Nature reserve

A nature reserve is part of a territory where the conservation of fauna, flora, soil, water, mineral and fossil deposits and, in general, the natural environment is of particular importance. This territory is exempt from any artificial intervention likely to degrade it.

In France, there are national nature reserves (réserves naturelles nationales or RNN), nature reserves in the territorial authority of Corsica (réserves naturelles de la collectivité territoriale de Corse or RNC) and regional nature reserves (réserves naturelles régionales or RNR) which have replaced voluntary nature reserves (réserves naturelles volontaires). The duration of protection is unlimited. The management of these reserves is entrusted to nature protection associations including organisations for the conservation of natural spaces, public institutions (national parks, the Office national des forêts, etc.) and local authorities (municipalities, groups of municipalities, joint associations, etc.). A management plan sets out the objectives and the resources to use on the ground to maintain or restore the natural environment. This plan is drafted by the reserve management body and covers five years.

Reserves with regulatory power

In France, nature reserves have their roots in the artistic reserves established in 1861, in existence until 1967, and in the private reserves, such as the Sept Îles Archipelago Regional Park. The law of 1 July 1957 amended the law of 2 May 1930, allowing a site to be classified as a “nature reserve”. Luitel Lake, in the Belledonne mountain range, is considered to be the first reserve, created in March 1961 (Violier et al., 2021: p. 150).

In 2019, France had 348 nature reserves covering nearly 680,000 km2, but the Terres Australes National Nature Reserve created in 2006 alone accounts for 99% of this total (Violier et al., 2021: p. 150).

Nature reserves have regulatory power. The team that manages the reserve at a local level can therefore request that certain activities be prohibited in this space to avoid any negative impacts on the environment. In nature reserves, human activity is generally reduced, but these protected areas are often highly valued by visitors and tourists (Laslaz et al. 2020).

Balancing sometimes conflicting interests with tourism

From the 1950s, the Camargue reserve were faced with conflicting interests from tourists: visitors wishing to horse ride, canoe and camp, birdwatchers keen to see and photograph rare wildlife, scout troops, school groups and leisure organisations. Tourists were then refused entry unless they had a scientific justification to be there. They were sent to the Petite Camargue, which was not protected within the framework (Tallon, 1954).

This is the model of tourism development that has been adopted in this region, where operators take advantage of the confusion between different natural spaces to promote their tours. The nature reserve, created in 1927 by the Société d’Acclimatation and classified in 1975 (13 km2), is located within the Camargue Regional Natural Park, created in 1970 (more than 1000 km2) which does not fully encompass the natural area of the Camargue. Visitors to the region are either channelled to sites outside the protected areas or within the regional natural park, while the visiting points within the nature reserve are limited to four specific sites.

Tourism overcrowding and its uncontrolled impacts on biodiversity can lead to the loss of certain distinctions. In 2020, for example, the expert committee refused to renew the European Diploma for Protected Areas of the Scandola Nature Reserve (Jolivet, 2020).



  • Jolivet Simon, 2020, «Régulation des flux touristiques dans les aires marines “hyper fréquentées”: la contribution du préfet maritime à la construction d’un ordre public écologique», Le droit maritime français. n°828, octobre.
  • Laslaz Lionel, Cadoret Anne et Milian Johan, 2020, Atlas des espaces protégés en France. Des territoires en partage? Paris, Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, 120p.
  • Tallon Gabriel, 1954, «La réserve naturelle de Camargue et le tourisme», Revue d’écologie, Terre et Vie. p. 111-115.
  • Violier Philippe, Duhamel Philippe, Gay Jean-Christophe et Mondou Véronique, 2021, Le tourisme en France 1, approche globale. Londres, ISTE Éditions, 273p.