Carolin Frühauf | 20.03. 2023

“Studies suggest that military sites, preserved from urbanisation and intensive farming, have greater biodiversity and host more rare species than civilian land. However, the biodiversity that they host remains often unknown.” Thomas Stannard

In the following interview, we’d like to introduce the work of our Eurosite member from France: Conservatoires d’espaces naturels (CENs). Margot Houalet and Thomas Stannard answered our questions on nature conservation on military sites and the NaturArmy LIFE programme. The NaturArmy LIFE programme aims to improve the conservation status of the species and habitats that justify the classification of the military fields as Natura 2000 sites. Margot and Thomas share insights on the results of their conservation activities and the concrete action points they need to consider on military sites.

Brief presentation of the two LIFE coordinators: Margot and Thomas  

Led by the French Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINARM), working in conjunction with the network of Conservancies of Natural Areas (CENs), approximately 60 people are working on this project. 

We are a duo tasked with orchestrating this large team: Margot, head of the French Ministry of Armed Forces’ water and biodiversity office, and Thomas, project manager at the Federation of Conservancies of Natural Areas. We coordinate all the staff of the Ministry of the Armed Forces and the CENs, with the help of our teams.  

We must ensure the whole team works in the same direction and contributes to achieving the project’s objectives. 

Eurosite: Could you tell us what Naturarmy is and how it relates to the French Armed Forces ministry? 

Margot Houalet:

The French ministry of the Armed Forces is fully aware of its responsibility for the preservation of the biodiversity present on military sites. Indeed, the ministry has been working with partners for more than 30 years in favour of biodiversity. From the military field to the main level, these many years of work have made it possible to conciliate military activities and the consideration of biodiversity. 

Today, the French Ministry of Armed Forces leads the ambitious NaturArmy LIFE programme, which aims to improve the conservation status of the species and habitats that justified the classification of the military fields as Natura 2000 sites. LIFE NaturArmy is intended to consolidate the armed forces’ role as managers of Natura 2000 sites through a strategy of intervention and communication at the national and European levels. 

The idea is to conduct experiments on ten pilot sites and then draw on the feedback to improve decision-making and internal procedures. The ambitious goal is to ensure that biodiversity is considered at all chain of command levels. 


Eurosite: Who are the CENs, and what is their involvement in the NaturArmy project? 

Thomas Stannard:

The Conservancies of Natural Areas (CENs) and their Federation (FCEN) are one of the French ministries of the Armed Forces’ most important and oldest ecology partners.  

The Conservancies are one of France’s most influential natural site managing NGOs. For over 40 years, they have managed over 4 100 natural sites, representing 270 000 ha. The 1,000 employees of the network act for nature in the territories, using an innovative intervention method based on consultation. 

The CENs offer their expertise and knowledge to the French Armed Forces ministry to preserve this remarkable biodiversity. They provide tools and solutions on various subjects: realisation of inventories, recommendations of management, drafting of management plans, training and environmental education. Wetlands, open areas, grazing… nothing escapes them, and systematic consultation with camps is one of the keys to the success of the collaboration between CENs and Armed Forces.  

« inventory actions are carried out on Romorantin camp »


Eurosite: How is the military and natural conservation connected in France? 

Margot Houalet:

The French ministry of the Armed Forces manages 275,000 hectares of land. A large part of this land is used for military training, and as its access is regulated, military land has escaped urban sprawl, specific intensive farming methods and industrial development. Therefore, it often harbours a remarkable and interesting range of fauna and flora.  

For example, the Garrigues military camp in the south of France offers a nesting area and a hunting ground for the Bonelli’s eagle, an endangered bird of prey of which only about thirty breeding pairs remain in France. Champagne camps in the east of France shelter a vast group of limestone meadows with orchids, a refuge of exceptional biodiversity. A particular orchid found on the dry slopes of prairies is even called Orchis militaris due to its form of a soldier wearing a helmet. 

It’s a genuine win-win cooperation: maintaining open fields is essential for the good training of the armies, which in turn is favourable to the maintenance and development of biodiversity. 

Thanks to these outstanding properties, 20% of military land is included in the European biodiversity protection network Natura 2000, and 200,000 hectares of military land are concerned by at least one biodiversity classification area.  


Eurosite: What concrete actions have you implemented in the LIFE NaturArmy so far?  

Thomas Stannard:

At the local scale, numerous experiments have been carried out on the LIFE pilot sites to reconcile biodiversity protection with the armed forces’ operational preparation on training sites. The experiment covers a variety of military activities. For example, at Montmorillon military camp, the firebreaks have been reseeded into grassland to improve the ecological potential. At Avon military camp, ponds used in fire defence have been restored to improve their ecological interest. On the Orange air base, the layout of the crops has been designed to provide favourable habitat for birds to avoid collisions with them.  

In every military camp, the challenge is considering the military activities in the Natura 2000 management plan.  

At the national scale, our role is to monitor these experiments, which are adapted locally, to make them showcase projects that can be replicated in other military sites.  

Margot Houalet:

In 2021, the French Ministry of Armed Forces developed a ministerial strategy to preserve biodiversity by 2030. My team and I are in charge of implementing this strategy, which aims to apply effective and appropriate ecological management and plan the necessary human and financial resources. Furthermore, structuring a network of partners in France and Europe has started by mobilising European armed forces. In 2022, our two teams went to Belgium for a study trip in the Elsenborn military camp. This was one of the pilot sites of the Life Natura2Mil, a LIFE project dedicated to restoring the biodiversity present on three military sites in Belgium and completed in 2010. This study trip was an opportunity to share best practices and exchange views on the post-LIFE management of the pilot sites.  

A European seminar organised in France in December 2022 was an opportunity to initiate exchanges on armed forces and biodiversity with several European ministries of Defense. This seminar also provided an opportunity to bring together experts, partners and ministry agents who manage Natura 2000 sites.   


Do you have any results on the effectiveness of those measures in the LIFE NaturArmy project?  

Margot Houalet:

The LIFE NaturArmy program is still in progress, but results are already visible. Ecological inventories have been carried out on sites covering more than 7,600 ha. These programmes have allowed it to collect more than 25,000 naturalist data, particularly observing wild Anemone species. This critically endangered species was mentioned for the last time in 1993 in Champagne camps.  

In addition, since the beginning of the project, ten new military sites signed a partnership agreement with the CENs, which brings to 80 000 ha of military land under ecological management. 

You can find all the results of the LIFE NaturArmy project at  


How are natural protection sites also used for the French military in terms of biodiversity and status of protection compared to other conservation sites?  

Thomas Stannard:

Studies suggest that military sites, preserved from urbanisation and intensive farming, have greater biodiversity and host more rare species than civilian land. However, the biodiversity that they host remains often unknown. That’s why the LIFE NaturArmy programme carries a thesis to learn more about the characteristics and specificities of the Natura 2000 sites that are on military land.  

For example, more than 2,000 beetle individuals were inventoried and identified in an attempt to answer the following question: does the occupation of space by the military influence the beetle communities in the woodlands ? A sociological study was also carried out to study the representation of biodiversity on military land classified as Natura 2000. More than 80 interviews were conducted with users of the reviewed sites.  


Eurosite: How do you see the future of environmentalists and the military working together? 

Margot Houalet:

The role of the many institutional, academic and associative players involved in military land is essential for considering biodiversity in the management of sites. The French armed forces ministry can count on a long-standing partnership with the Conservancies of Natural Areas network, on which the LIFE programmes are based, strengthening this cooperation framework.  

Sharing good practices with these actors helps support MINARM’s rise in these areas and improves its capacity to act on biodiversity. 

The partnerships ensure the mobilisation of the necessary funding and provide naturalistic expertise, support and perspective on the actions undertaken. This collaborative work extends to other stakeholders at all territorial levels, such as farmers and hunters. The university work presented during the European seminar in December 2022 was particularly enlightening: the more up-to-date and precise the state of knowledge, the better the management of sites and the planning of military activities. 


Thank you for all the insights and the interview, Margot and Thomas!

Copyright: « Fédération des Conservatoires d’espaces naturels »