Nature & discoveries

The forest of Landes de Gascogne, a haven of serenity

We do not see through the deserted Landes,

True French Sahara, powdered with white sand,

Emerging dry grass and puddles of green water <

Other than the pine tree with its wound on its side,

(from Théophile Gautier’s poem Le Pin des Landes)

This poem written in 1840 testifies that the Landes pine was already present before Napoleon III imposed it to dry the swamps that covered a large part of our region.

In Aquitaine, the coastal dune stretches about 230 kilometers from Pointe de Grave to Biarritz.

 The forest of Ondres

The forest occupies a large part of the surface of the commune, essentially between the main road and the ocean. It is here that the first dune fixation projects began in the years 1804-1819 before the obligation of the municipalities to clean up their moors by planting maritime pines.

When you arrive at the Green Resort, you are immediately seduced by the environment of the cottages that seem to be protected by these beautiful pines with which they are a part. You are immediately caught by the scents of resin and undergrowth and you are lulled by the song of cicadas.

During your stay, you will not miss to discover the adjoining forest to reach the beach or for a simple walk. You will rejoice then of the varied flora which thrives in the undergrowth of which:

  • brooms recognizable by their yellow flowers, also called “broom broom” because it used its stems to make brooms
  • different heather that bloom from May to November depending on the species
  • strawberry trees
  • European gorse, thorny with yellow flowers
  • the bracken fern

The forest is also a place of life for many animals. If you are attentive, you will see jays, magpies, pheasants but you may hear the pounding of the woodpecker or the sound of the cuckoo. In spring, however, you will watch the colonies of processionary caterpillars along the trunks: they leave their big white nests perched in pine needles to bury themselves underground to turn into chrysalis and butterflies. The hairs that cover them, very light and very thin, are stinging and you should be careful when you see them.

If you are lucky, you may be able to flush a deer, although very fierce, or some squirrels.

A land of moors and sand

More than two hundred years ago, at the top of the same dune, facing the winds of the sea, nothing resisted. The sand was gaining on the ground with the gusts, until gaining 40 meters per year! The progression of the sands on the coast was not then the only concern of the inhabitants. On the vast interior plains, streams and rivers evacuated the abundant rains too slowly; In these stagnant waters, mosquitoes and other insects swarmed, bringing to men the fevers of malaria.

It is for these reasons that attempts were made in the eighteenth century to improve this environment while seeking to stop the advance of the dunes, but it will be necessary to wait a hundred years before the maritime pine prevails. master over more than a million hectares. This conifer had the advantage of resisting the prevailing and sometimes stormy winds from the sea, to accommodate the poverty of these sandy soils, to absorb the excess water and to grow rapidly. At 45, he could indeed reach 30 m in height and 40 cm in diameter.

The dunes of Aquitaine reveal a particular organization of the shoreline of bare sand, located full west, until the wooded dunes, in the east (see diagram). The beach gives way to the unwooded dunes or a mobile “white”, covered mainly with oyats that contribute to its fixation, and the “gray” dune fixed, populated with mosses, lichens and flowering plants (Immortelle des Sables ). Comes after the wooded dune, composed mainly of maritime pines, smaller and often inclined towards the lands: they play a protective role for the forest which succeeds it.

The rich and original flora that extends over these different spaces represents a great heritage value saved, so do not break the prohibitions to walk there to preserve it.

The dune forest of the coastal strip, formerly exploited for economic purposes, hosts a growing tourist development and the over-crowding obliges to the establishment of a rigorous management for the protection of these fragile territories.

The history of the Landes pine

In 1776, Guillaume Desbiey, a Landais of Soustons, already describes with precision the role that the maritime pine could play. The forest occupied only 2/3 of the territory of which only 1/3 in pine forest. We realize very quickly the resistance of gasoline to storms. In 1786, Intendant Dupré of Saint-Maur decided to use it for the afforestation of the dunes in order to fix them thanks to a credit granted by Nicolas Brémontier, Engineer of the Bridges and Roads and inspector general in Bordeaux then Arcachon.

Well before that time, from Bordeaux to Dax, through La Teste-de-Buch near Arcachon, many had understood that the exploitation of the resin was a significant manna. The choice of the maritime pine for the fixation of the dunes was therefore based on an economy in place for several centuries, as mentioned in particular in the historical collections.

It was not until the Second Empire and Napoleon III, lovers of the Basque-Landes littoral, that Jules CHAMBRELENT (1817-1893), famous engineer of the Corps des Ponts & Chaussées, had for mission to apply the Law of June 19, 1857 on “l ‘Remediation and afforestation of the communal moors’ by the plantation of maritime pines in the Grandes Landes. Settled in Bordeaux from 1848 to 1893, the latter had even bought a field of 500 hectares to experiment the techniques he advocated.

Golden Age

As a result, pine plantations are intensifying to the point of largely erasing other species. It is then “the golden age” for the Landes of Gascony, the exploitation of the forest reaches its peak. The gemmage can harvest the resin which is widely used after distilling for the manufacture of cleaning products, glues and varnishes or in the pharmaceutical industry. The wood is used in part for the construction of mine poles used for the development of electricity and telephone and that of railroad ties which has a remarkable growth for travel and transport of the material. The best quality woods, gemmés for many years, were intended for the production of carpentry and today you can still admire old half-timbered houses 150 years and more that are still standing proudly.

Let’s not forget the manufacture of pine woods of the Landes, as appreciated and sought for their hardness and robustness as for their beauty. Finally, the wood was used for the production of paneling, cladding and door frames and the manufacture of furniture, a tradition that has gradually disappeared in favor of other species of pine import.

From the 60s, the gemmage ceases little by little, the exploitation of the resin being largely distanced by the chemical industry which discovers the virtues of synthetic products often imported at low cost. This abandonment also leads to the extinction of many professions related to this activity.

This is followed by the introduction of mechano-culture, which displaces mule teams used for maintenance work on the forest, and which opens up other economic opportunities to increase the yield of the forest. Little by little, so-called natural plots, where regeneration of the species occurs naturally by sowing in a dispersed manner, disappear in favor of productivist ligniculture. This technique involves reforestation from plants of more robust species, often genetically modified to obtain a faster exploitation, and characterized by a stand in regular lines.

Unfortunately, the last two storms, Martin in 1999 and especially Klaus in 2009, which destroyed more than a quarter of the forest, showed that the yield did not go hand in hand with the resistance and there was an impressive destruction, including including young woods. 10 years later, the massif struggles to recover despite the intensive plan implemented to replant. It will take many years for the forest to recover all its charms.

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