GuÃ©rande Salt Marshes
The region of salt marshes close to the medieval town of GuÃ©rande is most famous for its salt production but is also a noted ecological site, important for its role as a feeding and resting site for large numbers of birds. The salt marshes came to exist in their present state through a combination of geology, climatic factors, and human intervention. Around the coast near GuÃ©rande, a system of spits and coastal dunes developed thousands of years ago, cutting off an area of shallow water, which was nevertheless subject to tides—seawater could flow in through two inlets in the dune belts. Over the centuries, marshes and tidal flats developed in this basin. During the past 1,000 years or so, these have been artificially converted into a mosaic of salt pans, separated by clay walls, although some areas remain unexploited. During the flood tide, seawater is allowed to flow through channels into the pans, and during the warm summer months, when the rate of evaporation is high, sea salt is skimmed from the surface of the pans by an army of salt-farmers (paludriers).
The areas of marsh surrounding the salt pans are made up of various salt-tolerant plants. More than 70 different species of birds nest and breed in the area, and many species spend the winter here in large numbers. For many years, the salt-farmers and the French ornithological society, the LPO, have jointly organized exhibitions and guided tours in the GuÃ©rande Salt Marshes, which are themed on the economics of salt production, the ecology of the marshes, and their need for protection.
The GuÃ©rande region has had salt pans for over 1,000 years. Today, about 200 salt-farmers work in the area, one of the few places in France where salt continues to be produced in a traditional manual way. The average annual harvest is about 10,000 tons of natural, mineral-rich sea salt, which is sold unrefined, with nothing added and nothing removed. The salt has a light gray color because of its content of fine clay from the salt pans.