Stage 13: Saint-Girons > Foix
The Pechs de Foix, Soula and Roquefixade, Grotte de L’Herm Natura 2000 site (FR7300842) culminates at an altitude of 1,014 meters.
It is characteristic of the limestone-rich environments in the department of Ariège and consists of two limestone secondary ranges running east to west, with one going from Foix to Roquefixade, and the other from Saint-Jean de Verges to the Col de Py.
The landscape is characterised by the ubiquitous limestone cliffs, which are considered to be the most beautiful pre-Pyrenean limestone walls. These cliffs are capped with small plateaus composed of a mosaic of grasslands, moors and forests. There are many caves, the most important of which is the Grotte de L'Herm.
The adrets or south-facing slopes, are interspersed with villages and hamlets surrounded by wooded meadows, while the shady areas are filled with beech forests. Human activities, especially livestock, structure these landscapes.
Several elements have contributed to this area being classified as a site of Community interest:
- dry grasslands and meadows on limestone, juniper and boxwood heaths present an important and often threatened diversity;
- the rocky scree and cliff environments shelter specialised species and therefore have a high heritage value;
- beech forests on limestone are frequented by several species of rare insects, such as the stag beetle, the great capricorn beetle and the Rosalia longicorn;
- the significant populations of bats (such as the lesser and greater horseshoe bats, the lesser and greater mouse-eared bats, and the barbastelle) that visit these environments.
The natural habitats of Community interest present on the Pechs de Foix (11 habitats of Community interest, of which 2 are priority) are overall in a good state of conservation and only a few habitats face the threat of disappearance in the short or medium term. This good condition highlights the quality of the current practices on the Pechs (plateaus). Livestock and forest management have sustained and preserved ecological quality.
The limestone-rich grasslands, fragile environments that motivated the area to be registered with the Natura 2000 network, appear to be the most endangered, especially in certain areas: Foix, Leychert, Arabaux. These areas also correspond to areas in agricultural abandonment.
... and species
One of the species that frequents the forests, in particular the old trees, is the stag beetle.
The life cycle of the species is 5 to 6 years. The eggs of this beetle are deposited near the roots of old tree stumps or dead wood. The larvae then progress from the stump to the root system. The species prefers oak trees, but it can also be observed on beech, ash or linden trees.
The biology of the stag beetle is not well known. Adults have a relatively short lifespan (about a month). Males can be seen from May to July, while females are still visible in August.