Fixing up the Farm

person Posted By: Benjamin Courtadon list In: vie de la Ferme On:

Work is going well at La Ferme des Baleines. We dragged the bottom of one of our ponds, and used the dredged material to create berms...

Fixing up the Farm

When he took over La Ferme des Baleines, owner Jacques Lepage wanted to clean up the site and give it more of a natural aspect. Since January 2017, 200 tonnes of metal, plastic, and other garbage have been removed from the farm. Some signs of its industrial past remain, and we’re doing our best to remove them gradually.

By transforming what was an intensive industrial monoculture site into an artisanal salt pond polyculture farm, we wanted to give La Ferme des Baleines more of a human touch and bring it back into line with its incredible surroundings and the traditional practices of the salt marshes of the Île de Ré.

Return to a more traditional landscape

To better cultivate and finish our oysters, La Ferme des Baleines has started work to rejuvenate one of our lagoons. We needed to dredge out the mud that had accumulated in the pond, down to the “bri”, the layer of blue clay that underlies the original salt marshes. Next, we had to reshape the lagoon to create claire salt ponds for cultivating and finishing our oysters, clams, and raising our salt marsh tiger prawns.

Work on Lagoon No. 1 – We worked with AEMA (Association des Étangs et Marais de l’Île de Ré, or Île de Ré Lagoon and Marsh Association) to complete this project. We needed to go through several phases: Phase 1 – The first step was to empty the lagoon to let the mud dry, assess the state of the pond bottom, and prepare it for the heavy machinery to be used.

Phase 2 – Such a large project required administrative authorisations because we are part of the Natura 2000 network, a listed site, and subject to the Water Act. Several months were needed to gather paperwork and to consult with the proper government authorities before we were able to begin work.

Phase 3 – As soon as the nesting period was over, and the last Little Ringed Plovers had flown away, AEMA was able to dredge up the mud and organic sediment, revealing the “bri”. This marine clay is known for its blueish colour, which it gets from the presence of sulphur and the large number of cockles and peppery furrow shells that live within it. The “bri” underlies and supports all of the claire salt ponds and salt marshes.

Phase 4 – The dredged mud and organic sediment were used to create and shape berms to separate the salt ponds. The claire salt ponds are between 28 and 48 metres wide, the traditional size for the Île de Ré marshes.

Phase 5 – AEMA smoothed the sides of the lagoon and flattened the berms with an excavator. Over the next few years, plants will start to grow on the berms, starting with pioneer species: annual sea-blite and mustard, which will then give way to more grasses.

Phase 6 – Once the lines of the berms had been established and smoothed, AEMA began to lay inflow and outflow pipes.

Phase 7 – Almost a year after the first sketches were made for this project, the first portion of the work was completed. Next, we had to fill the claire salt ponds, which range in area from 1,100 m2 and 3,700 m2, with water. The pipework we installed makes it possible to fill or empty the pond in just a few hours. When the pond is filled, nutrients from the “bri” are suspended in the water, providing food for the production of phytoplankton and zooplankton. Just like fields that have lain fallow for a time, our new claire salt ponds will be an incredibly abundant source of food for our oysters and clams.

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