The Plaine du Forez and its 300 ponds form, along with the Loire River, a natural area rich in biodiversity. The Forez is the 7th waterbirds breeding area in France.


Located between Feurs and Montrond-les-Bains, the Ecopole shelters the largest bird sanctuary in the Rhône-Alpes region. There, you can watch a great lot of remarkable species (birds, animals, plants and insects).


The site originally included grassland interspersed with small wooded places. Pastures kept other spaces open. The banks of the Loire consisted of a number of gravel areas and secondary channels (the Gourds) more or less connected to the river.

Industrial gravel extraction started in 1954 and ended in 1991, removing about 4m of silt and causing serious damage on the natural flow of the river and its hydraulic properties:
- destruction of natural environment,
- irreversible disappearance of important sediment deposits necessary to the balance of the river,
- creation of artificial environment,
- lowering of the river level.



1987: the FRAPNA (the Rhône-Alpes Federation for the Protection of Nature) bought an 11 ha former gravel extraction site in Chambéon in order to restore nature, rebuild the lost biodiversity and develop activities for discovering nature. Three other gravel plants gave 150 ha of land to the FRAPNA Loire.

1990: This fantastic initiative was made possible through a CAE program (Community Actions for the Environment) and a European LIFE project (the European Union's Financial Instrument for the Environment). Thus, the Ecopole became the core of a much larger area, the "Ecozone of the Loire", to rehabilitate and preserve water systems.

Since then, the FRAPNA has extended the site on more than 17 km along the Loire River, covering 506 ha. The alluvial forest has since recolonized some of the older abandoned sections. The river has also now been allowed to gain access to the former gravel pits, thus regenerating the ecosystem.

1993: The Nef, observation and visitors centre, opened to the public. The plant Morillon-Corvol (now Cemex), offered land for the site.

1994: The FRAPNA Loire reintroduced beavers as the two dams at Grangent (upstream) and Villerest (downstream) forbid their natural return.
Buying additional land and developing facilities went on:
- creation of an educational swamp,
- development of an interpretative trail,
- construction of the Ruche, a 70m2 building intended for workshops and classes.

2007: Inauguration of a new pedestrian trail from Feurs to the Ecopole. More educational and tourist programs were also adapted and developed.