On the ground with biodiversity at IMT Atlantique

Virtuous management of its campuses, partnerships with associations dedicated to the environment, inventory of fauna and flora... IMT Atlantique is taking the turn towards biodiversity. This initiative is in line with its policy of ecological and societal transformation.

Preserving species diversity and resources

Preservation of species diversity and resources was already one of the key institutional objectives laid out in the strategic plan, via IMT Atlantique's Ecological and Societal Transformation policy, presented in May 2021. It is now the subject of a partnership agreement signed in November 2022 with Bretagne vivante, an association that works to preserve the environment and biodiversity. At a time when the COP 15 in Montreal, dedicated to biodiversity, has just ended with an important international agreement, IMT Atlantique confirms its commitment to this subject.
"Until now, this theme has certainly been present in our research activities, but very little in our teaching or even in our day-to-day activities," explains Frédéric Pallu, head of economic and strategic development at the institution. However, in order to train responsible engineers who are capable of taking charge of the energy and environmental transition during their careers, we need to raise their awareness and give them the tools. This is why we turned to Bretagne Vivante, whose expertise in this area is widely recognized."

Biodiversity in the field

Priority to field observation

IMT Atlantique intends to rely on its three campuses, which will serve as privileged observation areas. The focus will mainly be on the Nantes and Brest campuses, which are fairly large (a dozen hectares each, including buildings) and far from city centres - unlike the Rennes campus. "We have to be attentive to everything we can observe on the ground," says Frédéric Pallu.

The first stage involved drawing up an inventory of the fauna, flora and natural areas. In March 2021, a "pre-inventory" of wild bees was carried out on the Nantes and Brest sites. It identified 52 species of bees, as well as numerous specimens of other invertebrates.
In the spring of 2022, Facilities & Services (DPSG) at IMT Atlantique put together a working group aimed at coordinating the various uses of the green spaces on the Nantes campus. The campus, on the banks of the Erdre, has several interesting areas. For example, there are many birds (about fifty species have been counted) and mammals (foxes, deer, wild boars, etc.). And the presence of ponds in winter concentrates biodiversity.

IMT Atlantique now intends to go further. An action plan that takes biodiversity into account was presented to the institution's Board of Governors in November 2022. "This is a strong commitment from the institution," underlines president Christophe Lerouge. IMT Atlantique is committed to respecting the Bretagne Vivante 'Regain' charter on its three campuses. This charter concerns green spaces: no use of pesticides, 'reasonable' mowing methods, inventories of insects and different botanical species, etc. Other possible actions include the creation of a 'steering and arbitration area' for biodiversity issues, and limiting the number of machine passes to avoid soil compaction. A permaculture vegetable garden, created a few years ago, will be maintained and perhaps developed - with the participation of students. Some areas, on the other hand, will be deliberately left fallow. There will also be 'hands-on' sessions for students. Biodiversity will be further integrated into the curriculum - both in the core curriculum and in optional courses - and into research carried out at IMT Atlantique.

A different approach to engineering

Bretagne Vivante is not IMT Atlantique's only partner in this approach: other partners include Gretia (Groupe d'étude des invertébrés armoricains), an entomological association that has written an initial report on the presence of wild bees on the Brest and Nantes campuses, and the LPO (Ligue pour la protection des oiseaux). IMT Atlantique's three campuses have been awarded the 'LPO refuge' label. The institution also collaborates with Oniris, the veterinary school in Nantes, with which it has signed an agreement on pollinating insects. And other establishments, such as the Ecole supérieure du bois, are interested in the approach.

Biodiversity in education

Counting insects, observing flora, rethinking the management of green spaces... "This may come as a surprise for a technological university like ours," admits Frédéric Pallu. "But the environment has long been one of our major themes, along with energy and digital technology. It is normal that the question of life, which for a long time remained in the blind spot of engineering courses (with the exception of agronomy schools), should now be fully integrated. We intend to remain in our core business, that of science and technology. But by crossing this scientific approach with climate change and biodiversity, it is possible to produce new knowledge. It is another way of doing engineering."

Published on 04.01.2023

by Pierre-Hervé VAILLANT