Interview of Jean-Michel Laloue, from the French Coastal Protection Agency :
"The landscape of Talmont has seen many changes over the years as it is exposed to the sea. The town overlooks an estuary: the Gironde. Nevertheless, it is highly exposed to ocean tides and the sea level has risen and fallen throughout the centuries with the passing of time. This means that if you look at the Talmont marshes behind us, there was a time when the seawater reached the hills, several kilometres inland. As the sea level declined, human socioeconomic activity took over. In Charente Maritime, the first activity to appear was saliculture, the production of salt, followed by the farming of livestock. Other areas developed oyster-farming, symbolic of man’s conquest over the marshes.
And now we find ourself in the present day, where some areas are dedicated to the cultivation of cereal crops, while others have continued to farm livestock. Salt production has almost disappeared from the area, and although still present in some parts of the region, no salt is being produced at Talmont. Here, the land is used for livestock farming and intensive agriculture.
The headlands have also evolved over the years, as the cliff face has receded over the years at the point where the carrelets now stand behind us.
The marshes were taken over gradually as the years went by. Going by area, if we head down the coast a bit further south, it was the work of the Dutch. Here it was done more locally. Further down it was done to re-purpose poor land, to drain the marshes. On very old maps it is marked as "malaria land", so that gives you an idea. So that took place from the 15th to the 18th century. If you look at the different parts of the estuary, it’s a bit different. The closer we are to the sea, the more salt production there is. Salt production took place between the 15th and 16th centuries. But not all the areas reacted in the same way, so it was over pretty quickly. And it was a very long process back in the day. Back then everything was done by hand. So from the moment we decided to do it, we were able to cultivate small strips of land over time, in what we call polderisation in agriculture.
So we obtained more and more strips of land. So it took several decades or even centuries for coastline to move from the hillsides to where it is today.
So the intervention of the Coastal Protection Agency on the sector is relatively recent, as the first action that was taken was the creation of the public river domain.
In 2008, we reclaimed a 40 km long stretch of coastal land, the equivalent of 1600 hectares, including the mudflats behind us. We have these mudflats, and as you get closer to the coast we have areas of reed beds.
The area is rich in biodiversity, in terms of spawning beds, animals, insects, and plant life. So we have some really interesting stuff here. There is one there, and one at the other side of the village. Recently, we’ve moved further into the marshland. We recently bought 123 hectares of intensively cultivated land, and we’ve turned these into grazing land, which is now being used by a sheep farmer. This means we can have this open environment. Because if there’s no farming activity, it will be a closed environment. And it would be a closed environment with a very uninteresting landscape, and with very low biodiversity. So the aim of incorporating livestock farming allows us to achieve this open environment, and to permanently ensure we have this rich, open landscape. If we ended up with a wetland forest, it is true that the look of the area would change completely.
For this project we worked with the village council, with a landscape architect who allowed us to imagine what this marshland might look like in the future, by planning trails, science centres, things like that. So we’re really looking at the long term. But the idea, basically, is to open up the marshland. Because when it was all intensive agriculture, taking people to the marsh in the middle of ploughed fields or at certain times when there are crops growing, it's interesting but, well, there's not much to see. There are some things to see but not a great deal.
The aim was to create a landscape that would look more like the traditional landscapes we can find, but still with a usage in mind. We’re not going to give someone land they can’t make a living out of. So, we are also working towards an economic model. Currently, things are really moving forward. It’s really nice and we are trying to contribute through acquisition and by implementing a whole policy on this issue."