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Conservation of the habitats created by the fluvial dynamics of the lower Ain river (RIVIER D'AIN)
Date du début: 1 juin 2002, Date de fin: 31 déc. 2006 PROJET  TERMINÉ 

Background The Lower Ain Valley is one of France's best preserved large river corridors. It forms a huge natural delta where it joins the Rhône. It hosts a wide variety of aquatic environments, alluvial forests and dry grasslands of Community importance which are closely interwoven. These habitats are home to many Annex II species, notably the otter (Lutra lutra), the European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis), the Rhone streber (Zingel asper) and the floating water-plantain (Luronium natans). However, interventions and developments upstream such as dams, gravel extraction and catchment systems have altered the river dynamics. These changes have drained secondary channels and the ecosystems which depend on them, posing a direct threat to key species. The water planning and management scheme SAGE (Schéma d’Aménagement et de Gestion des Eaux) has been tackling the issues at stake in the Ain basin as a whole and the project took place within this framework. Objectives The project intended to concentrate on the lower valley, aiming to maintain or restore the natural river dynamics and the diversity of habitats, wildlife and flora associated with it. It planned to carry out a survey of the habitats, fauna and flora in the targeted zone to provide the information necessary to enable discussion on how the river could be allowed to return to its natural state and to plan the necessary interventions. The best approaches would be discussed with relevant stakeholders. Nevertheless, the purchase of private land in areas where there is dynamic erosion was foreseen, as was a charter with the local authorities which own most of the area. On the project's main sites, channels were to be reconnected to the river, the alluvial forest restored, and grasslands cleared of bushes and other obstacles to a return to their natural state. Final important tasks would be to raise public awareness about the environmental needs and condition of the valley, to establish ways of controlling access and use of the sites, and to disseminate the results, targeting specific sectors of the population. Media events, such as a major operation to clean up the banks and a river festival, would be organised. Results The Rivière d’Ain LIFE project succeeded in reconnecting channels that benefited least from fluvial dynamics to the main river. It thus achieved the restoration of areas of high biological and functional potential in the river basin. Benefits were seen to key species, such as the otter. The project purchased around 30 ha of land and brought protection status to more than 2 000 ha to ensure the appropriate conditions were in place to undertake restoration work. It was able to restore five channels, involving a total length of 2.6 km of water and covering 9.25 ha. Grasslands covering 258 ha were brought back to their normal functioning status. Grazing was then implemented as a method of maintenance. A group of seven livestock farmers was formed to maintain the area and perpetuate the practice beyond the scope of the project with state support. As well as livestock grazing, warrens and some 300 rabbits were reintroduced. To ensure the afforestation of key areas around the river - in particular willows draped over the river's edge and alder-ash forest - the project team introduced a policy of non-intervention over 1 500 ha. This policy was chosen since good conservation of these relatively young environments depends essentially on fluvial dynamics. The activities of the LIFE project had a directly beneficial impact on general biodiversity on the project site. More specifically, within two years of restoration, 20 new flora species had reappeared around the Sous-Bresse channel including floating water plantain (Luronium natans), a species of Community interest, which has been able to expand its distribution area. The project saw the return to the project site of the nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus), a medium-sized nocturnal or crepuscular bird, and the woodlark (Lullula arborea), which lives in open heath or woodlands. To protect key sites from public interference, 27 signs and barriers were installed, three eco-paths established and surveillance activities undertaken. To raise awareness, the project also produced a range of detailed publications, information packs and a website. The River Festival was the high point of the awareness-raising campaign, including 50 events and activities over a week. More than 4 000 people took part and 300 volunteers were mobilized. On this occasion 400 people signed the River Ain Charter, in which they undertook to contribute to the preservation of the site’s natural heritage. The success of the project was based on the partnership between stakeholders including farmers, landowners and managers. This co-operation enabled the writing, approval and local acceptance of a "Action Plan" (DOCOB) for Natura 2000 site and the proposal to extend the protected zone over 1 100ha, which should ensure the durability of the achievements. Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section). This project has been selected as one of the 26 "Best" LIFE Nature projects in 2007-2008.


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