The biodiversity loss in the last decades is mainly connected to habitat quality issues. One of these issues is habitat fragmentation, which means that due to loss of habitat, the original habitat area is fragmented into smaller areas of suitable habitats which are isolated from each other. Fragmentation and isolation have various detrimental effects on wildlife, such limiting mobility which can lead to inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity thereby reducing the long-term health of a population. This is why conservation work aiming at improving connectivity between natural areas is of paramount importance.
Rural roads have an important role in connecting those habitats, being in many regions the last resource to maintain ecological corridors that make up the green and blue network. Furthermore, those paths create landscape heterogeneity. In agricultural landscapes, rural roads can be covered by hedges, trees and groves, their borders are grassy or still have ditches and embankments being home to a diverse flora and fauna and essential reservoirs of biodiversity including for pollinators and pest control predators, which creates opportunities for wildlife and farmers. A recent study also showed the importance of such roads for the Turtle Dove.
Rural roads have a significant social function as well, being the principal guarantors of public access to nature. Keeping the access to nature open is essential to connect and inform modern society about sustainability, environment protection and wildlife, biodiversity and nature preservation.
However, rural roads and their role in nature are disappearing. The lack of information and protection about this crucial element of landscape conducted to the loss of 250 000kms of rural paths in France, in the last 50 years. This loss results from the reduction of their use, lack of maintenance or appropriation by residents. These events have seriously reduced their space on landscape and their ecological contribution.
The analysis of the landscape as a whole and in detail allied with the capacity and the knowledge about nature that hunters and hunting organizations have make them key stakeholders in the pursuit for restored habitats in Europe.
Projects like Ekosentia are helping Europe achieve the nature targets traced in EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and, simultaneously, show the important role that hunters do to restore European nature.
Aware of rural roads importance for the environment and society and their bad trend, the National Federation of French Hunters and co-financed by the French Office for Biodiversity launched “The Ekosentia – Rural Paths Heart of Biodiversity project” aiming to restore rural paths, ecological and historical heritage.
The Ekosentia has started in 2020 and is divided into 3 phases. The first one is focused on the inventory of the existent rural roads and comparing the roads registered with the field observation. The second phase intends to rehabilitate rural roads and develop eco-friendly actions in 43 municipalities. The French Hunters’ Federations plan various measures such as the planting of hedges, the maintenance of ditches and the sowing of melliferous plants along the road or the sowing of treads. The last phase aims to aware the public to the rural roads’ key role through nature education activities and Installation of educational panels.
In 2022, the multi-partner Ekosentia project achieved:
- 1120km of inventoried roads;
- 40km of paths rehabilitated and maintained;
- 130km of hedgerows and grass strips planted;
- 625 Mobilized Volunteers;
- And 73 Partner municipalities.