The Great Causses

Geographic location :

The Great Causses extend to the south of the department of Aveyron, in Lozère, Gard and a small part of Hérault. The Great Causses is an appellation which designates a set of more or less vast limestone highlands with reliefs modeled by puechs and valleys interspersed with ravines, valleys and gorges located to the south of the Massif Central. They rise from 700 to 1,200 m above sea level and are therefore part of the mountain level. It is a middle of limestone middle mountain.

A Causse is a strongly eroded karstic plateau characteristic of the sedimentary halos of the south and west of the French Massif Central and whose inhabitants are called caussenards. This orographic toponym, in the agrarian and landscape sense, comes from Occitan.

The foothills of the causses can be surrounded by deep gorges (Tarn, Dourbie, Lot, Jonte, etc.) as well as wide open valleys welcoming the towns of Millau, Saint-Affrique, Sévérac-le-Château, towns like that of Roquefort- sur-Soulzon where the cellars used to refine the cheeses of the same name are located.

Great Causses Regional Natural Park :

The Great Causses Regional Nature Park is a regional natural park created in 1995 which extends over 93 municipalities in the northeast of the Occitanie region, in the northeast and south of the department of Aveyron. Covering an area of 327,935 ha, it is the third largest park in France after that of the Volcanoes of Auvergne and that of Corsica. The Grands Causses regional natural park presents a mosaic of different landscapes.
The Great Causses Regional Nature Park adjoins the Cévennes National Park.

Composition of the Great Causses :

The Great Causses are mainly composed of :

  • the causse Comtal (Aveyron),
    The Causse Comtal is a French limestone plateau located in the center-south of the Massif Central, a subset of the Great Causses. Located north of Rodez, in the Aveyron department, it is approximately in the triangle formed by Rodez to the south, Bozouls before Marcillac-Vallon to the west. Its northern limit is marked by Muret-le-Château.
  • the causse of Sévérac (Aveyron et Lozère),
    The Causse de Sévérac is a French limestone plateau located in the center-south of the Massif Central. It is part of the Great Causses and the Great Causses regional natural park. It owes its name to the town of Sévérac-le-Château (Aveyron) around which it extends.
  • the causse of Sauveterre (Lozère),
    The Causse de Sauveterre is a French limestone plateau forming part of the Great Causses. Surrounded to the north by the Lot valley (200 to 400 m deep), the causse dominates the Tarn gorges for 60 km to the south by 500 m. Its area is around 60,000 ha.
  • the causse Méjean (Lozère),
    The Causse Méjean is a vast French limestone plateau that is part of the Great Causses. It is the highest of the Caussenards plateaus with an altitude varying from 800 m to 1,247 m at Mount Gargo. Its surface area approaches 340 km2 (34,000 hectares). The causse Méjean is entirely included in the perimeter of the Causses and Cévennes site, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List on June 29, 2011.
  • the causse Noir (Aveyron, Gard et Lozère),
    The Causse Noir or Montagne Noire, which covers 200 km2, is the smallest of the Great Causses. It adjoins the crystalline massif of the Cévennes to the east and overlooks the town of Millau to the west. It is part of the Causses and Cévennes territory listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • the causse Rouge (Aveyron),
    The Causse Rouge is a small French limestone plateau located to the south of the Massif Central. It is part of the Great Causses; it owes its name to the color of its topsoil. Its altitude varies from 333 m at the confluence of the Muse and the Tarn to 884 m at the top of Puech d'Andan.
  • the causse of Larzac (Aveyron, Gard et Hérault),
    The Causse of Larzac stretches between Millau (Aveyron) and Lodève (Hérault) to the south of the Massif Central. It is a vast limestone plateau dating from the Jurassic era, Its altitude is between 600 meters and 1,060 meters approximately. The whole (relief, architecture, land use) is original enough to have prompted the creation of the Grands Causses Regional Natural Park and to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011. The site is famous for having been the start of a civil disobedience movement in the 1970s, the Larzac struggle.
  • the causse of Blandas (Gard),
    The Causse of Blandas is a karst plateau located in Languedoc-Roussillon in the Gard department. It is bordered to the north by the Arre valley and the Cévennes massif, to the west to the south and to the east by the gorges of the Vis and the Causse of Larzac. The entire Causse of Blandas is included in the Causses and Cévennes perimeter, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2011.

Rivers and streams watering the Great Causses:

  • The Tarn and its main tributaries La Jonte, Dourbie and Cernon,
  • The Aveyron and its tributaries the Viaur and the Serre,
  • The Lot north of the park.

Heritage of the Causses :

Traditional houses and farmhouses built with limestone rubble from the clapas and sometimes some oak purlins, rare at the time on the causses.

  • The omnipresent stone vaults and arcades.
  • The "jasses" kinds of sheepfolds found near farms or isolated on pastures. The course jasses also served as shelters for the shepherd and his animals during the night, or when the climatic conditions, which can change suddenly in these highlands, required it..
  • The "lavognes" (lavanhas in Occitan rouergat), conical ponds built on a clay carpet intended to collect and store rainwater to quench the thirst of the herds.
  • Threshing floors, large flat surfaces that can be found in front of farms in the villages and hamlets of the Great Causses, where the wheat is threshed. Once the harvest is finished, the work is still far from being completed for the peasant: he must carry the sheaves to the threshing floor to separate the kernels from the ear. They are installed in a place in the sun so that the heat and drought allow the ears to burst.
  • Shepherd's "caselles" are a sort of small dry stone hut, most often of rounded and vaulted shape, particularly abundant on the Causse Rouge.
  • The dolmens.

The Millau viaduct, a major site in Midi-Pyrénées, is a work of art that allows the A75 motorway to link the Causse Rouge to the Causse of Larzac, in 2010 it kept the world record for a bridge.

Economy :

The ewes, companions of Man for millennia, are perfectly adapted to the arid climate and the sparse vegetation of these high plateaus, the agrarian areas culturally devoted to pastoralism are mainly intended for extensive dairy farming.

  • The Lacaune breed dairy ewes whose renneted milk gives roquefort raw milk cheeses, which has benefited from a Controlled Designation of Origin (AOC) since 1925 and a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) since 1996. This milk of high quality sheep is also used in the manufacture of Pérail.
  • To a lesser extent in cattle (AOC AOP bleu des causses) and goats (AOC AOP pélardon and rocamadour).

In the Great Causses, sheep breeders used scavenger birds until around 1945, when they disappeared from the region. Today after their reintroduction, the positive role of vultures in the elimination of sheep cadavers is once again a reality for Caussenard breeders.
Extensive breeding for meat is also present everywhere with a production of sheep and cattle grazes.

Fauna and flora of the park :

Several territorial fractions of the Great Causses are classified Natura 2000 (around 19 sites) . Some are particularly concerned with the conservation of rare birds, such as vultures, harriers, and the Red-billed ChoughRed-billed Chough

Deer, wild boar, roe deer live throughout this territory. Many Black Kite and other birds of prey (Long-eared Owl, owls, hawks) are present on the Causses.

The first griffon vultures were reintroduced in 1981, it nests in colonies in the Gorges du Tarn, Jonte and Dourbie. Monk vultures were reintroduced between 1992 and 2004. Vultures are birds protected throughout Europe thanks to the Birds Directive of 1975.

The dry lawns of the Causses are home to a very diverse flora (including many orchids) as well as a large number of endemic species. The vegetation adapts both to the harshness of the climate (very cold in winter and very hot in summer), and to the poor soil.

World Heritage listing :

registration Unesco

In 2011, 22 communes of the Park, forming part of the Les Causses et les Cévennes site, were distinguished by UNESCO, recognizing their exceptional universal value as “cultural landscapes of Mediterranean agro-pastoralism” allowing their inclusion on the Heritage List. World of Humanity. This recognition confirms the value of an exceptional site whose landscapes have been shaped by the hand of man for millennia.