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les landes—
its forestry industry



Map of France showing Department 40, Les Landes


on first arriving in France - driving

France is not England

Cathedrals in France



viaduct de Millau

Grand Palais, Paris

the French umbrella & Aurillac

roundabout art of Les Landes

50 years old: Citroën DS

the Citroën 2CV:
a French motoring icon

Motorway Aires

le pique-nique

Hermès scarves

bastide towns

mardi gras! carnival in Basque country

what a hair cut! m & french pop/rock

country life in France: the poultry fair

the greatest show on Earth - the Tour de France

short biography of Pierre (Peter) Abelard




marker at the department and forest of landes
marker at life before the forest
marker at the forest
marker at life with the forest
marker at forest industries
marker at    

the department and forest of landes

The lowly-populated and highly forested French Département of “Les Landes” is part of the region of Aquitaine. You can see some factlets on the roundabout art of les landes page.

Map of Aquitaine and the Gascogne Forest

The Département [1] of Les Landes, the second largest department in France, was created in 1790 by uniting administratively a mosaic of fourteen small local pays - ‘countries’: Grandes Landes, Petites Landes, Marsan, Bas-Armagnac,Gabardan, Tursan, Albert, Born, Marensin, Maremne, Chalosse, Seignaux, Gosse and Orthe [2]. Note that the River Adour is the dividing line between the two very different landscapes that make up Les Landes - moors and forest to its north and hilly farming land to its south. Les Landes is the second largest French department with an area of about a million hectares.

Before the nineteenth century, the area called Les Landes - the Moorlands - was just that: a vast, fairly flat landscape of barren moors, becoming marshland in winter when the rivers swelled and flooded.

“Formerly, stagnant waters and marshes located on the greatest part of the departement, made sickly the unfortunate classes who vegetated there and of whom most died of fevers; while the resin workers, thin and doomed to an early death, lived in inadequate cabins in the damp forests.”

There were various experiments to control the sogginess and insalubrity of the region, together with agricultural experiments - rice, mulberry trees, tabacco, peanuts - which all failed. [3]

The original forest grew naturally along the rivers and on the coastline. In 1800, it covered 250,000 hectares. The rest of the department’s countryside consisted of moorland, more or less marshy, the uncontested domain of the shepherd. To move around this unhappy landscape, the shepherds had to use stilts.

At the sea edge, the moving dunes, eroded by the sea breeze and the ‘currents’[3], invaded, suffocated and buried villages and the forest. It was in order to protect themselves from the steadily enchroaching sand, that the locals stabilised the sand and channeled the ‘currents’ - the little streams that run down to the Atlantic Ocean.

Here and there, fixing the dunes was done from the eighteenth century, but it was only with the creation by the State of a Commission of Dunes that the works, inspired by those of local Landais proprietors advanced seriously. In 1817, 4,000 hectares of sand were fixed and in 1825, all the coastline was stabilised. From 1862, the Waters and Forests Service successfully maintained the coast dune line. (The events of 1914-18 and 1939-45 damaged the dunes, and it was only in 1950 that the dunes’ ideal profile was returned with the work of bulldozers.) Note that this history is somewhat different from what happened further north in Les Landes, near the metropolis of Bordeaux and the Archachon Bassin.

It took many decades before the work to dry the Landais marshes and plant them with forests was finished. An unhealthy place, the marshes were the seat of sicknesses such as malaria, which in 48 hours took the mayor of Lit-et-Mixe and his son. These two were the brother-in-law and nephew of Henri Crouzet whom Emperor Napolean III had appointed to clean up les Landes. As part of his love for the department of Les Landes, Napolean III bought a 8,000 area of uncultivated land in the “Grande Lande”that he baptised Solférino, and at its head he put Henri Crouzet.

This man, who had an excellent knowledge of the land and the drainage done by the Landais inhabitants, is considered to be the inspirator of the 1857 law. At Solférino, He succeeded so well in his land clean-up that the imperial domain became a first order experimental zone. Crouzet created numerous agricultural roads, established new cultivation and dried the Orx Marsh. Crouzet had the benefit of marrying a descendant of the L.M. Desbiey who did the first works to fix dunes in the 18th century.

The law imposed by Emperor Napolean III in 1857, ordered all the communes [4] of Gascogne Landes, not just the coastline, be drained and then planted with maritime pines, making the land useable and rich. Bit by bit, pines covered Les Landes, changing the landscape and reducing the more than than 100,000 hectares of moors. This made room for the young forest that would become one of the largest industrial forests in Europe.

life before the forest

Before the forest, there were isolated villages and homestead groupings with a few trees dotted about the bleak, marshy expanses. The Landes - the marshes - were wet, unhealthy and practically barren of nutriments for plants or animals. Villages developed near rivers where the soil was slightly better and where communication with others was more likely. The inhabitants eeked their living from keeping sheep. Later this would change to being isolated open areas in amongst kilometre after kilometre of pine forest.

The amount of space available for organising the villages and its homesteads determined, by consequence, village relationships. The example of the Grande Lande is significant in this regard: the farm was arranged on an “airial”, an extensive, unenclosed and grassed area scattered with oaks, on which there was a stable and barn for tools. Each airial could be considerably far from the next, the population density being very low in this part of the department.

On the other hand, in Chalosse the organisation was different, as was the architecture and house interiors. Relationships with the ‘Other’ - people not from near by - whoever that might be, were also determined by these factors.

the forest

The forest is relatively young, being only about 150 years old and entirely artificial. It occupies an ancient marshy and insalubrious plain, where sheep were raised.

As well as being the origin of the huge forest of xxx hectares, the law of 1857 accelerated the decline of the shepherds and flocks of sheep, whose territory retreated. In 1862, there were 852,000 beasts, this had reduced to 298,000 in 1890.


life with the forest


forest industries

The Gascogne Forest extends over 1 million hectares, 75% of forestry in Acquitaine. It is the largest area of résinous forest in the EU. The forest covers 45% of the land area of the three departments of Acquitaine: Gironde, Landes and Lot-et-Garonne.

The Gascogne Forest is essentially private: 10% of the area belongs to the State and local authorities. The rest, 93% is the property of foresters. In fact, there are about 73,000 proprietors in the Landes massif who own about 820,000 hectares. 5In Acquitaine, there are over 350,000 proprietors.)

des pins maritimes, qui, dans les Landes, furent massivement plantés au milieu du XIXe siècle sous l'impulsion de l'administration napoléonienne, afin de redonner vie à un département considéré comme déshérité. La tâche du gemmeur, hors l'incision initiale du pin (la carre), est d'aviver cette plaie pour maintenir la sécrétion sans que la croissance de l'arbre en souffre.

De façon très schématique, les Landes apparaissent à cette époque comme le pays du métayage, qui est un mode de faire-valoir indirect. Il s'agit d'un engagement contractuel par lequel l'exploitant cultive un domaine appartenant à un propriétaire auquel il doit donner une partie de ses récoltes, le partage se faisant selon les cas à moitié, au tiers ou au cinquième. En Chalosse, le métayage portait surtout sur le vin, le maïs, le blé, les pommes de terre tandis que dans la Lande il reposait sur le seigle, le maïs, le millet, le sarrasin et, en priorité, sur la résine. En effet, si le boisement essentiel des Landes commença dans le milieu des années 1850, les premiers ensemencements conséquents débutèrent une vingtaine d'années auparavant. Le gemmage constitua ainsi l'activité principale dans le monde rural de la Haute Lande.

La sylviculture est devenue un métier complexe.
Après l’élevage des jeunes plants à la pépinière, on éclaircit la parcelle boisée entre 4 et 5 fois. L’abattage des pins intervient entre 35 et 70 ans.
La réussite de la plantation est conditionnée par une bonne préparation des sols et à une mise en place soignée de plants de qualité.



end notes

  1. Département:
    the above is the French way of spelling the word that anglo-saxons spell as department. Here at, we use both spellings when describing the French administrative department, which is fairly equivalent to an American state or British county..

  2. Grandes Landes:
    In the centre of Les Landes, the large Moors (les Grandes Landes) comprises, from Gironde to the doors of Dax, a vast wooded area of pine forest, exp^loited since the 19th century feeds the various wood industries. This activity, found above all around Sore, Pissos,Sabres and Morcenx, is les in the lttle towns, nestled in the middle of clearings or in the pictoreque valleys of the Eyre.
    Petites Landes
    Fused to the east of the Grandes Landes, the Petites Landes has hills and valleys with a checkering of meadows and cultivated fields surrounding well-kept villages.
    Further south, the Marsan is watered by the Midouze and its tributaries and characterised by steep-sided valleys and their series of artificial meadows and land cultivated to vines and cereals.There are many livestock-farming tenant farms.
    To the east of the department, are the hills of Bas-Armagnac, with their well-known vines and including neighbouring Villeneuve-de-Marsan and Labastide-d'Armagnac.
    To the north of Bas-Armagnac, this rezgion has moors and broad-leafed forests, while from Estigrade to Losse and Lubbon is a zone of 'etangs (large ponds/small lakes) and dried marshes.
    region of the wine of the same name, that was part of the dowry of Eleanor of Aquitaine when she married Henry Plantagenet, King of England.
    Enclosed to the east by Petites and Grandes Landes, the the lords of Albretextended their frontiers of their fief to the ocean in the 13th century. The forest, punctuated by fields and meadows, covers a great part of this primitive territory.
    Born has an attractive coastal region and vast ponds (étangs) swollen by the courants from the interior. Behind the lakes is sumptuous forest, decked with undergrowth according to the season with broom, gorse and heathers. Big market towns and villages are bordered by orchards and maize fields.
    This ends a bit north of Soustons [an English name - South Town] is similar to Born with its beaches, lakes and refreshing courants. By the countryside is more various, thanks to populations of cork-oaks and rich land inland used for growing cereals and raising livestock.
    Maremne includes, between Vieux-Boucau and Labenne, the pretty seaside resorts of Hossegor and Capbreton and pretty lakes with invaded by a sylvan landscape of cork-oaks, laurels, mimosas and other rich vegetaion due to the mild climate. The fertile soil is well-suited to maize.
    Inhabited since paleolithic times, with undulating farming land reminiscant of parts of middle England, Chalosse also is crossed by Compostelle pilgrims and from the high hills has magnificent views to the ocean, the endless forest and even to the distant Pyrenees.
    Seignaux, Gosse and Orthe are the small pays to the south of Les Landes.

  3. Rice grows successfully in the Carmargue region of Mediterran in France; mulberries were cultivated in the Lyon region to feed the silkworms of the French silk industry; while tabacco is grown commercially in the Dordogne. Growing peanuts now succeeds to a small extent around Soustons in Les Landes.
  4. courant
    a small river close to the coast and cuts through the dunes to reach the ocean. A courant often originates from an étang (large pond) or lake.

  5. Commune:
    used to describe local administrations, whether a village, town, or district. The territory of a local council.




on first arriving in France - driving Les Pyrénées, A64
motorway aires, introduction Pech Loubat, A61
Mas d’Agenais, A62 Les Bréguières, A8
Lozay, A10 Hastingues, A64
Catalan village, A61 Port-Lauragais, A61
aires on the A75 autoroute from clermont-ferrand to béziers Tavel, A9

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