Just a stone's throw from the A84 motorway, there is no doubt that you can plunge into the Calvadosian bocage as you head towards Villy-Bocage. Precisely, the village (750 inhabitants) has been selected, along with its neighbour Cahagnes a few kilometres away, for an intercommunal call for projects for biodiversity in this characteristic terroir.
The latter came at the right time for the small town south-west of Caen, which has decided to give a green boost in 2024. "We want to plant hedges, fruit trees, make a meadow with blue, white and red flowers for the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, identify and recreate ponds and make a hiking trail around all this," explains Mayor Jean-Luc Roussel.
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The elected official hammers home his message: "even with our small means, we can do things to advance biodiversity" in this rural sector, which has been heavily marked in recent years by the uprooting of hedgerows. The mayor of Cahagnes, Guillaume Dujardin, who is also involved in these issues, recounts: "In 1976, land consolidation began in Cahagnes. Agricultural plots have been enlarged, hedgerows have been torn up." On these hilly lands, where cereal crops have taken over from livestock, runoff and erosion have increased, without these landscape elements to capture water. The impact on the drought is also being felt, as during the harsh summer of 2022 in the Virois' bocage.
"The effect of a showcase"
"We find that too many hedges have been uprooted in recent years," says Jean-Luc Roussel, delighted that "the new local inter-municipal urban plan has made it possible to identify hedges to be protected. From now on, if a farmer wants to cut down one of the hedgerows concerned, he must declare it and replant as many." Villy-Bocage therefore decided to replant herself. Children in the village have even named new plants after them. The municipality's initiative, he hopes, will have the effect of "a showcase" to invest residents and change consciences.
Of course, private owners hold part of the key. Especially in agriculture. Guillaume Dujardin, the mayor of Cahagnes, an organic farmer in civilian life, has been replanting hedges on his farm for the past fifteen years. Last year, during a citizens' day, 170 seedlings were planted. It will take about ten years to see these hedgerows emerge in earnest. "I regret that the agricultural world is not more aware than this. More and more land is being ploughed. That's what agricultural policy wants, he says. But farmers are thinking about recreating a bocage network of their plots, recreating ponds." Like a hope, even if awareness takes time, often overtaken by economic imperatives.
A virtuous cycle
Villy-Bocage is committed to a project costing just over €11,000, including €4,000 in subsidy from the Pré-bocage intercommunality, which supports the planting of hedges. The community planted 7.4 km last winter and 23.5 km this year! But what about their future maintenance? "Hedges are sometimes seen more as a problem because they need to be maintained," says Jean-Luc Roussel. We hope that our hiking trail will be qualified as a "quality path" so that the intercommunality can ensure this maintenance.
In the meantime, it's time to reclaim the bocage area, with repercussions on ecosystems. It is on this register that Cahagnes has positioned itself for the call for projects: to install about twenty nesting boxes for birds, insects and even hedgehogs "while taking advantage of the natural shelters", says Guillaume Dujardin, adding a remark: "hedgehogs eat slugs. Whereas today, pesticides are used to kill slugs, which also kill hedgehogs."