Less than a year after the Jungle camp was torn down, the once-ramshackle site is returning to nature.

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Former Jungle migrant camp site at Calais is returning to nature, and will become a bird sanctuary

Refugees and migrants living there were forced to leave last October and the makeshift village was torn down

Calais, France CNN  — 

Calais is changing fast. A year ago, the Jungle camp on the town’s outskirts was a bustling makeshift village packed with migrants and refugees.

Then its tumbledown shacks were torn down or set alight. The camp was closed and those living there were bussed to other parts of France, or sent home.

Today, where tents and shelters once stood, only grasses and scrubby bushes remain. The site is being turned into a sanctuary of a very different kind: one that offers refuge to migrating birds.

This site was once home to thousands of migrants and refugees hoping to reach the UK.

Lying directly on the path of birds making the lengthy journey to and from Africa, the site had long been earmarked for this project – the migrant crisis merely put the plan on hold, until now.

By October, a year after the Jungle’s demolition, visitors will be able to enjoy the wildlife here, from specially designed observation areas, close to one of France’s busiest ports.

Already, nature has taken over. Wild flowers and rare plants have sprung up in the sandy soil, and swallows have begun nesting in the field’s dunes.

The site had long been earmarked for a nature reserve, but the migrant crisis delayed the project.

“The swallows … come here to mate, and when it’s time to leave they’ll travel thousands of kilometers to get to Africa,” explains Loic Obled, the man overseeing the jungle’s transformation.

“It was such a shame to see in the media that Calais was always mentioned with the problem of migrants or unemployment,” Obled says. “We try to offer another way to think of Calais.”

READ MORE: Migrants left without shelter after fire

Monument to resilience

It is difficult, standing in the middle of this site which is gradually returning to nature, to believe that it was, until recently, a temporary town. Those who called it home may have been on the move, but a life of sorts existed there – with barbershops, restaurants and even a hotel.

The Jungle was a monument to the resilience of man. A strange sort of ruthless order reigned here, an economy was built, codes created.

But the smells of the backstreets of Kabul, where many of the camp’s former inhabitants had fled from, have vanished – as has the help the migrants received.

The dramatic pictures of the Jungle’s demolition marked the end of a headache that had blighted the northern French town for more than a decade: camps that grew from a desire to help those in need, then mushroomed into shantytowns that were a nightmare for both migrants and locals.

Before the Jungle, it was Sangatte, a Red Cross-run camp some 10km west along the coast from Calais. No sooner was one site cleared than another sprang up.

Migrants are continuing to arrive in Calais, despite the closure of the Jungle camp nine months ago.

This time around, the French government decided on a different, tougher approach. Its strategy now is to give migrants no help at all.

When France’s Interior Minister Gerard Collomb visited Calais in June, he explained “what we want most of all is that it doesn’t happen again … that’s why we don’t want a new center here because every time we’re built one, there was a call to migration.”

In June, the government won a court case against humanitarian groups who wanted somewhere to help the 600 or so migrants living rough on the streets of the town. The ruling means there will be no new Jungle, no new Sangatte.

READ MORE: Calais mayor bans food distribution

Migrants fearful, desperate

Instead, there is a strong police presence around Calais, while a few grassroots organizations do what they can to help. The organizations are only allowed to distribute much needed food, blankets and wi-fi from a small field in the middle of an industrial estate not far from the old Jungle site.

Migrants queue to receive food distributed by an NGO on an industrial estate in Calais.

A small army of volunteers works in a large hangar nearby to sort through donated clothes, cook meals and get the bare essentials to the distribution point.

But even here, in the one place they are allowed to gather, the migrants speak of heavy handed treatment by the authorities, which has created a climate of intimidation and fear.

A police officer chases a youth suspected of being a migrant in a lorry park on the outskirts of Calais.

Patrick, who left Guinea in West Africa to head north in 2014, arrived in Calais a week ago. He told CNN he has seen enough to know that he has to move on quickly.

“The police came and chased us away. They bothered us, they took our bags, they chased everyone away, they hit people, they beat them,” he says. “It’s pitiful. I thought in France everyone was equal, but the reality is that I see lots of racists in France.”

Patrick, 21, is living rough in Calais after the closure of the city's Jungle migrant and refugee camp.

“I didn’t think France was like this,” he says. “In England, everything will be better.”

READ MORE: How Europe is tightening refugee policies

Site returning to nature

For now, Patrick relies on the kindness of people like Sylvain de Saturne, who works part time for the aid organization “Help Refugees.”

As he walks through the distribution point near the former camp, sharing cigarettes and jokes with the migrants, de Saturne explains that the remaining migrants are the most desperate – those left with no money and no alternative but to brave these conditions in the hope of one day sneaking onto a truck headed across the Channel to France.

Sylvain de Saturne volunteers with the NGO Help Refugees in Calais.

The loss of the Jungle means “no roof at all, no toilets, no showers, no water points, nothing,” he adds. “The only food, the only water, electricity they can find is from our grassroots organization, so I believe we have only tired people, who really want to reach the UK.”

“The trouble is that the Jungle may be gone, but England is still just across the water.”

READ MORE: Life after the Jungle: One happy ending

The nationalities of those trying to make it across the Channel haven’t changed much: East Africans, a few West Africans, some Pakistanis and, still, many Afghans.

The name for the camp, the Jungle, was theirs. Over the years, it came to sound like a description of what life inside was like, but it was in fact, the Pashto word “Zanggal,” which means “woods” – a phrase the Afghans used to describe the place they were hiding.

Authorities hope the Jungle site will eventually look like this nature reserve at Oye-Plage, near Calais.

That place will soon be handed back to nature. What was once a camp for humans will soon be a pit stop for birds traveling the same routes.

But Loic Obled says visitors will be reminded of what went on here: It’s as important to understand the site’s human past is as it is to understand its ecological future.