At first glance this new public open space doesn’t look much of a habitat. A wide gravel path stretches into the distance, bordered by dry, straggly grass and a few trees. Look again and you’ll see that the grass is threaded through with wild chamomile and corn marigolds, mallows and mugwort, vetches and thistles. Look a little longer and you start to notice the bees, hoverflies, shield bugs and butterflies.
A variety of bee species is a good indicator of a healthy habitat but the butterflies add an extra sense of wildness. Not the bold red admirals that seek out wasteland buddleia bushes but delicate common blues and meadow browns that disappear into the background when they rest with folded wings. These are butterflies of places where the grass grows long and wild, tangled with vetches and clover. In town they are all too easily tidied out of existence.
This small wild space is not just a local linear park with an ecological management regime. It’s the latest section of the Petite Ceinture to be formally opened to the public. This 32km railway track, encircling Paris, was closed to passenger traffic in the 1930s and to freight in the 1990s. It is now an important green corridor linking wildlife habitats around the city.
A short part of the route has been formally closed and converted to roadway but most remains technically in reserve, in case SNCF ever decides to bring it back into service. Meanwhile the city council is gradually (in cooperation with the railway authority) improving human access to one section at a time, surfacing paths and installing seats and signs. This low key intervention leaves developing habitats intact while giving many city dwellers access to places with a real touch of wildness.
(Click on any photo to view the gallery)
Discovering wildflowers in the city is always a pleasure. Butterflies are a Cherry On Top for any summer expedition.