Located in the heart of the Ardennes massif, between the Rocroi plateau and the Meuse valley, the Lac des Vieilles-Forges has been protected for many years due to its inclusion in several environmental protection areas: Ardennes Regional Natural Park, type 1 ZNIEFF (Natural Zone of Ecological Interest, Fauna and Flora), Natura 2000 site – Plateau Ardennais ZPS (Special Protection Area) and ZICO (Important Area for Bird Conservation).
The artificial oligotrophic lake occupies the bottom of a valley. It is supplied by numerous streams (Faux, Pont Gilles, Fond de Falette, le Noir, Picarde and Prises Pierret streams) and springs (Fontaine aux Charmes, Fontaine aux Vives Rus, etc.). The particular ecological conditions of the area (acidic subsoil, harsh and rainy climate) allow native vegetation to grow, in a mosaic of small interlocking groups.
Many rare and/or protected plant species can be found on the site. Three are protected at regional level: hare’s-tail cottongrass and two ferns, the royal fern and the lemon-scented fern (very rare on plains). Seven are on the red list of threatened plants in Champagne-Ardenne: marsh cinquefoil, blunt-leaved pondweed, Alpine pondweed, meadow starwort, wood horsetail, blackcurrant and a carnivorous plant, common bladderwort.
The fauna offers all sorts of interest. The lake attracts many amphibians and reptiles, including the alpine newt and the common European viper, both of which feature on the red list of threatened species in France. They are also mentioned on the regional red list of amphibians and reptiles, along with the spotted salamander.
The site is also of great ornithological interest, hosting numerous birds attracted by its varied biotopes. More than 120 different species frequent the pond and the forest to feed, breed or rest. Some are rare on a national or regional level, others are in serious decline (seven species found here are on the red list of birds in Champagne-Ardenne).
The Maison du Parc Naturel Régional is also located a stone’s throw from the lake, next to the Musée de la Foret de Renwez: a museum focusing on memory, traditions, expertise and the environment. It is also a space for local activities, information and promotion of the region, and education on its cultural and natural heritage. The Maison du Parc, which opened in February 2020, is both a showcase for the region and its identity and a means of sharing park culture.
At the heart of a forest complex of nearly 1000 hectares, the Departmental Council owns a 66-hectare wooded area on the Vieilles-Forges site, mainly composed of conifers, whose management has been entrusted to the ONF (National Forest Department). Due to the severe impact caused by the spread of bark beetles, for several years there has been a special focus on the most affected areas in order to carry out sanitation cutting followed by the planting of new species, mixing deciduous and coniferous trees with a consideration of the nature and richness of the soil.