Environmental Centre National Nature Reserve of Moëze-Oléron
At the heart of the straits of Charente, the Pertuis Charentais, lies the nature reserve of Moëze-Oléron, an important international site for migratory birds, and protected area as it shelters a rich diversity of flora and fauna. The valued status of ‘Environmental Centre’ was bestowed by the departmental council of Charente-Maritime in 1996 for its excellently preserved state and the activity that surrounds it.
The site’s distinguishing feature is the combination of both sea and land areas (marshland polders, lagoons and salt marshes). Such a variety means that conditions are ideal for hosting an array of biodiversity while actively maintaining the balance between land and sea.
The mission of vouchsafing the supervision of this protected area was set by the state to be effected by the French division of BirdLife International, the LPO (Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux). The priority is to “preserve species and habitats”, and is achieved through practical management procedures.
Since 1985, the management of land extending across one polder, was committed to monitoring water levels and salinity in ditches, lagoons and marshland areas. So this patchwork of milieu offers a range of settings conducive to a large number of species, a highly treasured national heritage site because these species either exist in large numbers or are species of more limited distribution and for whom the area plays a crucial role in maintaining sustainability (water birds, European Eels, European Otters, amphibian Voles, European Freshwater Turtle, along with other reptiles, amphibians and insects).
Equally, the pastoral maintenance of the prairies is focussed on conservation concerns regarding nesting birds (Field Larks) or grazers (European whistling duck). Adjoining the 220 hectares classed as national nature reserve, lies 100 hectares of land, owned by the Conservtoire du littoral (a coastal conservation authority) also run according to state-approved management supervision plans. The acquisition and sharing of skills and knowledge are as much responsible for the successful conservation of such biodiversity, as is learning how to share resources and embrace the rules of good practise to sustain a national nature reserve.
The coastal areas, consisting of 6,170 hectares of ocean, offer a muddy and sandy foreshore of exceptional fertility due to an abundant benthic macro fauna, evident in the high number of different species and density of the biomass. This foreshore, extending over 5,000 hectares, provides a varied food store for the coastal waders, ducks and geese (Brant Geese who nest in Siberia and of which 10% of the world population winter on the nature reserve). Human activity is also very present as the vast majority of shellfish production, namely “Marennes-Oléron Oysters” emanates from the nature reserve.
Over the course of the seasons, the passage of western Palearctic migratory birds enhance the area. The East-Atlantic migratory track is long haul for the population of waders and anatidae (family of birds including ducks, geese etc.) on their journey from the Great North to the African continent. From the end of June, Siberian, Greenlander, Islandic, British and other nesting birds, fly across Europe to reach their winter habitat. The Moëze-Oléron Nature Reserve is on their itinerary and offers a necessary stopover allowing them to stock up on vital resources. A large proportion of these bird populations, several hundred thousands of them, spend the winter months on the central western Atlantic marshlands.
Climate and biodiversity
Scientific studies carried out in collaboration with research teams, have revealed much about the natural ecosystems on the reserve. The interrelationship between different species, or with their habitats, continues to be explored and understood. This protected area is the focus of international exchanges (Wader Study Group, BirdLife International, RAMSAR …) and shared advice (ADAPTO – methodology of shared coastal management outlined by the Conservatoire du littoral) which contributes to a more communal understanding.
A controlled area
The nature reserve at Moëze-Oléron is protected by regulations (to see these, visit https://www.reserve-moeze-oleron.fr/quelques-aspects-reglementaires/). On the sand spits and lagoons, on the foreshore and marshlands, the wading sea birds collect in large numbers to rest during high tide. The flow of migratory birds who travel several thousands of kilometres in a few days, is extremely sensitive to changes on the reserve that could have a damaging impact on their physical condition or their capacity to feed and rest. These waders are constantly on the lookout for peaceful resting places; three entire reserves along the coastline are completely out of public bounds, so allowing the sea birds to feed undisturbed.
Birds throughout the year
January: sea bird populations are stable
February/March: large numbers of pintail ducks on their way to Senegal, Mauritania … couple of white storks set up camp
April: Bluethroats sing their hearts out, black Kites arrive in the area. Ringed Plovers seek out higher nesting spots.
May: appearance of the first young storks, Field larks sing, buntings and warblers too.
June: sparrows are now inconspicuous, the North-South migration begins in earnest with the first redshanks, ruffs. Short-toed snake eagles hunt reptiles.
July/August: Corcorli and Temminck’s Sandpipers are a treat for local birdwatchers. Post-nuptial terns collect in August (Sandwich terns and Common terns).
September: look out for the rare Guignard Plover and spot the Ospreys.
October: the first Brant Geese settle for their winter stay in the Pertuis Charantais.
November/December: Northern European duck populations arrive.