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Nature & Wildlife

Across the region, we are lucky to have a wide variety of habitats and landscapes giving us the opportunity to observe a wide range of flora and fauna. From windswept shores to inland waterways, from plains to craggy rockfaces, each has secrets to share. 

At Living, we have teamed up with experts in the region to show you what to watch out for at the different times of year...

 

Park Naturel Régional de la Brenne - where to start?

Park Naturel Régional de la Brenne - where to start?

With 1672km2 to choose from, Chris Luck highlights a few of the more accessible areas of the vast Parc Naturel Régional de la Brenne on the Vienne/Indre border...

An interesting site managed by the Conservatoire Régional d’Espaces Naturels Centre, CREN, is located 3km south of Rosnay on the D32 going towards Ciron. It covers just over 21 hectares and is composed of a raised area of dry heath-type grassland that slopes down to lower wet grasslands on two sides. There is a woodland border to the south east and hedged border to the south west and the site includes small blocks of blackthorn scrub and a pond.

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Many meadows are becoming either abandoned and overgrown or subject to an intensification of their management, both of which are equally destructive from a biodiversity perspective. It was for this reason that CREN was given an 18-year lease for this commune land in 1998. The site hosts some interesting species including thousands of Tongue orchids (Sérapias langue), possibly the largest number to be found together on one site in France. Lesser butterfly orchids (Orchis-à-deux-feuilles) are also present in large numbers. Many other interesting grassland plants can be found flowering there depending on the time of year, and a day could be spent just crawling about on the ground for those inclined to do so. Farmland nesting birds that can easily be seen there in summer include Red backed shrike (Pie-grièche écorcheur), Melodious warbler (Hypolaïs polyglotte), Nightingale (Rossignol philomèle), and Stonechat (Tarier pâtre). Although none of these are particularly rare, the area always has large numbers of them in spring/summer on the tops of hedgerows and on one day driving slowly on the long straight roads I counted some 200 to 300 male Stonechats alone adorning the roadside electricity cables, each one presumably guarding a nearby nest on the ground.

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Directions: Take the D32 from Rosnay towards Ciron for 3km. Before the power lines crossing the road there is a path off to the left that leads to the site. There are no parking places as such, and the site is only marked with a sign ‘Site naturel protégé’. The site is open to the public but there are friendly cattle there part of the year and it can be hunted in the winter. Best time of year May - July.

Of course, lakes are plentiful but few have public access and, if this is to be your first visit, it’s probably best to take in the Maison de la Nature (36290 Saint-Michel-en-Brenne). This is situated to one side of the main nature reserve on the D6a just to the north of the D17 with its ‘Etang Cistude’ and observatoires (hides). There is plenty of information available, books for sale and often an exhibition, so be careful you don’t get tempted to spend too much money.

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When you have finished there, it’s a few minutes drive to the car park for the Observatoire des Essarts. You need to take the D44 from the D17 towards St-Michel-en-Brenne, it’s only about 1,300 metres and the parking is on the right. From here you have to walk to the hide which is about 800 metres on a level track and, although it is a little rough in places, it should be suitable for wheelchairs. The walk itself can be interesting and it’s worth taking your time. There are plenty of smaller birds to see in the fields and hedgerows as well as amphibians in the ditches. Beside the track, insects, flowers, dragonflies and perhaps the odd snake or two may be seen. Always keep an eye out in the sky here for larger birds; Marsh harrier (Busard des roseaux), Osprey (Balbuzard pêcheur), Booted eagle, (Aigle botté), Black kite (Milan noir), and even Black winged kite (Élanion blanc), can be seen here. From the hide you may see Whiskered Tern (Guifette moustac), or Black necked grebe (Grèbe à cou noir), the reserve is an important site for them along with numerous other common and not-so-common water birds. To enable the birds to breed without disturbance access to most of the reserve is restricted for the general public.

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At all of these étangs you may see European pond turtles (Cistude d’Europe), and care needs to be taken when driving in the area as they walk about and cross the roads at some times of the year. A great deal of effort is spent on the conservation and behavioural studies of these freshwater turtles as La Brenne is an important region for them.

It often surprises people to discover that between November and February, some 3,000 or so Cranes (Grue cendrée) spend the winter at the Etang de la Mer Rouge, a very large étang close to the Maison du Parc on the D17A. They fly out from their island roost site at dawn each day to feed in the maize stubble that is left especially for them, returning again at dusk. It is well worth braving the winter weather to grab an opportunity to see these emblematic birds at close quarters although you may need to enquire which fields they are using to forage.

For further information, visit  www.parc-naturel-brenne.fr