Cleaning up the Alps (Mountain Wilderness)

Mountain Wilderness aims to unite alpinists and mountain lovers throughout the world in the defence of the mountains. Its goal is to preserve the last mountain wilderness areas for the use of present and future mountaineers.

Using volunteer work teams including local people, young offenders and mature prisoners, a large part of Mountain Wilderness’s work includes the removal of ‘obselete installations’, Permanent, disused structures such as ski lifts or installations left from the Second World War have rusted or been buried by avalanches, presenting a hazardous environment to shepherds, recreational users and wildlife such as ground nesting birds, chamois and ibex. Working in the Mercantour National Park since 2002, 134 tonnes of steelwork has been removed for recycling over the last 9 years.

This is not just about the removal of the installations, but aims to restore natural habitats to their original state, for ungulates, nesting birds, to help maintain the biodiversity of beautiful mountain regions, as well as increase safety of access for recreational and agricultural use

Two projects programmed for 2011 will:

  • Remove abandoned ski lifts in Montagne de Lure (Alpes de Haute Provence)
  • Remove barbed wire and military remnants in Mercantour National Park (Ubaye Valley)

The Update

Using the funding from EOCA, Mountain Wilderness was able to organise two ‘Obsolete installations’ operations in 2011 and cleared two significant sites of abandoned facilities.

Despite rain and strong Mistral winds during a mid- May weekend, about a hundred volunteers worked hard on the Montagne de Lure.  From an abandoned ski report, they took away about 50 tonnes of different waste materials. These included the remnants of ski lifts and a pile of concrete blocks – left from winter sport activities in the 1960’s and 70’s.  The slopes of the Montagne de Lure have been returned to a wild state, for the rare Orsini’s Viper, to allow the wild tulips and fritillaries to spread, and for the pleasure of its visitors.

The money from EOCA allowed Mountain Wilderness to hire a privately owned local service, specialized in draft horses in order to remove the loads from the site. This was crucial in a conservation perspective, because using horses decreases the risk of disturbing or destroying the Orsini’s viper, which can occur when pulling the loads on the ground.

In July, in the full summer sun in the Ubaye valley, volunteers cleared the ground close to the WW2 fortification line. Eighty people aged from 13 to 83 years old removed a total of 8 tonnes of metallic waste and dangerous barbed wire from important grazing land.  They collected 20 cubic metres of barbed wire, metal sheets and other military waste. For about 70 years, the ground in this area had hidden a network of metallic spikes, barbed wire, and debris – now it is safe, for people and animals.

The numbers of volunteers involved in these workdays, from the local communities and further afield, exceeded the expectations of Mountain Wilderness. The mountains united volunteers of all ages, including local farmers, young offenders, and local communities. Discussions and significant media coverage informed people of the challenge of protection and amelioration of the mountain countryside.

Image: Removing barbed wire