • The 1st college includes the Regional Natural Parks that have been established so far with three representatives per Park.
      • The 2nd college includes 20 Regions up to now.
      • The 3rd college includes 20 or so national organisations dealing with development, property and property management, natural and cultural heritage protection, tourism, reception and outdoor activities.

      {slider=What is the Federation’s role?}

      The Federation of Regional Natural Parks of France is the link between the Parks and of Regions, national administrations, parliamentary assemblies and the European Union. Through this role, the Federation:

      • represents the collective interests of the Regional Natural Parks before national and international bodies and participates in defining and implementing policies to be applied to French rural areas (the Federation is a member of several national organisations such as FNE (France Nature Environnement), the UNCPIE (Union Nationale des Centres Permanents d’Initiatives pour l’Environnement), ATEN (Atelier Technique pour les Espaces Naturels) and also international organisations, such as IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), Europarc (European Park Federation) and the RAMSAR network (Convention on Wetlands of International Importance)),
      • publicises and takes into account the ethics of Regional Natural Parks and their actions in France and abroad ensure an exchange of information and thoughts between the Parks, to facilitate the sharing of experiences and encourage collaboration with other protected areas in France and abroad,
      • assist the bodies responsible for examinating and managing the Parks, especially during procedures for establishing new Parks and reviewing Charters; the Federation indeed gives an opinion on Park classification or classification renewals,
      • gives accurate information to the general public and promotes all Regional Natural Parks of France,
      • ensures the protection of the “Regional Natural Park” brand.

      {slider=How does the Federation work?}

      In compliance with the 1901 French association authorisation act, the Federation of Regional Natural Parks of France is administered by:

      • a general assembly of all Federation members that meets at least once a year. It discusses the Federation’s policies and the strategies for implementing the Federation’s actions.
      • a board of directors, gathering representative members of the three colleges. It meets twice a year, elects the Federation president, appoints bureau members and asks for new commissions when needed.
      • a bureau, including 21 members appointed by the board of directors.

      The Federation also relies on:

      • thematic commissions and working groups supervised by senior coordinators and gathered together as often as necessary upon request of their respective presidents,
      • regular meetings with the Park directors,
      • regular meetings with the departments of Regions in charge of the Parks. Such meetings aim at bringing new ideas and explanations during the Federation bodies’ deliberations.

      Finally, a Council for Strategy, Research and Outlook provides support to boost Parks’ innovation capacity by enhancing research and shedding light on the future of Parks with pro-active approaches.

      To succeed in its missions, the Federation also has a multidisciplinary team of about 20 people supervised by a manager. This team comprises senior coordinators and research managers and covers the Parks’ main areas of intervention –space management, natural heritage, economic development, agriculture, energy, tourism, cultural development, environmental education, appraisal, communications, international affairs.

      {slider=How does the Federation get funding?}

      The resources of the Federation of Regional Natural Parks of France come primarily from:

      • membership dues, from Regional Natural Parks, Regions and national partner organisations),
      • subsidies from ministries (of Environment mainly, but also of Agriculture, Youth and Sports, Tourism, Culture, etc.), particularly within the scope of agreements with longterm objectives,
      • partnerships with public bodies, such as the French “Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations”, and the ADEME) or private bodies,
      • bids to EU programmes.

      {slider=Does the Federation take part in the Park classification process?}

      The Federation intervenes first and foremost by providing support in drawing up or revising Park Charters and, to this end, may provide advice to Regions. It is also called upon to provide its opinion to the Ministry of Environment on the Park classification or renewal. To this effect, for each Charter reviewed, the Federation appoints one elected official to be the «reporter» responsible for verifying the relevance of the scope of and the ethical consistency of the Park Charter in order to prepare feedback for the Ministry of Environment.

      {slider=Is the Federation responsible for Regional Natural Park’s actions?}

      Each Regional Natural Park acts independently in accordance with its Charter and is responsible for its initiatives. Although the Federation is not responsible for the concrete actions and decisions of each Park, it is entitled to interface with the Park management body and warn the Ministry of Environment when a Park’s initiatives may the collective image of Regional Natural Parks.