World Wetlands Day in the Aquitaine region of France

World Wetlands Day in the Aquitaine region of France

1 March 2012

An impressive number of 81 different World Wetlands Day events (exhibits, seminars, field visits, discovery tours, conferences, movie shows, etc. cf. ) took place during the week of 28 January to 5 February 2012 in the Aquitaine Region in France - one of the most active ones to celebrate World Wetlands Day. A remarkable achievement for a region which had so far no wetland designated for the Ramsar List. But WWD 2012 provided the opportunity to close this gap with the designation of two new Ramsar Sites: the Marais d'Orx in the Basque county and the Leyre river delta sector of the Bassin d'Arcachon tidal bay on the Atlantic near Bordeaux.

On 2 February, representatives of the State, elected people at the regional, provincial and communal level, wetland historians and managers, as well as many neighbours living along the extensive ponds and wet pastures gathered at the visitor centre of Marais d'Orx (, originally a coastal lagoon on the landward side of the Atlantic dunes, somewhat north of the well-known tourist resort Biarritz. For many centuries the marshes provided the products needed to sustain the rural community of Orx and others nearby. Then, during the 19th century under Napoleon III, the low-lying basin was drained for intensive maize production, until the impressive pumping and maintenance costs finally outweighed the agricultural gains. And in the 1980s, WWF France launched a successful restoration programme and helped to make the marshes again an important biodiversity hotspot and stop-over site for migratory birds.

Marais d'Orx et zones humides associées. 27.10.11; Aquitaine; 962 ha; 43°35'52"N 001°23'50"W. Nature Reserve, Natura 2000 (SPA,SCI). Mainly consisting of lakes, ponds, marshlands, wet meadows and surrounded by a network of canals, this site has been restored after extensive drainage for agricultural purposes in the past. It now acts as an important stop-over and wintering site for numerous species of waterbirds and is one of the few nesting sites for Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia. The site is also important for a large number of insect, amphibian, reptile, fish and mammal species, including threatened species such as the European Eel Anguilla anguilla and the European Mink Mustela lutreola, both listed as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List. The site plays a major role in flood control. Human activities include recreation, agriculture and research. Educational activities are undertaken regularly and an exhibition explains the history and restoration of the site. Ramsar Site no. 1995. Most recent RIS information: 2012.

Waterbirds on the flooded meadows of the Marais d'Orx nature reserve.

The next day, some hundred kilometers further north, in the Le Teich Ornithological Park and visitor centre of the Bassin d'Arcachon ( ), run by the Regional Nature Park of the Landes de Gascogne (, a very popular tourist destination for nature discovery on foot, bike, kayak and sailing boats, a similar crowd of dignitaries, local people and wetland specialists gathered to celebrate the designation of Aquitaine's second Ramsar Site, covering a substantial part of the tidal bay (soon to become a Marine Park), extensive salt marshes, and the Certes-Graveyron polders that served for salt production and fishfarming in the past. This year's WWD theme of responsible tourism as a means to maintain wetland ecosystems was particularly relevant to many facilitators, teachers and visitor guides present at the designation celebration and the formal handover of the Ramsar Site certificate.

Bassin d'Arcachon - Secteur du delta de la Leyre. 27/10/11; Aquitaine; 5,175 ha; 44°39'52"N 001°01'51"W. Natura 2000 (SPA, SIC). Covering a substantial part of the delta, the site is important for many species dependent on the intertidal zone such as threatened fish species. The mosaic of habitats, also including seasonally flooded forests, meadows, salt marshes and fish ponds, acts as a stop-over and wintering site for migratory bird species, many of them protected on a European level. It offers habitat for numerous species of insects, reptiles and mammals, some of them threatened globally. Luscinia svecica namnetum, a species of Bluethroat endemic to the French Atlantic coast, also occurs here. The site is important in flood regulation and acts as a buffer zone between Arcachon Bay and its watershed. The Ornithological Park 'Le Teich' forms part of the site, contributing to its popularity as a tourist destination. Further human uses include aquaculture, salt production, agriculture and hunting. The abandonment of traditional management practices, the related overgrowth with invasive species, water pollution and siltation threaten the site. Ramsar Site no. 1996. Most recent RIS information: 2011.

The lowest part of the Leyre river entering the Bassin d'Arcachon bay during the exceptional cold weather spell starting on WWD 2012.

Frank Beroud (DREAL, Ministry of Sustainable Development) and Guillemette Rolland (Conservatoire du Littoral, coastal protection agency) inspecting the Certes-Graveyron domain that will host management, research and monitoring facilities and an additional visitor centre for the Ramsar Site.

Given the many wetland-focused activities in the Aquitaine region, there are likely more Ramsar Site designations to follow in the coming years, such as the coastal lagoons in the famous Médoc wine-groving area, or the impressive crane (Grus grus) stop-over and wintering site near Arjuzanx, in the restored landscape of a former open-cast lignite mine, that already attracts many birdwatchers from far away and promises to become an example how to boast the local economy through nature tourism.

The cranes' night roosting area in the former brown coal extraction site of Arjuzanx is now part of a nature reserve.

First cranes approach the night roost in the afternoon.