Aujourd’hui, c’est la Fête Nationale en France: today is Bastille Day in France. It seemed to be a perfect occasion to celebrate France and its wonderful trees and forests.
Le peuple français et ses forêts
The trees and forests of France are deeply engrained in the French people’s psyche. As a fellow tree blogger recently wrote:
“French schoolchildren are being bussed out to Forests to ensure the next generation will experience and connect with trees and introduced to the fact that forests are as vital to health and life as the blood within them or food at their table.” read more …
Les forêts de la France
The country has three times the proportion of forested land than the UK (read more). The French National Forest Inventory (IFN) estimates that there are 1,380,000 km² (53,000 sq mi) of forested land in mainland France; 63% is broadleaved forest. Public ownership of forests is about 26%, compared to 18% in the UK (read more).
France is blessed with so many large forests, with six departments having more than half their territory covered by forest. Here’s a list of France’s largest forests, over 100 km² (1,000 hectares) in area (compare to the UK’s largest forests):
- Forêt des Landes (12,650 km²) – Aquitane
- Forêt d’Arc (11,225 km²) – Rhône-Alpes
- Forêt du Mont-Ventoux (800 km²) – Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
- Forêt d’Orléans (340 km²) – Centre
- Forest of Fontainebleau (250 km²) – Île-de-France
- Forest of Rambouillet (220 km²) – Île-de-France
- Forêt de la Montagne de Reims (190 km²) – Champagne-Ardenne
- Forêt d’Iraty (173 km²) – Aquitane
- Forêt d’Othe (155 km²)- Champagne-Ardenne
- Forêt du Mont-Aigoual (150 km²) – Languedoc-Roussillon
- Forêt de Compiègne (145 km²) – Picardy
- Forêt de Haguenau (137 km²) – Alsace
- Forêt de la Hardt (or de la Harth) (130 km²) – Alsace
- Forêt d’Orient (130 km²) – Champagne-Ardenne
- Forêt de Retz (130 km²) – Champagne-Ardenne
- Forest of Chaux (130 km²) – Franche-Comté
- Forêt d’Arc-en-Barrois (100 km²) – Champagne-Ardenne
- Forêt du Haut-Vallespir (100 km²) – Languedoc-Roussillon
The IFN produce a very clear guide to French forests that is free to download. It includes various maps of forest cover, type and distribution, plus individual guides for the main forest species.
La gestion des forêts
Forest management in France is typically of a very high standard; in both public and private hands. Having retained a high forest cover, the French have kept intact a close relationship with their forests, or a strong ‘wood culture’. This is typified in broadleaved forests where trees are managed on 200 year cycles to produce some of the finest oak in the world, such as at Bellême in the Orne department. Here the fantastically tall and straight tall oaks are retained until they produce a good crop of seeds (mast). Then, and only then, they are felled. A year later the open ground is carpeted with a tiny forest of naturally regenerated oak seedlings, which are then nursed progressively to produce the next generation of oak standards.
Les arbres en France
France, like the UK, has many wonderful ancient or veteran trees. The oldest tree in France is reputed to be a hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) dating from the 3rd Century at Saint Mars-sur-la-Futaie. If you have an interest in ancient trees this excellent Veteran trees in France blog is highly recommended.
In some areas of France, especially for example in Normandy, trees and hedgerows form a unique patchwork landscape with pasture: the Bocage. The landscape is similar to that found in parts of the English counties of Cornwall and Devon.
It would be impossible to write about France and trees without mentioning the tree-lined avenues that line canals, rivers and roads. These are iconic for many visitors to France, probably more so than for residents. Most people love them but for some, they represent a health and safety nightmare and are thought to be claustrophobic. I am most definitely a fan though.
And finally …