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Interview with the association Les Blongios

  • Clio

Good morning, everyone,
Today we offer you an interview with the association Les Blongios, particularly with Florence Joly, for whom we made a donation of 1000 euros. Enjoy reading it!

Can you describe your association "Les Blongios"?

Les Blongios is an association that organises voluntary nature workcamps to preserve natural environments. It operates mainly in the Nord and Pas-de-Calais regions and a little further afield as well. These workcamps are open to everyone, without any particular conditions. The nature workcamps allow everyone to carry out a concrete action on its territory. The two main axes of the association are therefore the preservation of nature and citizen involvement. The association brings together more than 300 volunteers from all walks of life, accompanied by a salaried team of 4 people and guided by volunteer administrators.

How did you come up with the idea of creating an association on nature sites?

The association Les Blongios, la nature en chantiers was born in 1992 from the will of a small group of nature lovers from the Saint-Omer area. It was originally in the marshes of the Audomarois that these enthusiasts met to help the smallest of herons, the Little Bittern. Over time the actions have evolved and multiplied but the values and all the qualities of the nature sites have been preserved: respect, conviviality, trust.

To join the Bitterns is to inherit a bit of this human history and this state of mind where each one, taking the measure of his own responsibility, has the opportunity to act for the preservation of nature.

What does a nature site consist of?

A group of volunteers goes to a natural site to carry out restoration work on the natural environment. This can be the maintenance or creation of a pond, the mowing of a meadow, the reopening of a clearing.

There is no "boss" of a construction site. The site manager is present for the technical aspect: presentation of the objectives, and ecological issues, explanation of the work to be carried out. The logistical side is handled by one or more volunteers, the coordinators, who facilitate the implementation of the work site: they take registrations, organise car-pooling and manage meals. But they are neither group leaders nor animators. This is a particularity of Bittern's workcamps: self-management, where everyone takes their share of responsibility in the common functioning.

In the morning, the appointment is given to everyone on the site, with carpooling usually being set up between participants. After a presentation of the day's work and safety instructions for the handling of hand tools (no chainsaws or brushcutters on the sites!), everyone gets to work, always as far as they can. The time not worked is also important in the dynamics of the group. The sharing of meals and, during workcamps lasting several days, the evenings in gîtes, partly define the uniqueness of Bittern's workcamps: an opportunity both to take concrete action for nature and to share a moment of collective life.

Do you carry out nature projects all over France?

Depending on the partnerships we manage to establish, we can intervene everywhere! We organise workcamps in the Camargue, Normandy, Lorraine and the Basque Country. In the past, we have been to the Netherlands, England and Brittany. It's often relocated Bitterns who make the link in these territories!

How do you identify a medium to be renatured?

We work in partnership with the structures in charge of the management of natural sites, for example the Regional Natural Parks, the Conservatoire d'Espaces Naturels (CEN) or the local authorities. It is these structures that define management objectives, based on naturalist inventories, and draw up site management plans. Our nature sites take place within this framework. We are in permanent dialogue with our management partners on the programming of the workcamps, what can or cannot be done by volunteers, the seasonality of the actions, etc.

Do you work with other associations before carrying out the nature sites?

Some of our managing partners are themselves structured as associations, such as CENs or CPIEs (permanent centres for environmental initiatives). Then, depending on the territories, there are very dynamic associations which are relays of our actions and which mobilise their own volunteers on Bittern's workcamps. These are always richer moments of meeting and sharing.

With your experience and the different nature projects you have carried out, do you notice if there are some natural environments that are more denatured than others and therefore needed to be renatured?

Obviously, one cannot compare an intervention in a nature reserve to one in the Citadel of Lille. Each site has its own ecological problems and its own challenges: on one site, the manager may seek to preserve rarer species and more fragile environments, while on the other, we will find issues of nature preservation in the city with a biodiversity that we call "ordinary".

After a nature site has been completed, do you carry out monitoring to observe biodiversity regain its rights? If so, do you see a clear improvement, is it conclusive?

Whenever possible, we organize returns to the sites during the summer months. Most of the workcamps take place in autumn and winter, when nature is at rest. The follow-up of work sites allows on the one hand to see the site in full expression of fauna and flora and on the other hand to appreciate the result of the work carried out. In all cases, the manager carries out naturalist follow-ups and always informs us of the results observed. For example, recently, volunteers cleared a hillside to preserve the habitat of the Peliad Viper. The manager sent us the photos of the follow-ups, she observed a beautiful male Viper taking the sun! This kind of feedback is important for the volunteers, it reinforces the meaning of their action.

Since the creation of the association, you have broadened your field of action. Can you tell us more about your different missions?

Indeed, the heart of the activity is the volunteer workcamps, which I have been talking about since the beginning. These workcamps are open to everyone on the basis of free participation, people come spontaneously and have often already started thinking about environmental issues. Over the last ten years or so, the association has set up nature workcamps for other groups, more distant from these nature preservation issues. These group workcamps develop an educational approach that can meet objectives other than the preservation of natural environments: working in teams, re-appreciating social codes, respecting instructions, etc. These workcamps are aimed at various audiences: schools, social integration, medical, leisure, companies.

We also work with local authorities (communes or communities of communes) wishing to renature a site by involving the inhabitants and users of the site: we accompany them from the consultation to imagine the project to the realization of this project. This collective, citizen and concerted management enables us to encourage the involvement of everyone in the development of the area.

In the near future, what are your "big" nature projects that require manpower?

Volunteer workcamps are always looking for participants! We program about fifty of them per year, the dates are available on our website. Summer week workcamps in Normandy and the Camargue are a good way to change the air while being active for a great cause!

Do you need volunteers?

The association is centred on voluntary involvement. Through workcamps of course, but also in the life of the association. Volunteers can evolve between different ways of getting involved: participation in some workcamps (we call them "juvenile Bitterns"), taking charge of the coordination of workcamps (they are the "Second Winter Bitterns"), participation in working groups or even on the Board of Directors (they are the "Bitterns in bridal plumage"). Of course, this involvement evolves according to the life of each person, but there is always a strong attachment to the association: we regularly receive words and news from former volunteers (they are the "Bittern parents"!).

In fact, we always need good wills, whether on building sites or for community life. Volunteer projects that help to energize the network are essential. For example, a small group proposed last year to organize debates. These actions in parallel with the workcamps offer other moments to the volunteers, more focused on meetings and discussion that strengthen the Bittern "community".

If so, how can we join your association?

It's very simple, you have to come and do a construction site! We are available to present the actions and functioning of the association either directly at the office (5 rue Jules de Vicq in Lille), by mail (f.joly@lesblongios.fr) or by phone(03 20 53 98 85 or 06 76 29 86 94). Everybody is welcome, with the time, motivation and abilities that everyone has!

Thank you very much for responding to our exchange! For more information, please visit https://www.lesblongios.fr/
I'll see you soon,