A week in the south of France for students of the ecological engineering module

At the beginning of October 2019, twenty-four students of landscape architects and bioengineers in forest and natural space management from the second Master of Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech had the opportunity to travel for a week to Provence as part of the ecological engineering module.

The objective of this field week in the Mediterranean region was to analyse the diversity of ecological engineering projects linked to natural environments in a new biogeographical and societal context for students. They were thus able to meet a panel of professionals in the field (European project managers, researchers, public managers), which allowed them to realize the diversity of the actors involved in these projects, but also to deepen their knowledge as ecologists and their management skills.

Among the ecosystems addressed, the Camargue and its salt marshes, including a visit to the reserve of the Tour du Valat research centre. An opportunity to realize the challenges related to the pressure on the environments and species that find refuge there, due to the many economic activities. The second day remained on the theme of the sea, with the visit of beaches restored a few years earlier with the help of cranberries and walnut plants, which made it possible to recreate dunes and protect the neighbouring dwellings from the sea's advance.

The more mountainous ecosystems have also been addressed via the Alpilles, with its mosaic of scrubland, pine forests and vineyards. We met the employees of the Regional Natural Park, who told us about the adventure of the recently completed Life Alpilles project.
Another very particular ecosystem, the cushions of the Crau. These desert looking pebble steppes, Thierry Dutoit, research director at the CNRS, taught us to observe them more closely. We discovered an impressive fauna: the ocellated lizard, the scolopendre, and even a tarantula, the Narbonne Lycosis. After the preserved reference ecosystem, the students were able to discover a fine example of ecological engineering on an area polluted by a hydrocarbon leak, where restoration efforts were made through soil transfer and with the help of harvesting ants.

Finally, the students covered a very different forest system from ours with Mediterranean woodlands, an ecosystem with high stakes in the current context of climate change and emerging pathogens. These issues were discussed at length by Michel Vennetier, a forest engineer with expertise in the health of Mediterranean forests, who also spoke to us about forest fire management. The internship ended with the Font-Blanche experimental site, where forest plots are monitored to understand the effect of droughts and climate change on tree growth, water balance and carbon flows.

All these themes will be analysed in class during a debriefing, after which the students will prepare presentations on some of the issues identified during this week rich in experience.

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