A wheelbarrow in the middle of the Marais Salants near Guerande France.
Salt Marshes – Marais Salants
The salterns of Guérande is a swamp of salt water about 1 700 hectares in size. The current saltmarshes began before the 9th century and lasted for several centuries. Around the year 1500, the marshes reached 80% of the current surface. The latest were built around 1800. In the middle of 19th century, a gradual decline started for different reasons : competition from a salt mine, lower consumption of salt as a product of conservation and improvement of transport by land. The salt of Guérande used to be traded throughout Brittany, tax free until Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte decided to tax it resulting in the beginning of a decline of salt activity.
Certain parts of the swamps and “Traict” are classified as a Nature Reserve (major stage for migratory birds) and is managed by the Conservatoire du Littoral. The “Traict” and swamps have also been classified as “site Natura” since 2000. These swamps have also been registered since 1971 on the list of protected wet-lands under the Ramsar Convention.
The salterns of Guérande, include two salicoles ponds:
The pond of Guérande: the biggest and the best known can be found between Guérande and the peninsula of Croisic, on Traict
The pond of Mès, a smaller area, to Mesquer. It is the pond salicole most well known in northern Europe.
They are a part of the salterns of the Atlantic Ocean, more than three-quarters of them, found in the Gironde and the peninsula of Quiberon.
Salterns are sites where the salt workers collect approximately 15 000 tons of cooking salt a year, and approximately 300 tons of Fleur de sel or flower of salt. A cooperative promote quality with a label (the French Label rouge). Today around 250 workers live on the salt marshes. These salterns are also classified as “remarkable Sites of taste”. The principle is simple. Channels that feeds the water reservoirs with sea water use the tides. Salty water then evaporates in different dams till there are only a few centimeters of sea water left. The last step is where the salt crystallizes and produces the fleur de sel and coarse salt.