8 February 2022

Understanding the role of protected areas with the case of Vercors natural regional park and natural national reserve

By: Audrey VINCENT | Tags: Bleu du Vercors Sassenage PDO cheese, ISARA, Natural National Reserve of the Hauts Plateaux, Vercors Regional Natural Park

The Vercors Regional Natural Park is about to finalise the revision of its roadmap for the period 2023-2038. And this has been the case study some students fom ISARA –an engineering school specialised in agriculture, food science and environment– followed recently.

Vercors Regional Natural Park
Mont Aiguille, at the Vercors Regional National Park, France. Image: ISARA.

At ISARA we offer a wide range of Bachelor and Master level curricula. Next to teaching, we also have research activities as well as advisory and consultancy services. In January 2022 we offered to our last year students (equivalent to master 2) a module dedicated to the management of environmental problems. One of the objective is to analyse the role that protected areas can play for managing environmental issues. This year, the students were invited to work on the case study of Vercors.

Vercors is a medium mountain area located in Drôme and Isère departments, southwest of Grenoble. It was recognised as Regional Natural Park in 1970. The Natural National Reserve of the Hauts Plateaux was then created in 1985 and covers about 10% of the park central area. In France, each regional natural park has a roadmap, called “Charte de Parc”, which sets its strategic priorities and objectives for a period of 15 years and lists operational actions. The elaboration of this strategic document is a long lasting process which takes several year (four to six in general). It relies on a broad consultation process to gather the points of views of local stakeholders as well as citizens. It is also a process that must follow an official and formal procedure. After its elaboration by local actors, the “Charte” has to go through an official assessment procedure, in which several experts groups assess its relevance and adaptation for tackling local environmental issues. Finally, the “Charte” is approved by the Environment Minister. The Vercors Regional Natural Park is about to finalise the revision of its “Charte with a new project for the period 2023-2038”.

Vercors Regional Natural Park
Vercors Regional National Park, France. Image: ISARA.

Using the socio-ecological system theory proposed by Ostrom, the students had to carry out stakeholders’ interviews and analyse the “Charte” to identify the local challenges and the actions foreseen to tackle them. Various challenges have been identified for the future.

For example, Vercors is facing new challenges related to tourism. Since June 2020 and the end of the first covid lockdown, the number of visitors coming to the park has strongly increased, especially for short stays (one or two days). Some of these new comers were inhabitants from neighbouring cities who were not always familiar with good practices in term of respecting fragile natural areas or coexisting with other stakeholders (shepherds, farmers etc). One of the challenge for the forthcoming years will be to manage the high number of visitors, and to make sure that it is not detrimental with the biodiversity and landscape preservation mission of the park and of the reserve. The question of the local tourism development model is also an important challenge as snow fall will probably decrease in the future due to climate change.

Maintaining a diversified agriculture and the number of farmers will also be important for the future. Agriculture in the Vercors park quite strongly relies on quality schemes (with 5 PDOs and 2 PGIs and 25% of farms being organic). The park has many actions for supporting local agriculture, farmers and the Bleu du Vercors Sassenage PDO cheese which is produced locally in one farmers’ coop and by some farmers doing on-farm processes. The coop strategy is to produce the Bleu du Vercors Sassenage cheese but also a wide range of other types of cheese to offer a diversity of products for local consumers and citizens. One of the challenge lies in the further promotion and development of the PDO market to increase the added value for milk producers.

Hopefully the future adoption of the new “Charte” will enable local stakeholders to tackle these challenges.