LES LANDES DE GASCOGNE From 1842
1 - Dunes of the waterfront.
2 - Second lines.
3 - A-forested dunes.
Nowadays, it is common to believe that in a close future more than 60% of the population will live in the city. Therefore, the whole earth is transforming very fast. Global resources and natural environment are shrinking. Since now some decades, we are aware of how damaging we can be for the natural balance of the earth, but we are still getting closer, faster and faster, to its ultimate carrying capacity (Meadows, Meadows, Randers & Behrens; 1972). Which role forest urbanism can take in this context? By analysing a particular project of a-forestation“Les Landes de Gascogne”, which is the biggest planted forest ever done in Western Europe, this text will try to find out possible collaboration between logging and environment protection.
“Les Landes” is first of all a productive forest, but also a complex ecosystem rich of different landscapes. Starting from the cost towards the hinterland these landscapes are made up of specific plants:
Human intelligence, which turns often out destroying our environment, shows finally in this place a beneficial and conservative outlook. Here in the Landes de Gascogne, men are looking forwards to create new life and huge resources for the society over the arid sand. So how not to enjoy being inside the plantation of Bremontier, and do not wish success to this wonderful initiative!
M. de Saint Amans, Voyage agricole, botanique et pittoresque dans une partie des landes de lot et Garonne et de celles de Gironde, 1812
Along the cost, on top of the first dunes, there are several types of Ammophila (European marram grass) and some Calystegia soldanella (Morning glory). They both have a very deep net of roots allowing them to resist against the strong salty wind and fixing the dunes. (1) Behind this first line, still on the sand soil, Helichysum stoechas (immortelle) and already some Pinus pinaster (maritime pines) can grow. (2) Then, another line of dune has
4 - Wet Lande.
been partially a-forested to maintain the coastline. Bushes and grass like Cytisophyllum sessilifolium (Broom), Ulex europaeus (common gorse), Erica cinerea (bell heather) Pteridium aquilinum (common bracken) have been planted; as well as some small trees like Arbustus unedo (Strawberry tree), Quercus robur (pedunculate oak), Quercus ilex (holm oak) and Quercus suber (cork oak). (3) Afterwards, in the plains we can identify 3 different natural environments: The wet “Lande”: Characterized by the abundant presence of puddles and marshes during the rainy period, but dry during summer. In this sporadic wetland, the vegetation is mainly made up of Molinia caerulea (purple moor grass), Ulex minor (Dwarf furze), Erica tetralix ( cross-leaved heath)
5 - Mesophilic Lande.
and Erica ciliaris ( Dorset heath). (4) The mesophilic “Lande”: In the undergrowth of the pine forest, the soil is dryer. Apart the pinus pinaster (maritime pine) that has been planted, here the vegetation is composed by: Pteridium aquilinum (common bracken) Ulex europaeus (gorse), Cytisus scoparius (common broom), Calluna vulgaris (common heather), Erica cinerea (bell heather) and Helianthemum (sunrose). (5) The very wet “Lande”: In some specific places, the soil is always saturated in water creating a marshland. There, rare species can grow. For instance, there are Drosera (Sundew) that is a carnivore plant and Osmunda regalis (royal fern). There are both protected plants, just as this very particular landscape. (6)
6 - Drosera in the very wet Lande.
2. Fauna The forest is a biodiversity reserve because of its dense vegetation but also because of the wildlife habitat it can provide. Deer, roe deer, wild boar, fox, badger, weasel, squirrel, hedgehog, hare and rabbit fill the undergrowth. Many birds and insects of all kinds also live in the forest, just as mushroom and fungus. So all this organic life create a complex and sensitive eco system. Even if “Les Landes de Gascogne” is first of all a productive forest, biodiversity and landscape conservation is an important concern.
A -forested dunes
strategic infrastructure through the forest and the dunes towards the beach village or bourg in Airial lacustrian station in the forest Wet land
lacustre landscape of dunes
wet land at the border of the forest.
pedestrian acces to the beach and the seaside resort through the dunes. seaside resort back to the dunes, in the forest
7 - Morphology of the littoral and behind the plaine.
very permeable sand layer, there is a layer of clay, which is totally impermeable. (8) The water table is in that case very close to the surface. The topography almost flat creates water basins in the small hollows and the surface water doesn’t flow easily creating a characteristic type of wetland called “La Lande”. This landscape was impracticable and difficult to cultivate. The stagnant water also attracted huge amongst of mosquitos and other insects bringing serous diseases like Malaria.
3. Geography: “Les Landes de Gascogne” a territory of Sand and water. More than 200 years ago, on top of the dunes along the Atlantic French cost no organic life was able to resist against the strong salty wind coming from the Atlantic ocean. The sand kept moving very fast, sometimes up to 40 m in one year displacing the cost line continuously. Furthermore, in the huge plains of the hinterland, rivers and ditches were draining away the water far too slowly in regard to the abundant rains of the wintertime. So, the sandy soil reached easily its saturation point. This is also because of the geology and the topography of this place (7) Not so far under the
9 - Photograph of the local population and practices before the a-forestation.
Because of this difficult natural environment, few people was living in this region and the local population was seeing like kind of savage staying in isolated farms without any supply. most of the time, locals were making profit from sheep farming. Mostly during summertime, the Landes
8 - Geologic map and section of Les Landes de Gascogne.
rich in grass like purple moor grass were used as pastureland. Shepherds were obliged to use stilts to cross the marshland. (9) Since the 18th century, several attempts to improve this region and make profit from the land have been done. A swiss banker tried to establish a pine plantation in the village of Alleghe in 1700 and then in 1760 in Buch, without any success. It is the engineer Bremontier who made the first serious proposals of a-forestation in 1780, and then trials were conducted around 1787. But these attempts have met the resistance of local shepherds claiming for their right of passage and free grazing on the whole plain (10). Then, again several projects of development have been proposed but it is finally in 1849 that big works started thanks
to the creation of an imperial domain. At this time, engineer Chambrelent ran the a-forestation project.
10 -Illustration of the vernacular landscape.
The 28th of april 1857, new economic and social ideas of Napoleon III led to a law about clean up operations and drainage of â€œLes Landes de Gascogneâ€? in order to develop farming and pine plantations. This came reinforced by the law of 28th of July 1860 about the development of marshes and uncultivated land belonging to the municipalities of the region Aquitaine. Despite some resistance, most of them have been robed of their public spaces. The result was the definitive suppression of the secular tradition of free-range flocks and so the disappearance of the traditional lifestyle of the local population in favour of a new economy, the logging.
4. Society: Napoleon III Policy against pauperism and his experiment in Solferino.
parallel ditches separated by an embankment planted with oak, chestnut, acacia and plane trees (11). Nine collective farms were built, each one with different purpose concerning innovative agricultural production as well as livestock farming. For instance, even a cotton plantation has been tested in one of these farms. 26 cottages for workers and craftsman houses has been also realised in a new village named Solferino in 1863, in honour to the French victory in Italy. (12) 11 - Map of Solferino as it has been planed.
The agricultural policy of Napoleon II is very little known even if it has been very successful and has participated to shape a strong rural identity in France still visible today. The result of this policy is the acquisition of large domains and their exemplary development. In 1844, while Napoleon is jailed in «fort de Ham» because of his attempt of coup d’état in Boulogne, he write a famous book «de l’extinction du pauperisme». Book in which he claims that there are more that 9 millions hectares of uncultivated land in France, which could be made available to poor families with the construction of collective farms. In the region of “Les Landes de Gascogne” he bought in 1857, 7400 ha of uncultivated land to several municipalities. The worst he could find in order to get a persuasive example. Then, this domain were bounded by 89km of fences formed by two
The first step for this project was the construction of 200 km of canals and drainage ditches most of the time following the slopes of the micro topography. Then, the railway company of
Midi is given responsible of the construction of the whole transport network. Railways, roads firewalls and pedestrian paths follow often the ditches. The forest had to occupy the first place, planted especially with maritime pine, but hardwoods like oak and cork oak are also tested. Two nurseries of 2 ha each are established in 1858 containing together more than 500 000 plants and multiple horticultural species. Regarding the urban pattern of the new settlement, it is almost organized as a military base. The 14 exemplary collective farms are settled along the railway, their shapes in U provide a central common courtyard with a pond at its center. (13/14) Only the
12 - Organisation of the land, the farms and the cottages.
13 - Map of the farm “La serre”.
14 - Map of the farm “De pouy”.
12 - Recent photograph of the cottages.
central part of the farm has one floor to stock the hay and the rest is divided in stable, cowshed and sheepfold. Each one owns a small garden, 15 to 49 ha for a specific experimental farming, 500 to 600 ha of pine plantation, 2 harness of bullock, 12 cows and around 300 ewes. The town hall located at the center of the village is decorated with acanthi leaves. In 1890, the new village represent more than 350 ha of fields inside planted forest of 6500 ha. The families of the workers and the craftsmen live outside of the farms in small houses called cottages all located in the city centre and organised along 5 streets. (15) There are also 4 other streets outside of the main urbanisation
where the cottages are bigger built for two families. Each cottage owned a small garden and almost 2 ha of land that the workerâ€™s family could farm for their own or to make profit. The workers were not paying rent to live there but they had to work 75-days/ year for the imperial domain and could become landlord of their cottage after 10 year. The small village had a train station and a church. Its population grew during 100 year but the village always stayed very isolated. Nowadays, most of the farm are ruined, but we can still see 8 of them: The farm of Taston is now a guesthouse, two other farms became hunting lodge and the
farm du Pouy is the only one that has been conserved has it was 150 years ago. Henceforth, this farm own by a bourgeois family has been ranked as national patrimony and will become a charming hotel. The others have been retrofitted and are linked to farming and the sylviculture. (16)
16 - Satellite picture of Solferino today.
T45/50 noble wood for construction and furnitures.
T30 partial cutting for the pulpwood industry and some elements for construction.
T15 partial cutting for the pulpwood industry
17 - The cycle of pine’s wood.
5. Economy: The pine forest as a productive landscape support of several economic activities.
maritime pine grows quickly and well. At 45 years old, it can reach 30 m in height and 40 cm in diameter.
Native from southern Europe and north Africa, the maritime pine was already naturally present in France, particularly the region around the Mediterranean sea but also along the Atlantic cost. Before this massive plantation program: its presence is already noted at around 1650, on the mounds on wetlands (Cassini map). It has been selected then for the a-forestation process of “Les landes de Gascogne” during the XIXth century for despite the prevailing winds from the sea, the poverty of this sandy soil, wet winter and very dry summer,
Planted in order to protect against the sand dunes and then to clean up the marshy moorland, the Landes forest soon became an economic issue. From the reign of Napoleon III to the early twentieth century, the resin extraction is the main activity in the forest. It consists to collect the resin bleeding from the pine. This resin was necessary to produce caulk for wooden ships and maintain ropes. Afterwards, candles resin replaced gradually the smoky torches. And then turpentine, which is extracted from the resin, was used as raw material for the manufacture of
Also called Pine Bordeaux or Pin Corte, its botanical name Pinus pinaster what means wild Pine.
several chemicals products (paint, varnish, etc...). The XXth century saw a turning point for the Forest, with the abandonment of the resin extraction resource for the wood resource. At the beginning of the 20’s, pine’s trunks are used as supporting posts in the mines of France and England. Then, the first chimneys emerge between the trees… The paper mill “Les papeteries de Gascogne” is created in Alleghe in 1923, followed closely by an industry of Pine’s cellulose opened in 1924. After 1950, the collapse of the mining companies causes irreversible decline of the post industry and this activity represent not now only 0.5% of the production of maritime pine wood. (17) In 2011, pulpwood production (paper, cardboard and cellulose)
18 - Photograph of the canopy.
is approximately 52% of the volume of wood produced in the Aquitaine region. This activity allows the use of young trees and waste from sawmills. The finest trees are kept for noble purpose: They will become packaging or storage pallets, flooring, panelling and mouldings, frames and sometimes furniture. They are also useful for the wine industry important in the region. Pine’s wood could be transform in stakes, boxes…
6. Economy: New practices.
a value of 250 to 350 trees per hectare at the moment of the final cut.
During the last century, sylviculture has changed. Today, foresters realise most of the handling, from putting the young plants to cutting the old trees. To help the development of young pines, the soil is drained and cleaned of grass and bush. Before installing in winter the seeds (2030%, mainly on the dunes) or the seedlings (70 to 80%), fertilizers are used while planting, to bring a supplement of phosphate. They accelerate the growth of young pines on the sandy soil poor in minerals and organic matter. After planting, most of the care of the pine forest is to decrease gradually every 5-6 years, the number of trees. From 2500 trees planted per hectare, it reaches
Clear cutting are done when all the trees of one plantation are in the same aged, while thinning out each 5 year allows removing diseased trees, sicklier or more twisted. As well the stronger pines are better quality. Between 35 and 45 years, they are slaughtered, ready to start their second life of wood, clearing the way for future planting. So, local authorities are more and more in charge of logging. Silviculture is not anymore such profitable and the paper industry is shrinking too. Moreover, after the drama of 2009 when 40% of the pines in the forest have been uprooted by a storm, most of the small private owners had to sold out their exploitation. It seems that the forest is now looking for the beginning of a new cycle.(18)
19 - Photograph of the cost and the forest after a storm in 1999.
7. Biology: From economic concerns to environmental management. We have seen that this a-forestation project has been done and maintained over the years thanks to its profitability. Nowadays, environmental concerns are taking more and more seriously and become an important factor to integrated into the economic balance. Thus, starting in the 50s, the first massive scientific research conducted by INRA (National Institute for Agronomic Research) on maritime pine intended to increase the quantity and quality of the wood, by on one hand, adapting farming practices but also by setting up a breeding
program that involved crossing control to obtain improved trees (15 to 30% increase in volume and straightness of the trunks). We arrive now to the third generation of these genetically modified trees in the forest and the wood quality is similar to the Nordic one able to be used in construction after 50 years. Currently, all the research on maritime pines and about the forest ecosystems in â€œLes Landes de Gascogneâ€? addresses not only the issues linked to production, but also the ecological ones, in order to provide guidelines for sustainable management of planted forests. The impact of such a big forest in the global changes is more and more capital (rising temperatures, CO2 caption, droughts, extreme weather events management such as storms from 1999 to
2009 or 2003 heat wave, land use change, biological invasions) are at the center of research since the 90â€™s. It will change the role of a-forestation processes and forest management at a large scale. More specifically, the importance in the future of maritime pine depends mainly of its plasticity, that is to say its ability to adapt in response to environmental changes, as well as its intrinsic adaptive capacities determined by its genetic heritage. The INRA laboratories are working to determine its ability to maintain carbon fixation and growth in response to changes both in the a-biotic environment (climate, soil) and biotic (other species). To understand the impact of drought and heat wave, researchers study the resistance to cavitation which quantifies the
20 - Satellite picture of the cost and the forest today.
malfunction of water transport in the tree. The health risks are studied to evaluate and improve its resistance to pests such as the processionary caterpillar or the pinewood nematode, a pest from North accidentally imported by man and which could undermine the forest. His future has already been put to the test by two storms and The Klaus storm in 2009 has ruined ha of reseach. The assessments made by the researchers and forest indicate that 14 and 36% of the volume of standing timber were lost in 1999 and 2009 (19). To minimize the risks associated with wind, research evaluating the roots of pine and test new devices plantations. Ensure the sustainability of the ecosystem is important from an economic point of view in France, but also ecological wood
industry, just as it would prevent the transformation of the pine forest into agricultural or urban areas that would bring strong management problems related to water (pumping, drainage) and more carbon release. (20)
failures, emerging issues and to identify potential development. This prospective responds both to a request for support ahead of public decisions and to reflect on the regional adaptation to global climate change.
From the point of view of urban planning, INRA in collaboration with region Aquitaine has published in 2012 the : “Le massif des Landes à l’horizon 2050, étude prospective.”
Again this forest represent an incredible reservoir of green space important to preserv in the future.
This work aims to build a vision towards 2050 about the evolution of the forest des Landes de Gascogne by using french scenarios. These scenarios consider a plurality of possible futures of the forest and wood industry while including them into the territorial features. The goal is to anticipate potential
This prospective study states 4 scenarios 1- Oportunity and stand idly by. 2- Atractivity and quality. 3- Great region, metropole and autosuficiency. 4- Mosaic and diversity. They all try to bring a possible vision of the evolution.
21 - Realised project of private house in Le cap feret Lacaton et Vassal 1998
8. Urbanism: A place of tourism and the organisation of the territory. The region of “Les Landes de Gascogne” is a popular destination during summer mainly because of 265 km of fine sandy beach and 22 seaside resorts. The region Aquitaine is the 4th touristic region in France behind: Ile de france, Provence alpes cote d’azur and Languedoc roussillon. In this place, tourism yields around 4,6 billions euro each year and provide 48 600 jobs (34 500 in january, 72 400 in august) while the forest produces around 2,6 billions euro and employs 35 000 people. So the region is a place of massive tourism but the typical landscape of les Landes de Gascongne, with
Some data: 3 258 176 inhabitants density 79 hab/ km2 (national rate 118hab/ km2) Pib 26 710€ / habitant. 3 airports, 5 high way conections, 1 high speed train line till Bordeaux and 265 km of cost line. 4,6 billions euros of benefit from tourism each year. 45% camping from one side the ocean and the other the forest as far as the eye can see, attracts a specific type of tourism. Radically different from the Mediterranean cost, the urbanization hardly ever arrives to the seafront preserved by the dunes. The area is very attractive for people looking after nature and open space activities. (21) Thus far, the small cities along
the cost haven’t expended so much since the mid XX. A long bicycle path goes right though the 265 km of coastline. (22) This path is included inside a longer cycle way named Veloodysee going from England towards Portugal, which represents 1400 km of bicycle path including 80% of green roads (not share with cars). In the region Aquitaine 65 % of the accommodations are camping’s and open air structures most of the time located in the undergrowth of the forest close to the cost. So, quite unique situation, the landscape is the fundamental component in the area, the natural features determined the urban patterns, just as the type of activities and tourism. The canopy provides shadow over the camps and structures the public spaces while the dunes are part of the cultural landscape.
22 - Recent photograph of the bicycle path through the forest.
9. Several situation and typology are present in the forest. We can classify it in 4 types. 1- Costal city: Like the case of Soulac sur mer at the north or Biarritz at the south of the forest, some cities come to interrupt the forest. (23) 2- Inclusion of unban pattern into the traditional plot system of the forest:
23 - Satellite picture of Soulac sur mer.
Most of the seaside resorts along the cost are inscribed inside the plot system coming from the division that has been done at the beginning of the forest. Most of the time in that case, the urbanisation is more a touristic infrastructure than a city. (24) 3- Dispersion inside the forest: It is the first typology of the area that remains in some places. Isolated farms or small group of houses are dispersed inside the forest. A variation of this typology is present in Cap Feret, the place where the most luxurious holiday houses are present. In this area, the neighbourhood is included inside the â€œwildâ€? pine forest. Here the pines have been planted but are not productive anymore. Also the architectural typology respect and take advantage of the forest. (25)
24 - Satellite picture of Mimizan.
25 - Satellite picture of Le Cap FerĂŞt.
4- Filament along the few infrastructures: Few infrastructures cross the forest and instead of one highway, most of them are quite small road and local train lines. In some specific places along the infrastructure, we can identify some linear urbanisation, which is not so current on the French territory. (26) 26 - Satellite picture of suburbs around Arcachon.
10. Urban Issue and conclusion: The cost is still moving:
Soulac sur mer a small city along the cost, north to the forest has been an important place during La belle ĂŠpoque famous for the baths tradition, imported from England. At this time, luxurious villas have been built there as in over place along the atlantic cost with a particular style very close to the colonial villas. Nowadays, Soulac sur mer is still an important touristic city but also the place where the cost move back the most, around 8 m/year. This year, because of one single exceptional tide the cost has moved back a lot, around 5m in one night. Then the municipality decided to build a new dyke made in stones to break the waves and protect the cost but it is just a question of time before the sea take over also the stones. Since 1990, the ocean in that place has removed 1 million m3 of sand. Last winter, sea has won 10m on the land only in 6 months. The a-forestation of the dunes and the plantations in the hinterland are not enough against the storm stronger and stronger. Even building wall made in wooden piles or rocky dykes cannot stop the process of erosion. So what is the next step? Will the local and national authorities undertake new great projects to fix the cost and save the cities?
27 - Aerial photograph of Soulac sur mer in 1979.
28 - Photograph of Soulac sur mer in 2013, view of the building the signal and a blockos from the WWII.
The forest of les Landes de gascogne has been a successful a-forestation project and is now a very pleasant place to live. It could be the occasion to test new type of urban design and planning to challenge many issues all countries are facing now, climate change, massive tourism and environmental protection for instance. 29 - Photograph of Soulac sur mer in 2013, view on bungalows.
Paper about human settlements inside a 100% productive planted forest in France.