To the east of the Parc naturel Régional du Marais Poitevin, an immense wetland, is a landscape forged by a delicate alliance of water and vegetation. Vast maze of canals, rows of stocky trees, narrow pastures where cows graze... Exuberant in spring, secret in the heart of summer, diaphanous in autumn and collected in winter, the Wet Marsh seems wild, but inherits from the hand of Man who shaped and tamed it. The interest of its natural, hydraulic and built heritage, the richness of its history, but also the commitment of its actors to preserve and sustainably develop it have earned it national recognition: the Grand Site de France label.
An exceptional landscape
On the south-western flank of the Seuil du Poitou, halfway between the north and south of France, nestled in the west of the country between the great agricultural plains and the Atlantic coast, the Marais Poitevin is a jewel set by the towns of Niort, Fontenay-le-Comte and La Rochelle. The second wetland in France, and the first wooded marsh on the Atlantic coast, the Marais is crossed by the Sèvre niortaise, the backbone of a territory made up of 8,200 km of waterways
After crossing Niort, the river first irrigates the Marais Mouillé, a wooded landscape criss-crossed by a complex hydraulic network. It then crosses the Marais desséché, a vast open space protected from the influx of water. The Sèvre then reaches the coast and flows into the ocean in the Baie de l'Aiguillon, 160 km from its source.
To the east, the Wet Marsh remains a mysterious territory. You have to get away from the main roads, park your car, follow the waterway that hides below at the foot of a line of trees; it is best to take a boat, walk or bike to get a feel for this poetic universe.
A preserved natural heritage
Wetland of major interest, as evidenced by its multiple recognitions and protections : Regional Natural Park, Natura 2000, nature reserves..., the Marais Poitevin conceals an incredibly rich biodiversity. A fauna and flora characteristic of temperate wetlands can be found there, in a fragile balance. In this marsh shaped by human activities, Man is both a witness and an actor in a constantly changing nature and landscape
The marsh requires permanent maintenance to maintain and preserve its hydraulic and tree-covered network, the waterways are regularly cleaned and the banks restored. The waterways are regularly cleaned and the banks are restored. The ash tree alignments raise new questions today. Let's not forget that they were planted nearly 200 years ago to provide firewood. Although they have been renewed from time to time, all of these trees are now aging. There is also a new threat: chalarose, a pathogenic fungus that has already reached the gates of the Marais. What would happen to the wooded landscape if this parasite attacked the site's 400,000 or so ash trees? A discussion was therefore initiated with local stakeholders. These plantations, the reintroduction of grazed meadows on some plots of land and the maintenance of spontaneous afforestation elsewhere thus offer a mosaic of landscapes and environments, in constant evolution, which contribute to the biological richness and beauty of the marsh.
During the management of the tree network, that of the hydraulic network also raises the question of the place and the choice of successive uses. Historically, the Wet Marsh plays a role in flood regulation: storing the water arriving from the catchment area, it ensures its filtration; these functions are essential for the deployment of the animal and plant biological richness of the area. Flood management, nowadays controlled by hydraulic installations, remains a delicate subject: floods, which are beneficial from an environmental point of view, can be a constraint for the agricultural and forestry exploitation of the marshland. Controlling water levels is therefore a major and complex issue in the natural and social balance of the Marais.
An exceptional and fragile biodiversity
The Marais is home to a beautiful range of species characteristic of temperate wetlands. It is not uncommon to catch a heron or kingfisher taking flight from a conch; as for the European Otter, a rare and protected species, it is present in the waters of the Grand Site, but knows how to stay out of sight. Among the smaller animals, one can observe the Alpine Rosalie, a luminous blue insect, but also many amphibians, as well as an incredible diversity of dragonflies and butterflies. The area is also home to bats such as the Little Rhinolophe. Underwater, the most emblematic fish are migratory species such as the eel that comes from the ocean to grow in the Marais. Shad, lampreys, sea trout and salmon reproduce there.
The flora includes some local treasures, such as theemblematic Fritillary guinea fowl from the Marais mouillé, or comfrey, which you can learn to cook... The green carpets of duckweed, with no less than six species, stretch along the canals, while on the banks the Alders and willows rub shoulders with tadpole ash trees.
To live the Poitevin marshland
The result of a subtle balance between nature, culture and agriculture, the Marais Poitevin offers more than one pleasant surprise to those who take the time to stop there. A welcoming territory, it invites you to follow the rhythm of the peaceful flow of water.
A traditional means of transport in this country of waterways, the boat - "batai" - was used to carry men, women and children, but also livestock and poultry, grass and garden produce, and materials of all kinds. Its "utilitarian" function became scarcer in the 1960s with the development of paths, roads and footbridges. Made of wood, iron, cement or, more recently, plastic, the boat can be pushed from the back with a shovel, a wooden oar, or with a long pole, the "pigouille". The first tourist excursions were organised at the very beginning of the 20th century; today, most of the villages of the Marais Mouillé have a landing stage from where one can venture into the Marais by boat or canoe. Under the wooded vaults of this "cathedral of greenery", it's good to get lost; so alternate great perspectives and intimate passages, punctuated by the rare flight of a kingfisher, the croaking or the furtive escape of a native frog.
A family outing or a sporty bike ride is a great way to immerse yourself in this natural monument, criss-crossed by shady white paths with low gradients. Of course, hiking is also practised, and the car parks on the outskirts of the villages are an invitation to leave your car and take the small discovery paths, for a walk in the heart of a well-marked network.
Finally, the fish-filled waters of the Marais are a fisherman's delight. They offer an enticing diversity of species: pike, black bass, carp, roach, bleak, perch, etc. are fished here. Initiated by fishing instructors trained in this practice, the most traditional ones will take up "vermée fishing", which attracts eels at dusk. Others will taste the joys of scale fishing - a landing net with bait - which allows them to catch many Louisiana crayfish.
When? As soon as the fine weather arrives for the gentle boat rides.
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