The Regional Natural Park of La Brière

Come and discover The Regional Natural Park of La Brière which encompasses an area of wetlands which is one of the richest in flora and fauna in Europe.  This constantly evolving aquatic environment has been passed down to us through the work of generations of men and women who have earned their living here.
Le Parc naturel régional de Brière - Fédrun

A stone’s throw from La Baule and the salt marshes of Guérande, the wetlands of ‘La Grande Brière’ never cease to astound the visitors who come here.  Its most beautiful landscapes best revealed by taking a trip punted along this vast network of channels,which crisscross the water-meadows, aboard a chaland – the traditional black, tapered flat-bottomed boat.

In 1970 The regional natural park of La Brière was listed as a ‘Parc naturel régional’ and as such is a 
conservation area for sustainable development and its natural and cultural heritage.  There are many missions which are inextricably linked to being a ‘parc naturel régional’ all of which are governed by a specialist charter which is revised every 12 years.  To find out more follow this link to the site of ‘Le Parc’:

La Grande Brière

Dédales de canaux - Parc naturel régional de Brière
The marshlands of Grande Brière are like a large mosaic of channels, shallow lakes, reed beds, water meadows and moundsBoth the birdlife and flora are rich and varied here. Most of the species of fresh water fish are also to be found in the waters of the wetlands. 

For many years the ‘Briérons’ drew their livelihood here by hunting and fishing, cutting down the reeds to thatch their houses and by digging-out peat, which was at the time their only source of fuel. They also bred livestock. Yet little by little their lifestyle changed…The ‘Briérons’ gradually abandoned their marshlands to find employment in the industries in and around Saint Nazaire.  It goes without saying that this resulted in a significant rise in their standard of living.  This mutation, however, proved to be detrimental for the marshlands. Hunting and fishing therefore became leisure pursuits.  Livestock breeding regressed. The reeds proliferated and the peat was no longer excavated.  Despite their undying ‘love affair’ with their marshlands, the ‘Briérons’ could no longer carry out the maintenance so important to its up-keep. 

A specific legal status

One of the particularities of La Brière lies in the legal status enjoyed by the marshlands of ‘La Grande Brière Mottière’. The latter is in effect the joint property of the inhabitants of the 21 local towns. This is indeed not at all a recently acquired privilege as it was in 1461, that for the first time, official confirmation of ownership was proclaimed by the Letters of Patent of François II, Duc de Bretagne. Today, the ‘Briérons’ continue to enjoy ownership of their marshlands and the privilege of its sole management.

The flora and fauna of The Regional Natural Park of La Brière

Gorge bleue à miroir
In 1995 the great diversity of flora and fauna present in the Regional Natural Park of La Brière justified the inclusion of the marshes of La Brière and those of Le Mès to the International Convention of Ramsar (signed in 1971 in Iran).

Exceptional landscapes...

The hidden secrets of the reed beds

Today more than half of the marshlands of La Brière are covered by reeds.  A secret world where the ‘inhabitants’ go about their stealth like lives…it is home to the water vole, the bearded tit, the great bittern and the western marsh harrier… Green in the springtime, golden in the autumn the marshes are also fertile grounds for larger helophytes, the cane used for chair seats and other varieties of rushes…

Wet meadows

The water meadows here stretch as far as the eye can see.  Their fauna of exceptional interest means that these meadows rank at the number one spot in France when it comes to the conservation of species native to wetlands.  In close proximity to the estuary the presence of the tamarisks, marsh-mallows and sea clover confirm the flooding in of the darkish water at the time of spring high tides.
Regular  ‘guests’ including  weasels, stoats and European hares which live alongside the wintering and migratory birds such as the black-tailed godwit, the ruff, the short-eared owl, the northern pintail…In spring the common frogs gather here in the company of the pikes and carps.  These ecosystems cannot maintain their diversity without human intervention (grazing of livestock and reaping/mowing).

Channels and waterways

Near to the mounds and the inhabited islands the channels open out into many expanses of water: 'les piardes' (shallow expanses of water resulting from peat excavation) and 'les copis' (areas where the channels are wider as a result of peat excavation). ‘la piarde à Julot’, ‘la piarde à Eugène’... each has its own name. These shallow expanses of water are former peat extraction sites.

Come the spring these shallow waterways burst forth with plant life.  Some plants grow tall and move gracefully in the currents others carpet the water’s surface (duckweeds, European frog’s-bit…) or open out their colored petals (water lilies, bladderworts).   In the heart of this vegetation aquatic insects, amphibians and fish provide a well-stocked pantry for many species of bird (terns, herons, coots...) and mammals such as the otter.  But in recent decades this wealth has come under threat. Since 1990 the Louisiana crayfish has invaded this ecosystem causing devastation to the aquatic plant life and subsequently seriously disrupting the food chains.

The salt marshes of Le Mès

The amazing site of the salt marshes of Le Mès with their unique heritage forms an integral part of zone of ‘Le Parc’.  The salt marshes and the ‘traicts’ (salt water inlets which link the salt marshes to the sea) provide a wide variety of habitats suitable for many types of vegetation native to wetlands and areas of brackish waters (slightly salty water).  The abundant source of food provided here attracts a large number of birds which come to over winter in this zone.

La Brière is home to 60 % of the thatched cottages in France

Today more than 3 000 thatched roofs (houses and out-buildings) are to be found in the area of The Regional Natural Park of La Brière. This represents 60% of French thatched cottages.  
Chaumière typique de Brière - village de Bréca
The conservation and up-keep of this rich heritage has been maintained thanks to the support and funding provided by the partnership of organisations including ‘Le Parc’, local, regional and county authorities. All of which have facilitated the restoration of a great many of the thatched cottages.

A thatcher’s trade - skill and know-how

Long ago man realized that he could make good use of the reeds he found growing in La Brière. Tied neatly in compact bundles and fixed to a framework this plant rapidly became more that just ‘roofing material’ : it kept in the warmth, acted as insulation against the cold and was also very pleasing to the eye!  It was thus that ‘Le Brièron’ took on the trade of thatcher. He could be seen perched high above the ground, meticulously covering, section by section, the roofs of his properties. He perfected his ‘art’ bringing fame and recognition to the ‘Brièron-thatching’. He ventured abroad to study the methods of others such as in Holland - another country where water dominates the landscape - and brought back with him new skills to enhance his own.

An ever evolving tradition

Little by little the house is adorned with its new roof. The finishing touches brought by some very precise strokes of a scythe and the crowning of it all by the fashioning of a handcrafted ridge of earth and peat skillfully applied to a wire mesh framework.  These thatchers continue this age old trade bringing to it new and more modern techniques. Their skill reflected in the unique architecture present in La Brière.  
  • Réserve ornithologique P. Constant - st Malo de Guersac
  • Balade en barque et en calèche au coeur de la Brière
  • Chaumière de Brière - village de Kerhinet à St-Lyphard
  • Ibis sacrés et vaches dans les marais
  • Balade à cheval dans le village de Kerhinet
  • Chaumier au travail - Ile de Fédrun
  • Chevaux dans prairies humides de Brière