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Changing habitats - the Ornithological Reserve of Saint Cyr near Poitiers (86)

Changing habitats - the Ornithological Reserve of Saint Cyr near Poitiers (86)

Wildlife expert Chris Luck takes a look at how the Ornithological Reserve of Saint Cyr, an important wildlife oasis, came into being beside one of the region’s largest leisure parks…

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From the 1960s a number of gravel and sand quarries were created in the Vienne département at different places along the rivers Clain and Vienne principally to the north of Poitiers. One of these, situated in a large wetland plain in the valley that borders Saint Cyr, gradually became a vast lake of some 85 hectares as the excavators and bulldozers munched away. Following its closure in the mid 1980s it became a leisure complex and was very popular with the members of what was then the Groupe Ornithologique de la Vienne (GOV) who would go there to observe the many migratory birds that used the ideally situated lake as a stop over. In 1992 the Groupe Ornithologique de la Vienne was transformed into the LPO Vienne as a délégation départementale of LPO France which has a national network represented in many departments. In 1998 the lakeside was threatened when the banks started to collapse so the LPO Vienne stepped in to offer assistance by planting willows. Two years later, this was followed by the construction of a hide on the north east side of the lake.

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2002 saw the birth of an idea to create an ornithological reserve. Discussions began with the managers of the site (Syndicat de gestion et d’aménagement) and the owners (Syndicat mixte d’aménagement du Seuil-du-Poitou) to take a 40 hectare area on the west side of the lake and transform it into a habitat specifically for birds and other species with similar requirements. The lake as it was then with its steep sides, an average depth of 4 metres and little vegetation was of limited use for birds. It was really only suitable for wildfowl to pass through or perhaps spend a little time with few, if any, suitable areas for breeding. Major changes would be required with some 300,000 cubic metres of earth and gravel to be moved, shaped and redesigned. This would require substantial financing from a number of sources; the Agence de l’eau Loire-Bretagne, DIREN Poitou-Charentes, Syndicat Mixte d’Aménagement du Seuil du Poitou (owner of the site), the Région Poitou-Charentes, the Conseil Général de la Vienne, Cemex (the company that worked the quarry), and the Fondation EDF (Diversiterre) and finally the Caisse d’Épargne Aquitaine Poitou-Charentes (Projets d’économie locale et sociale) who particularly wished to support the work and facilities for disabled visitors.

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Work began in 2007 and the ornithological reserve was inaugurated in October 2009 with a completely changed landscape. A mosaic of wet meadows, water bodies, islands, channels, ditches, gentle slopes, reeds and willows offers many bird species the ideal conditions for nesting, feeding or resting. This remarkable transformation has, to date, resulted in over 130 species of bird being recorded here.
There are two walkways, one of which is accessible to the public at all times with three large wooden hides allowing visitors to discover the site at their own pace. The other walkway, also with three hides, is reserved for accompanied access with a guide from LPO Vienne. Providing for people with disabilities has been a priority right from the start and all parts of the reserve are accessible for people in wheelchairs including special provision in the hides to enable viewing from their wheelchair. In addition, signs and information boards have been specially constructed incorporating braille and there are plaques with textured images of some birds giving their shape and colours for people that are visually impaired.

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Even before the work was completed, a pair of Common Tern and three pairs of Little Ringed Plover had taken advantage of the bare surface on one of the new islands to make their nests, something that was previously not possible. The nature of the enclosed area with no public access also allows a number of other bird species to nest and breed without human disturbance. Although the site is managed by the LPO, the construction of a completely new habitat such as this benefits more than just birdlife. From the start Vienne Nature have been involved providing inventories of amphibians, dragonflies and plant species. They also recorded the arrival of new species almost before the site was completed notably Green-eyed Hawker, Lesser Emperor and Orange-spotted Emerald along with 15 other new dragonflies. Aquatic plants of note were Hairlike Pondweed Potamogeton trichoides, Water Speedwell Veronica anagallis-aquatica, Brittle Naiad Najas minor and Spiny Naiad Najas marina.

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Much of this may not sound remarkable but in an age where we have lost so much good habitat it really does provide a show case example of how we can add value to our environment. Not only does it benefit wildlife, it will give long term enjoyment to many people and this project can also be presented to businesses and communes to encourage similar projects in the future.

Finally, every year in January or February the LPO Vienne hosts the Fête des Oiseaux du Lac de Saint-Cyr where there are various activities, many suitable for children, all through the day. Volunteers with bird scopes are stationed throughout the reserve as well as in the hides to provide viewing and information. It can be a bit chilly but for those with an interest in birds it’s worth wrapping up and there are always the hot drinks and cakes on hand to keep you warm.

 

FIND OUT MORE

Visits are free all year round to the three public hides.

Guided visits to the closed areas of the park are regularly available in French (adults 4€, children 2€, under 12s free). See the calendar on the LPO website, http://vienne.lpo.fr, under ‘sur votre agenda’.

Groups can book guided visits by contacting Johan Tillet (06 89 21 00 85), costs 180€ for half a day, 280€ full day.

Note that the Parc de loisirs de Saint-Cyr does charge per person entering their site from 4 June to 31 August (2.50€ adults / 1€ children / under 5s free), see www.lacdesaintcyr.fr for full details.