Field Trips > Field trip # 2: Managing volcanic landscapes by grazing in a World Heritage context in the Chaîne des Puys – Limagne Fault (CDPLF)

Coordinator: Yves Michelin (geographer and agronomist)

Keywords: UNESCO World heritage application, pastoralism, landscape and geology, agro-ecology

Short description:

The CDPLF represents one of the major places in the world for discovering and understanding the continental rifting process, a major phenomenon of Earth history (an integral part of the plate tectonics) that combines uplift, down throw and sedimentation, and associated volcanism. Each of the associated landforms is remarkably manifested in the landscape, the Limagne fault escarpment, the volcanic alignment of more than 80 volcanos, strictly parallel to the fault, and inverted reliefs like “montagne de la serre” that show the uplift and erosion process. The concentration and distribution of these pure and fresh landforms within a single area provide an overview of the whole rifting process, and clarify the intrinsic links between the features as well as their chronology. The possibility for visitors to visit the site and to understand the geological process is correlated to the fact that the landscapes are open around the major volcanos.


3D diagram illustrating the rifting process in the CDPLF (A LTh, CD63, 2018)

For this reason, the place is applying for being inscribed on the World Heritage list (criterion viii) and the decision will be taken this year in June, at the annual session of the World Heritage Committee. It is also a strongly protected area included in the regional park of Auvergne Volcanoes.

Actually, in the mountainous mild climate context of the Massif Central, the natural vegetation dynamic drives toward a deciduous forest under 900 m high, and a mixt forest (beech and fir) over this altitude that masks the vues and erase the landforms.  However, fortunately, grazing activity that concerns thousands of common lands, that exists for at least 2000 years, has maintained large open areas, covered of meadows and heather, without any fences. The paradox is that these landscapes look like completely natural but in fact, this natural appearance is “gardened” by traditional pastoral activity. As a consequence, the management plan of this place, conceived and designed with local stakeholders, farmers and municipalities aims to support farmers to maintain and develop their activity by incorporating in their grazing practices the objective of making landforms and associated geological processes more visible. Another aspect of the challenge is to take care of local biodiversity that is very rich and to conciliate grazing activity with managing the flow of visitors that appreciate climbing the tops of volcanos or practicing biking, horse riding and other full nature sporting activities.


This field trip will deal with different aspects of this management system, with foot walks for climbing the famous Puy de la Vache and the Puy de Vichatel, guided by a park ranger for seeing what has been done for monitoring and regulating touristic flow, and reopening the landscape. A discussion is also planned with the local shepherd that experiments techniques for encouraging sheep to eat shrubs and ligneous vegetation. At least, we will discover an original concept of “clearing flock” that is proposed by the local school of agriculture for the reopening of abandoned common lands before giving them back to local farmers after the disappearance of shrubs and the come-back of  natural meadow.

 Moutons 2

For this field trip, participant should be in a good physical state and have warm clothes and good shoes.

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