short guide to wildlife in France
For wildlife enthusiasts, parts of France are an open book waiting to
be explored. Thanks in part to the French Revolution and in part to the
much decried European Common Agricultural Policy, much of the French
countryside remained fairly backward in terms of agricultural progress
during the twentieth century, a land farmed in traditional ways by
smallholders practising diversity. It maybe left much of French
agriculture less productive than the big agribusiness concerns of North
America or even Britain, but it also left many parts of France's rural
intact, and its wildlife diverse.
While some species inevitably died out in the wild, such as
and wolves, others such as wild boar, chamoix, martens and red
squirrels, peregrine falcons and hen harriers, have survived and are
henceforth protected - though not threatened - species. In areas that
have been spared the ravages of industrial-scale agriculture, insect
life and plant life remain rich and abundantant. And while it is true
to say that wildlife diversity is not all that it used to be in many
parts of France, there are other areas, specially in the hills of the
southern half of France, where wildlife thrives as it always has done.
Indeed, some species that had almost died out have reappeared or been
reintroduced with varying degrees of success: griffon vultures in the
Massif Central and the Pyrenees, bears in the Pyrenees, wolves in the
Alps and possibly in the Massif Central, lynxes in the Jura...
The numbers and varieties of mammals in
greater than in the British Isles. All common mammals found in Britain
– with the exception (for the time being) of the grey
– can be found in France; but France has several more mammals
are not found in the UK.
list of French mammals below is far from exhaustive; it covers the
and most interesting species. In addition to the species listed below,
France also is home to badgers, foxes, otters, rats, mice, rabbits and
red squirrels, and
even - but only in the Rhine valley - wild hamsters. As for brown bears
and wolves, they remain extremely rare in the areas where they have
been reintroduced - wolves in the high Alps, bears in the Pyrenees.
Visitors are unlikely to see them, and are not encouraged to go looking
ibex (photo top of page)
as bouquetins in French, these fine mountain ibex have recolonised
parts of the French Alps, partly naturally from Italy, partly through
reintroduction. Today there are about 9000 of them, mostly living in
the higher parts of the Alps, and especially in the Vanoise national
these are fairly common in most parts of rural France; they often live
near or in houses and are sometimes considered a nuisance as they seem
eating electric cables and loft insulation material.
or mountain goat is considered as one of the emblematic animals of the
Alps in general. In France, it can be found not just in the Alps, but
also in the Jura in Franche Comté, the southern
mountains, and the high parts of the Massif Central. Chamois can come
down to quite low altitudes, well below 800
common genet, called la
in French, unknown in Britain, is a small carnivorous mammal
notably in the southwest quarter of France, south of the Loire and west
of the Rhone. A nocturnal species, it is not an animal that has much
contact with humans.
dormice, known in French as Loirs,
and often popularly called glis
are relatively widespread in rural France, except near the Atlantic;
but they are not common. They live in wooded areas, but may make their
homes in country cottages or farm buildings
can be found in many French rivers, notably in the Loire and Rhone and
some of their tributaries, including the Indre, the Cher, the Allier,
the Isère, the Doubs as well as in the Moselle.
||The lynx is a spotted member of the cat family,
about twice the
size of a domestic cat. Lynxes are very shy animals and do not like to
be seen. They are rare - there are only about 200 individuals, living
in the Vosges, the Jura and the Alps. The largest concentration is in
the Jura, where they have reestablished themselves naturally, moving in
marmottes, are another emblematic animal of the Alps.
rodents live underground, at altitudes between 800 and 3000 metres, in
the Alps and the Massif Central;
they come out in daytime, and can sometimes be seen by hikers and
martens, known as "martres"
in French, can be found in most regions or Fance, but they are most
commonly found in the forested areas of Brittany, the Massif Central,
Burgundy, Alsace, Lorraine and the Jura. They tend to live in woodland,
far from human activity.
elusive polecat or "putois"
is not common, but can be found almost all over France, though not so
much in the Alps. This relative of the otter and the domestic ferret is
a nocturnal animal that prefers humid areas; it lives essentially off
frogs and small mammals.
deer, des cerfs
(male) and biches
can be found in most of the forested areas of France. This includes the
east of France, the Loire valley, the Massif Central, Brittany and the
Pyrenees. The total population in 2013 is estimated at about 165,000.
||This North-American is not native to
France; however, a number of "coons" came over to France as mascots,
with US soldiers in the two world wars, and some escaped. they have
also come in from Germany, where they were introduced in the 1930s.
After very slow development, the species is now becoming well
established along some valleys in Eastern and central
in French as "belettes",
these are particularly common in northwestern regions of France,
notably Britanny, Normandy and the Loire Valley; however they can be
observed throughout France
boar, called sangliers,
can be seen in most parts of rural France. There are an
estimated two million wild boar in France in 2013, living mostly in
areas of mixed land use - agriculture and woodland. Never approach a
wild boar, and specially not a wounded one.
||Wolves used to be extinct in France; but today
there are estimated
to be some 300 wolves in France. Wolves first reappeared in the Alps,
moving over naturally from Italy, where they were never extinct. Today
some have crossed the Rhone, and have been spotted in the Haute Loire
department of the Auvergne
Rural France is very rich in insect life, notably in those
areas that have never been much affected by intensive agriculture. This
means the upland areas of southern France and eastern France, notably
the Massif Central, the Morvan, the Jura, Lorraine and the Vosges. In
many places in these parts of France, the wealth of insect life can be
seen by the number and variety of butterflies.
the best known and best loved insects of France are the cricket, or
cri-cri in French, and the cigale or cicada. Crickets and cigales are
the insects that bring a countryside to life, specially in the evening,
with their constant chirping. Crickets are found in most of the
southern half of France; cigales, with a much more strident
chirping, are associated with, and most common in, areas
the Mediterranean. However other varieties of
found in western France and in mountainous areas of France.
Other insects that can often be found in more rural parts of
France include a wide variety of bees, wasps and beetles, as well as
large green grasshoppers - up to two inches long - and the praying
mantis. In southern France, large metallic-green scarab beetles are not
Reptiles and amphibians
is home to large numbers of small reptiles and amphibians, in
Small brown lizards are a common sight throughout the central and
southern parts of France. In some areas, they are supplemented by
larger green lizards. Salamanders are found scattered across France,
though they are not common and are a protected species. France is also
home to several types of snake, essentially types of grass snake,
smooth snake and viper (which are venomous). Slowworms are also found
throughout France. Wild tortoises exist in coastal areas of the Var, on
the French Riviera; but they are extremely rare and a highly protected
A salamander - these
nocturnal amphibians are rare and protected, but live in most parts of
see wildlife in France
Obviously, wildlife can be seen all over France... even in
middle of Paris or in the densely populated former industrial areas of
the northeast. But not surprisingly, most parts of France have
witnessed a decline - even a sharp decline - in wildlife over the past
fifty years, due to intensive agriculture, habitat loss, pesticides,
and encroaching urbanisation. But some regions have fared more
favourably in wildlife terms than others. Today the areas of France
with the best wildlife tend to be those with the least human activity
– which means the poorer upland areas of eastern France and
southern France, where agriculture has remained more traditional and
less intensive, and there are large areas of woodland. The map, left,
shows the "diagonale du vide", the sparsely populated band that runs
from central eastern France down to the southwest, and includes the
higher areas of Lorraine and Burgundy, and in particular the Massif
Central uplands of southern France.
France has many nature reserves, in particular bird sanctuaries.
The core areas of France's National Parks, in the Alps , the Pyrenees
and the Cévennes, are biosphere reserves where nature is
to develop naturally. Many of France's almost 50 regional parks are, or
contain, wildlife sanctuaries, notably bird
For more information on national parks and regional parks in
France, see Wild
across the Camargue wetlands