Dr Duncan James > Nature Travel Guide > Where > Planet Earth > Europe > France

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Nature Travel Guide

Wildlife of France (Europe)

"I enjoy seeing butterflies and flowers including orchids in early summer and exploring the Alps and Pyrenees mountains in mid to late summer."

I recommend the Flower Watching (premium link) activity.

I think the Carmargue is a fantastic place to see flamingoes and other wetland wildlife. Gavarnie in the Pyrenees has birds of prey, flowers, butterflies and amazing views and is one of my favourite wildlife-watching spots in the whole world.

France is in north-west Europe. It has an Atlantic and a Mediterranean coastline. To the north the Channel (or in French "La Manche") separates France from Britain. To the south the mountain range called the Pyrenees acts as a border with Spain. To the east some of the mountain range called the Alps reaches into France.

France is a developed country with a relatively low population density and a lot of agricultural land. One of the wildlife highlights of rural France is the grazing land, which is often unimproved. This means it is good for flowers such as orchids and insects such as butterflies and grasshoppers. Steeper slopes have often escaped the industrialisation of farming: so hilly or mountainous areas often have unimproved grassland.

  • The glacial valley of Gavarnie (location 1) in the Pyrenees is rich in wildlife all summer.
  • Organbidexka (location 2) is a pass in the Pyrenees that is famous for migrating birds of prey in the autumn.
  • The South East Coast (location 3) lies along the edge of the Mediterranean. I have found some good places to stop along the road if I am travelling through here.
  • The Carmargue (location 4) is a large estuary with great views of flamingoes, dragonflies and other wetland wildlife. It is good all year round.
  • The Cevennes (location 5) is an area of hills/low mountains with mammals including beaver, deer, Wild Boar and Mouflon. Local birds include vultures and eagles.
  • Tours (location 6) is on the banks of the River Loire with typical birds and wildlife of open countryside.
  • Fontainebleau (location 7) is a large forest with Wild Boar, deer, woodpeckers and other forest wildlife. There are hiking trails, cycling trails, camping facilities and it is also popular with climbers who scramble on the isolated rocks found between the trees.
  • Hendaye (location 8) has waders (shorebirds in American English) and other waterbirds on the shoreline. The GR10 footpath starts here before going all the way along the Pyrenees. Many birds migrate along this section of coast and waders/shorebirds can be seen on the shore. The road alongside the harbour has good views of the waders/shorebirds on the mudflats.
  • Avesnois (location 9) has countryside with river, farmland and woodland habitats. I have seen lots of damselflies, butterflies and other wildlife along the river in summer.
  • The Chamonix Alps (location 10) has cable cars that give easy access to the mountains. June and July is peak time for flowers and butterflies. Marmots, birds and other specialist mountain wildlife can be seen all summer.
  • Many migrating birds follow the coast to avoid going any further east and having to fly over the sea. Waders/shorebirds can be seen on the Charente Coast (location 11) feeding as they take a break. Thousands of migrating finches and other birds can also be seen on the best days in the correct places.
  • The Jura (location 12) is an area within the foothills of the Alps. There are many wooded gorges with birds, butterflies and flowers. You can explore on foot or in a canoe/kayak.
  • Cauterets (location 13) is a valley in the Pyrenees with good views of Pyrenean Izard possible. It is also good for flowers in early summer: it is one of the best places I have visited for seeing lilies.
  • The Landes (location 14) has sandy soil, pine woodland, rivers and an estuary. The pine woodland can be quiet but I have seen lots of good wildlife on the rivers and by the estuary.
  • The winding roads of the Vanoise Alps (location 15) give access to high valleys full of flowers and butterflies. There is a high pass, which is popular with tourists, giving snowy mountain views even in the summer. A network of mountain huts are available for adventurous hikers.
  • Le Crau (location 16) is a famous place for wildlife. The land is very flat and so very exposed in the winter. A summer visit can reveal lots of flowers and butterflies.
  • Les Alpilles (location 17) is a mountainous area to the east of the Carmargue. There are picturesque places for walking and birdwatching.
  • The Pont du Gard (location 18) is an incredible viaduct built by the Romans and still intact. This popular tourist attraction offers good birdwatching including the chance of Rock Bunting and Wallcreeper in the winter.
  • Pic d'Anie (location 19) has unusual, rocky mountain scenery with wildlife including birds, butterflies and flowers.

Areas of France are hot enough in the summer to support larger insects such as this cricket which can be seen in the flower meadows of the Cevennes.

The Alps have extreme habitats/environments for the wildlife. Although there is less wildlife to see, the scenic views and unusually-tough animals and plants can make it very rewarding.

This Griffon Vulture is soaring in front of the cliffs of the Gorge du Tarn. They can also be seen in large numbers in the Pyrenees.

This article is part of the Nature Travel Guide and was published on December 10th 2017.

Larger-scale information relating to this page include the Planet Earth and Europe articles.

Even more articles including detailed site descriptions, illustrated wildlife-watching activities, self-guided walks, itinerary recommendations, birdwatching overviews and mammal-watching overviews are available in the premium eBooks.

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