MAP: Where in France is most at risk from erosion and rising sea levels

Rising sea levels and coastal erosion have encroached upon a fifth of France's coastline. A new map reveals the coastal areas which have already begun to disappear.

The coastline after erosion due to Storm Ciara and rising tides near a camping site in Gouville-sur-Mer, northwestern France in February 2020.
The coastline after erosion due to Storm Ciara and rising tides near a camping site in Gouville-sur-Mer, northwestern France in February 2020. Photo: LOU BENOIST / AFP.

Ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, news site franceinfo has published an interactive map showing the areas of France which have been most affected by coastal erosion.

The map relies on data from the  Centre for Studies and Expertise on Risks, the Environment, Mobility and Urban Planning (Cerema), which published a report in 2018 comparing aerial photos taken between 1920 and 1957 with more recent images.

The study found that 18.6 percent of France’s coastline had retreated in that time, while 11.7 percent had advanced, and the majority had undergone no change. Overall, 523 towns and villages included at least one area affected by coastal retreat, and 59 of them recorded erosion of over 1.5 metres per year along certain stretches.

The map from franceinfo shows the overall situation at a département level, but it is also possible to search for a specific coastal town and see how it has been affected – click HERE for the interactive map.

Map showing the départements (in orange) where the average coastline has retreated.

Map showing the départements (in orange) where the average coastline has retreated. Image: franceinfo

Much depends on the nature of the coastline. In areas defined by cliffs, which represent slightly more than half of French coastal areas, only 6 percent have been impacted by coastal erosion, compared to 37 percent of sandy coastline.

Which explains why Brittany has so far come out largely unscathed. South-west France on the other hand has been significantly affected – Gironde is the département with the largest stretches of retreating coastline, and nearby Charente-Maritime is third. Manche in Normandy is in second place, while other areas in the north and parts of the Mediterranean coast have also suffered.

READ ALSO Climate change: What can we expect future French summers to look like?

According to Cerema’s estimates, Gironde lost 5.59 square kilometres of land between 1960 and 2010, with Charente-Maritime and Bouches-du-Rhône also losing more than 5 square kilometres each. Overall, the areas of coastline affected in that 50-year period are estimated at 30 square kilometres, the size of La Rochelle.

As part of franceinfo’s report, it is also possible to compare aerial photos of La Tremblade on the Atlantic coast, where “certain dunes suffered a record retreat of 7.9 metres per year between 1945 and 2010”.

Cerema has estimated that between 5,000 and 47,300 homes in France could fall victim to coastal erosion by the year 2100, franceinfo reports.

Meanwhile, the map below from American organisation Climate Central shows the areas in France (and around the world) with an unobstructed path to the sea which are less than one metre above water level, and therefore potentially vulnerable to sea level rises.

A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that it is “virtually certain that global mean sea level will continue to rise over the 21st century”, with further rises of between 28 cm and 1 metre to be expected globally by the end of the century.

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KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?

Sweden's government has announced that it will allow a major wolf cull this year, with hunters licensed to kill as many as half of the estimated 400 animals in the country. What is going on?

KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?

How many wolves are there in Sweden? 

Wolves were extinct in Sweden by the mid-1880s, but a few wolves came over the Finnish border in the 1980s, reestablishing a population.  

There are currently 480 wolves living in an estimated 40 packs between Sweden and Norway, with the vast majority — about 400 — in central Sweden. 

How many wolves should there be? 

The Swedish parliament voted in 2013, however, for the population to be kept at between 170 to 270 individuals, with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency then reporting to the EU that Sweden would aim to keep the population at about 270 individuals to meet the EU’s Habitats Directive. 

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency was commissioned by the government to update the analysis,  and make a new assessment of the reference value for the wolf’s population size. It then ruled in a report the population should be maintained at about 300 individuals in order to ensure a “favourable conservation status and to be viable in the long term”. 

What’s changed now? 

Sweden’s right-wing opposition last week voted that the target number should be reduced to 170 individuals, right at the bottom of the range agreed under EU laws. With the Moderate, Christian Democrat, Centre, and Sweden Democrats all voting in favour, the statement won a majority of MPs.

“Based on the premise that the Scandinavian wolf population should not consist of more than 230 individuals, Sweden should take responsibility for its part and thus be in the lower range of the reference value,” the Environment and Agriculture Committee wrote in a statement.

Why is it a political issue? 

Wolf culling is an almost totemic issue for many people who live in the Swedish countryside, with farmers often complaining about wolves killing livestock, and hunters wanting higher numbers of licenses to be issued to kill wolves. 

Opponents of high wolf culls complain of an irrational varghat, or “wolf hate” among country people, and point to the fact that farmers in countries such as Spain manage to coexist with a much higher wolf population. 

So what has the government done? 

Even though the ruling Social Democrats voted against the opposition’s proposal, Rural Affairs Minister Anna-Caren Sätherberg agreed that the wolf population needed to be culled more heavily than in recent years. As a result, the government has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to once again reassess how many wolves there should be in the country. 

“We see that the wolf population is growing every year and with this cull, we want to ensure that we can get down to the goal set by parliament,” Sätherberg told the public broadcaster SVT.

Sweden would still meet its EU obligations on protecting endangered species, she added, although she said she understood country people “who live where wolves are, who feel social anxiety, and those who have livestock and have been affected”.