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When heritage restoration protects amphibians

Discovery of Les Esclozes

This Saturday morning (May 2023), I took the road to Campan, a village next to Bagnères-de-Bigorre, where I had been given an appointment at the Carrefour des Patrimoines. I don't know much about the area because it is exactly in a white zone for us, just between two groups of lakes that we sample, the Marcadau Valley to the west and the Réverse de Néouvielle to the east. So I am very curious about what I am going to discover. I am welcomed by Pierre, who manages this museum of local traditions, where one can admire -- among other things -- a wool loom, all the utensils for making butter, a delicacy that once made Campan rich, very realistic models of heritage buildings, many everyday objects and old photographs that put all these elements into context.

On this rainy morning, only the bravest and most motivated are there! So much the better, the exchanges will be even more exciting. Several groups are formed, I get into the car with Didier, a real mine of information on the valley! We meet the others on the parking lot and, under the surveillance of a roe deer, we start walking towards the Courtaou des Esclozes. All around us, the summits are hidden by the clouds. First stop to look at the leytés. They are, Didier explains, stone niches crossed by the water of a canal built for the conservation of milk in the cool, very ingenious system of refrigeration (see photos below)! The use of the leytés was made possible thanks to an irrigation grid comprising horizontal gutters and vertical crossings feeding the leytés.

The second stop is to watch the amphibians splashing around in a pond between the stream and the mountain slope. The amphibians are mostly represented by tadpoles of red frogs, often the first to reproduce... but not only... Brigitte notices other individuals, which turn out to be webbed newts, at least one male and one female. Unfortunately, the male did not decide to start a seduction parade. I am surprised to find also some Alytes tadpoles hidden in the crowd, tadpoles from last year, how did they survive in this pond despite last year's drought? Not so surprising, Didier reveals, the restoration work of the place allows to keep the pond in water. A good example of heritage preservation that benefits the preservation of biodiversity! And I am not at the end of my surprises!

While we admire the amphibians, the rain has redoubled its efforts. We reach the Courtaou des Esclozes at 1300 meters of altitude where we can take shelter for lunch. But what is a courtaou ? It is a group of pastoral huts, there were 19 of them on this site, and a group of enthusiasts has restored one of them, with its water channel that runs along the mountain for a kilometer ! I have difficulty in imagining the construction site, so colossal does it seem to me! Didier leads me to his "tadpole breeding". Indeed, the tadpoles of the year are there in number. These tadpoles have taken up residence in a small arm of the gully, an arm crossing a large stone wall, which allows the tadpoles to take advantage of the sunshine outside or to take refuge in bad weather inside the shepherd's hut (photo), smart these Alytes!

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