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INTERVIEW

Questions for Geneviève Gaillard

Vice-president of Ramsar France, French MP and mayor of the city of Niort, president of the national committee for ecological networks.

As the mayor of Niort, you have undertaken work to restore rivers and wetlands. What precisely does that work consist of?

The city of Niort was one of the first towns in France to identify and map its ecological networks, i.e. implement a local-development tool to limit fragmentation of the land by preserving and recreating the ecological continuities required by species. This work revealed the great diversity of species in our area and identified both the main biodiversity reservoirs and the most important corridors linking the reservoirs. We also inventoried the wetlands in our area. The inventory, prepared with local farmers and environmental-protection groups, pinpointed the most useful areas to protect in view of their classification as natural zones. All the above elements were folded into our new local urbanisation plan comprising an action plan, modifications to the zoning scheme, as well as regulatory and development guidelines. The urbanisation plan will enter into force in June 2015. On the part of the Sèvre Niortaise River passing through Niort, we also undertook work on the banks and installed a fish pass. Thank to all these efforts, Niort was designated the "French biodiversity capital of 2013" by the Natureparif association.

Elected officials have a major role to play in protecting wetlands. How do you see that role and how can officials be encouraged to launch protective policies?

Above all, officials must be convinced that wetlands play an essential role and be willing to go out on a limb to preserve them. That is the first and probably most difficult step. Their role then consists of convincing the population, of bringing people together, negotiating, leading and creating the partnerships required to protect wetlands. In Niort, we set up a participative structure in which farmers had their say. The discussions revealed that awareness of the need to protect wetlands already existed. Of course, the issue of funding the programmes was of strategic importance. The departments, regions, ministries and other local governments can all pitch in.

 

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