The Camargue

Geographical situation :

The Camargue is an area situated between both main arms the Rhone delta, In the East the big Rhône, on the West the small Rhône, this is a vast alluvial plain of more than 85 000 hectares. This area essentially lagustre, contains numerous swamps and Ponds, the best known being the Pond of Vaccarès. This one is located within a geographic triangle of the Cities of Arles to the North, Saintes Maries de la Mer in the west, and Port Saint Louis du Rhone in the east, these latter two being located on the Mediterranean coast. Much of the Camargue is part of the municipality of Arles, making it the largest municipality in France, the other party as part of the municipality of Saintes Maries de la Mer (second largest town metropolitan France). Life of the Camargue is inseparable from the Rhone and the Sea. However between 1942 and 1984, the Camargue lost about 35,000 hectares of wet zones. The Camargue remains however a wet zone of international importance, sheltering a world reserve of biosphere. She shares with the delta of the Danube and the Guadalquivir the title of wet zone the richest in Europe. The Camargue is registered at the "convention of Ramsar" since 1 December 1986; the Little Camargue is registered since January 8, 1996.

The Camargue is constituted ​​up of quite varied habitats that shape the landscape:

  • Landscape of ponds, marshes and brackish lagoons,
  • Sansouires landscapes, dunes and beaches,
  • Landscapes of ricefields and cultures.

The sansouire is situated on the lower and salty lands, this environment is largely flooded by rainwater in winter; in summer clay soil dries out and crackled for let appear whitish tasks of salt.

It's a secret territory, that it is rather difficult to discover at first sight. The numerous swamps roubines ponds, as well as very numerous fences, do not facilitate the approach of this territory. This is a very flat region, that does not offer a space in three dimensions as the mountain. Elevations do not exceed ten meters and do not promote the observation. However of numerous points of observations and path were fitted out for hikers.

The Camargue can be divided into four main areas:

  • The Plan de Bourg in the East, situated between big Rhone and plain of Crau.
  • The Camargue itself between the two arms of the Rhone.
  • The small Camargue in the southwest, situated between small Rhone and cities of Aigues Mortes and Grau du Roi.
  • The Camargue Gardoise in the northwest.

The Camargue is a part since 1970, the 46 regional parks that rely France. This park has an area of ​​84,800 hectares of land, and 34,300 on a sea, extends essentially over the municipalities of Arles and Saints Marie de la Mer, this is the vastest wet zone of France. These wetlands present an exceptional biodiversity.

The vegetation in the Camargue:

The Camargue is a subtle alchemy between fresh water and salt water, this region is in situation of flood in winter and of drought in Summer, what leads to the development of a very particular Flora. Indeed under the influence of the evaporation during the summer period, lands are sursalées, the salt goes back up on surface, the earth splits. On the most salty lands, the salicornia forms one particular landscape, " the sansouire ", green in spring and red in autumn. The tree which we meet most fréquenment in the Camargue is the Tamarisk. this is one of the few trees to withstand soil salinity.
The strong wind that is the "Mistral", also shapes the landscape of the Camargue, fallen trees and dunes.

Mosquitoes in Camargue :

There are 40 species of mosquitoes but only 10 species bite. Females recover in human blood proteins necessary for the maturation of eggs. The mosquito is annoying to humans but it is useful for many species: dragonflies, fish, swallows, bats ... that feed. It is therefore an indispensable link in the biodiversity of the Camargue.

The man and agriculture in the Camargue:

The main agricultural activity of the Camargue is the rice growing, the confinement of the Rhône, and means of irrigation developed , allowed to widen this culture over time. However on the 18,000 hectares of culture, only 1,000 hectares, are produced in biological culture. The Camargue Nature Park has set a goal of reaching 20% of ground, used in organic farming. The reduction of employs him of pesticides should apply for the 80% remaining, and allow to improve the ecological state of aquatic environments.

Other agricultural activities are essentially :

  • Breeding bulls (with an AOC), and horses,
    The essential purpose of the breeding of the bulls of the Camargue is to destine them to the Camargue race.
    The Meat with entitled to this appellation, are fresh meat of male and female cattle born, raised outdoor and slaughtered in a geographical area on a portion of the following departments : Bouches du Rhône , Gard , Herault. It is only at the end of the 90s when the meat of bull became one of the rare bovine meats benefiting from the Protected designation of origin. This breed has existed for a long time in the Camargue region : it is mentioned in writings dating back to the Roman times. She was raised in semi- wild fashion in herds without introducing exogenous blood. This suggests that it remained as it was there two thousand years. He wears a shiny black dress and lyre -shaped horns . The mucous membranes are dark. The Camargue bull is impressive but relatively light , 1.40 m on average for males and 1.20 m for females , 250 to 400 kg , and hence explains this ability at the camarguaise race.
  • Salt production with the "Salins du Midi",
    The exploitation of salt marshes is controlled by Compagnie des Salins du Midi des Salines de l'Est (CSME), the owner since 1969. It covers about 11,000 hectares, concentrated between the pond of Vaccarès and the Great Rhône, for an annual production of one million tons of salt. Sodium chloride collected remains vital for chemical raw material mainly used by those of Port-Saint-Louis and Fos-sur-Mer.
    Situated right in the heart of the Camargue, Salin de Giraud's salt marshes produce approximately 800.000 tons of salt a year,However this production is in the course of reduction and of reconversion.
  • The cultivation of reed called the Sagne used in the construction of thatched roofs,
    This tradition, little profitable, of seven hundred years old, disappeared in favor of mechanization. The traditional hand cutting has become scarce since the '80s and continues to decline. Today it is a marginal activity.
    Harvesting of the sagne is a tradition but technical developments have enabled the development of machinery for this demanding work. The sagne is currently done, with a amphibious machine on tire or rafts. Mechanization has enabled farmers to increase the effectiveness of the activity and use previously impassable plots. However, mechanical cutting is less respectful of ecological requirements and of the wildlife refuge in the reed beds.
  • The vine producing the wine of sands.
    The culture of the vine in the Camargue sand is very old. We thus find letters of 1406 and 1431 from Charles VI and Charles VII. These first attestations regulate the sale of wines Sand in the territory of Aigues-Mortes, the capital of the wine of sands. The wine of sands is produced on the sandy coast along the coastal shores of the Gulf of Lion, between the Saintes-Maries de la Mer and Cap d'Agde.
    The main varieties of the Protected Geographical Indication (IGP) "Sand of Camargue" are: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan black, gray Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache Black, Grenache Gris, Merlot, Syrah (70%); The secondary varieties : Aubun, Marselan, Tempranillo, and grapes intended for the production of whites wine.

The Race Camarguaise:

The race Camargue bullfighting is a sport practiced in the south of France, in which the raseteur tries to catch attributes set between the horns of the bull. This game is very popular sport in the Gard, Herault, Bouches-du-Rhone and Vaucluse. Each herd (breeding of Camargue bulls) have flag-waving, these bulls are nervous and quick and there is sometimes spectacular shots barriers. Some of these bulls jingoistic became famous, and even have their statutes.
The racing Camargue season, ending with the trophy of aces which takes place in October, either in Nimes or Arles. This sport has its own federation: "Fédération Française de Courses Camarguaise".

The Camargue, Earth of Pilgrimage and Traditions:

The Camargue is also one earth of pilgrimage, every year in May, the Gypsies pay tribute to their patron saint " Sarah la noire ", at Saintes Maries de la Mer. It is on this shore that Marie-Jacobé, Marie-Salomé and Sara their handmaid found refuge, having been chased away the Palestine in a bark which did not possess either veil nor ream.
The pilgrimage of gypsies to Saintes Marie de la Mer, held each year on May 24 to 26, but also the 3rd weekend of October.

The Camargue is undoubtedly a paradise for birds, these have ensured the international reputation of the Camarque through their variety, this region has more than 350 species of sedentary or migratory birds. This is a wintering place for many species (mallards, teals, tiger nuts, etc.), it is an area of international importance for migration.
Because of their importance, The Birds of Camargue are the subject of a specific page.