CERN in "Nature"

CERN is nestled within a verdant natural environment which, thanks to a conservation-oriented policy, is characterized by a remarkable biodiversity. The continued protection of that diversity calls for thoughtful, carefully planned measures.


CERN’s site is an extensive one: its 650 hectares include 210 hectares of buildings, roadways and parking lots, 100 hectares of fenced-off green area, and 340 hectares of non-fenced land, a patchwork of fields, woods and pasture. This land teems with a great variety of plants and animals, including some rare and unexpected species. In 2009 CERN received a certificate from the Swiss foundation Nature & économie for the Meyrin site, and the award was renewed in 2012 for three more years.

“The green spaces inside the fenced area are tended by six ISS gardeners, whose duties also include keeping the sidewalks and footpaths clear of snow in winter. The Meyrin site also includes orchid sanctuaries, meadows and sheep pastures. Around twenty orchid areas have been identified (see the map below), covering approximately 3 hectares in all, making our site one of the richest in the entire canton, counting no fewer than 19 different species,” explains Mathieu Fontaine, who is in charge of managing the green spaces at CERN (GS Department).

CERN has been involved in efforts to protect and conserve natural habitats and the rural environment since the 1970s. Thus, an area of 260 hectares has been parcelled out for use by 15 different farmers, and herds of sheep are allowed to graze on its natural pastures (4 hectares of pasture on the Meyrin site and 22 on the Prévessin site). “The meadows and natural pastures are good for animals—insects, birds, small mammals and reptiles—and plants. So they are clearly a good thing in terms of preserving biodiversity,” underlines Mathieu Fontaine.  “Our woods are a home for red deer, roe deer and wild boar. We even have a resident herd of 13 fallow deer on the Prévessin site.”

In 1996 CERN signed a convention with the French forest authority, the Office national des forêts or ONF; the Convention, which was renewed in 2010, concerns the management and conservation of CERN’s woods and measures to protect and preserve the banks of the Lion stream. The woods belonging to CERN are home to many species of tree: oak, ash, wild cherry, hazel and hawthorn. The terms of the convention have been broadened to allow the ONF to start an inventory of the trees on the Prévessin site to determine the size, composition and state of health of the tree population.  Cut wood is provided to the Pays de Gex community of municipalities as biomass for power generation. CERN’s forests are among the last bastions of natural woodland in the Pays de Gex plain, so they are of particular significance in terms of conservation.

Concerns about safety on the site made it necessary to cut down those trees that had become a hazard. Two thirds of the trees in a dangerous state were cut down in two campaigns that ran from 2010 to 2013, and the remaining third will be cut down during the winter of 2013-14. Restoration work will begin within the next few weeks (depending on the weather), starting with the lots situated alongside the Bloch, Bakker and Salam roadways. Planting of trees, shrubs, grasses, perennials and so on will begin in the autumn, as will the construction of footpaths. The orchid sanctuaries will be preserved, and parcels will be set aside as lawns and meadows. All of this will contribute to a complete rethink of the approach to landscaping at CERN.

by CERN Bulletin