The Mont Valier Nature Reserve

Mont Valier par Sandrine RousseauThe Mont Valier Nature Reserve was created in 1937 and is one of the oldest reserves in the Pyrenees. At its heart is the majestic peak of Mont Valier at 2,838 metres (9,314 ft) in height. The largest reserve in the Ariège, it encompasses 9,037 hectares (about 22,000 acres) in total area and the southern boundary extends for 14kms along the Spanish border. This vast protected area has retained its wild, untamed character and deep, steep sided valleys with rushing streams alternate with cirques carved out by ancient glaciers.

Isard (Pyrenean Chamois), Alpine Marmot, Capercaillie, Ptarmigan, Partridge, Golden Eagle, Bearded Vulture and Griffon Vulture are a few of the animals which inhabit the reserve. The Alpine Marmot was introduced in the 1960’s and is now common in many areas. This large rodent provides food for the large population of resident Golden Eagles and other birds of prey.

mtval isardsThe Port d’Aula on the southern boundary with Spain is noted as a major autumnal bird migration route. From August to October large numbers of migrants may be seen heading south including Honey Buzzard, Red and Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Common Buzzard, Osprey and all three species of harrier. Large flocks of passerines also cross at this point including swallow, swifts, House and Sand Martins and many other species such as warblers, chats and shrikes.

Other birds which may be seen all year round within the reserve include Alpine Accentor, Snow Finch, Black Redstart, Rock Thrush, Water Pipit, Ring Ouzel, Red-billed and Alpine Chough. The shy, butterfly-like Wallcreeper does breed on high cliffs but is difficult to see.

Wild creatures are not the only inhabitants of the reserve: pastoralism is an essential component of these mountains. In summer about 6500 sheep graze the high pastures of the reserve. They keep the grasslands in good condition which helps the wildlife and contributes to the beauty of the landscape.

Mt Valier Nature Reserve is only accessible by car at two points. The D17 road from Seix to the Bethmale valley touches the reserve boundary at Col de la Core where there is car parking. Also the D703, west from Couflens enters the reserve at Col de Pause where there is also car parking. However both these roads are usually closed during winter due to snow and the D703 to Col de Pause in particular is very narrow with numerous potholes.

The best way to appreciate this beautiful sanctuary and to observe the huge variety of plant and animal life is on foot. A large network of walking trails crisscrosses the reserve, the principal route being the GR10 which extends the length of the Pyrénées mountain range. The Chemin du Valier passes by the refuge "Les Estagnous" as does the "Chemin de la Liberté" by which stranded allied airmen, resistance fighters and others escaped into Spain during the second world war. In June 2009 a gîte-inn-hostel, La Maison du Valier, sleeping 29 opened at the point of departure for hiking up to the summit.

Since its creation, the Mont Valier nature reserve has been managed by the Office National des Forêts. The objectives of the reserve are:

--the protection and management of the mountain environment,
-- the study of mountain flora and fauna in collaboration with scientists and academics,
-- to train and educate the public in the care of the mountain environment

 

Many thanks to these photographers

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