Maritime and Mercantour Alps: a shared past, present and future

Parks without borders

Located at the western end of the Alps, the Argentera-Mercantour massif is comprised of nearly 100.000 hectares of protected nature. A spectacular connection between the Alps and the Mediterranean, it is also a historic region of exchanges between peoples and cultures.

The Massif is protects on the French side by the Parc national du Mercantour and on the Italian side by the Parco naturale Alpi Marittime, created in 1995 by the merger of the Argentera National Park with the Reserve and the Palanfrè Forest and Lakes.

Together, these two parks are home to a unique natural and cultural heritage of Europe.

To protect this common heritage, both natural areas have been twinned since 1987, with the common ambition of enhancing territorial continuity that ignores any border. This intense collaboration, probably one of the most successful among European contiguous parks, places them at the top of the list, in future, as the first European Park.

A wide variety of flora and fauna

By the presence of a single territory of Alpine influences – Provençal, Mediterranearn and Ligurian – are born a great diversity of plant and animal species. It is not uncommon, just a few hundred meters apart, to have alpine species with typically Mediterranean species.

The two parks are home to numerous endemic plants, which live only in a very narrow zone, such as the famous Saxiraga florulenta, a species that specific to the border crystalline massif. Chamois, ibex, deer, wild boars…but also wolves, foxes, stoats are marmots are just a few examples of the 58 mammals that inhabit the two parks. On the other hand, more than 150 species of birds have been recorded, including numerous prestigious raptors, the most famous of which is the bearded vulture with a magnificent wingspan of 2.8 meters. Since 1993, it has also been the subject of international reintroduction, of which the two parks are also participants.

Centuries of Relations between the Two Sides of the Alps

Since time began, the territories of these two parks have been closely linked. Humans may have inhabited these mountains since prehistoric times, as evidenced by the 36,000 rock engravings dating back to the Copper and Bronze Ages, which can be seen in the Valleys of Wonders and Fontanable.

More recently, those from Nice and those from Cuneo developed trade, therefore making it necessary to create a network of roads, similar to the ancient Salt Roads.

Finally, in the mid-1800s, the Argentera-Mercantour massif was part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. The then king, Vittorio Emanuele II, also called “The Hunter King”, was the first to concern himself with the preservation of these lands: when he realized that the number of deer were continuing to diminish and the ibex had been eliminated, he decided to create, on 26 December 1859, the Royal Hunting Reserve on the massifs of Mercantour and Argentera.

And so, over the centuries, on both sides of the Southern Alps, human and economic exchanges are organized and have established similar ways of life, customs and traditions. This is how, in the Argentera-Mercantour, a strong common identity has been forged, enhanced by the use of similar Occitan dialects.

A Close Cooperation

Since their creating, the two parks have developed an increasingly close collaboration with the same objective of protection and enhancement of cultural wealth, natural landscape and working for

the preservation of biodiversity; for example, dealing with species which are unaware of borders, such as the golden eagle and the wolf. They sometimes operate the transfer of the ibex, organize operations for the reintroduction of the bearded vulture, exchange both expertise and personnel, develop common management tolls, including a geographic information system, and consult on education, sustainable development and culture…

Twinned in 1987, in 1998 the two parks signed a charter of cooperation with the objective of strengthening their cross-border identity. In june 2013, the Parks approved the creation of the Gruppo Europeo di Cooperazione Territoriale (GECT or European Group of Territorial Cooperation), a legal instrument for cross-border management that facilitates the creation of complex and integrated projects. In the short term, this GECT should essentially create a legal structure for the management of the protected area – thus creating, in effect, the first real European Park.

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