Story and Photographs by Aurora Luongo
Near the area where the River Rhône enters Lake Geneva, there is a peaceful place for many species of animals and plants. Réserve des Grangettes, a wetland and natural reserve, is an important resting and hibernation place for migratory birds. The site is included in the Ramsar Convention List of Wetlands of International Importance, since 1990.
In 2011, after an extension of the site from 330 ha to 6,342 ha, the Réserve des Grangettes became the largest reserve in Switzerland to be listed in the Ramsar Convention.
The Foundation that manages the reserve, the Fondation des Grangettes, is 25 years old this year and makes a positive assessment of its activities. Indeed, its conservation programmes demonstrate having successful outcomes on biodiversity.
Many migratory birds stop in the reserve during their journey between Africa and northern Europe at spring and autumn. Moreover, 70 birds nest permanently in the area.
The site is partly accessible to humans, enough so that patient hikers can observe herons, kingfishers and several migratory birds, dragonflies (of which the site lists 36 species), green frogs and grass snakes. At dusk, it is also possible to observe beavers.
As for flora, the Réserve des Grangettes is home to 400 species of plants and its landscape is composed of reed beds, ponds, swamps and alluvial forests.
Although it is called natural reserve, the site is carefully maintained by the hands of humans, through actions taken by the Fondation des Grangettes. Human intervention is crucial, for example, to avoid the disappearance of marshes under bushes and forests.
Reserve manager Olivier Epars explains that the Foundation was created in 1989 to manage the Réserve des Grangettes, which is the property of Pro Natura, the largest organization for nature conservation in Switzerland; its actions include the development of a national network of protected species.
“The Fondation des Grangettes is also responsible for monitoring the site and raising public awareness,” Epars says. “It has allowed the building of installations for the public, as well as information panels, fences, an observation tower and the holding of exhibitions.”
As explained by Epars, the measures taken by the Foundation to limit the human impact in the reserve have had positive effects, particularly for birds.
“The creation of new habitats (ponds, lagoon, island and rafts) helped to bring back disappeared or new nesting species, like the little bittern and the black-necked grebe,” Epars explains. “We count about eight percent of additional species,” he adds.
The little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus), which is a kind of heron, is a species reported “endangered” in Switzerland and listed on the Red List of Threatened Animals. This bird disappeared from the Réserve des Grangettes in the 1970’s due to the decay of reed beds. Since 2013, thanks to the Foundation’s conservation program, a small population of this species is breeding again in the reserve. Currently, between 120 and 150 pairs of little bitterns nest in Switzerland.
A few months ago, a new nesting mast was erected to facilitate the return of another bird, the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in the reserve.
The osprey is not threatened, but its presence remains rare in Europe, whereas it was once a widespread nesting bird across Europe. In Switzerland, this species was exterminated one century ago. The disappearance of this bird is due to human persecution: the osprey was shot, its eggs were looted and its nesting trees were knocked down.
The European tree frog (Hyla arborea) is another species which benefitted from conservation activities carried out by the Fondation des Grangettes. Thanks to the creation of new biotopes, the Réserve des Grangettes is now the only place of the Rhône Valley in Switzerland with a population of European tree frogs.
As for the future evolution of the Réserve des Grangettes, Epars explains that new habitats will be created, and that the Fondation des Grangettes would like to create a venue for the public in the reserve.