The Changing Marsh

All went smoothly for our late, lamented friend’s celebration of life. We had intended to move on on Monday 10th but, since we have a very pleasant pitch on the pleasingly rural campsite in Arçais, and with the weather looking set fair here until Friday, we’ve extended our stay. This has given us a chance to explore the area on our bikes a little, having already had a few opportunities to explore on foot.

Our visits to the marais have spanned 18 years but we had a gap of about eight years up until 2023. When we returned then, which turned out to be the last time we’d see our friend, the change in the marsh seemed remarkable.

C0018The Marais Poitevin is a network of canals and drainage ditches of various sizes; the French have five names for canal depending on size and perhaps purpose. It is called the Venice Verte and earned that nickname due many of its water courses being utterly smothered in green duck weed. This example is from 2006.

Our earlier visits predated my obsession with dragonflies but we’ve always been keen on nature and the marsh was a haven for it. We subsequently found it to be a good hunting ground for dragonflies, hence our continued visits.

PXL_20240612_092751162Something has changed and quite dramatically. We are not seeing canals carpeted in green. Indeed, I don’t think we’ve seen any green covering at all; all look much like this.

It’s not just the green that’s missing, the plethora of dragonflies seems to have become a paucity of dragonflies. The small canal and ditches surrounding our campsite used to be home to many Orange Featherleg (Platycnemis acutipennis) damselflies, now there are none. When we wandered along one of the larger water courses on the way to our friends’ house, last year we saw a handful of Blue Chaser (Libellula fulva) dragonflies, this year we saw none. In previous years we had seen many. Some of recent bike rides have taken us over bridges that spanned several water courses where we were used to seeing various odonata, this time we saw none at all but one point where we saw a handful of one species.

Birdlife may also have been affected. We are used to hearing the frenetic song of the European Serin but we haven’t heard one. There are still some Golden Orioles singing but we haven’t heard the subdued “hoo, hoo, hoo” of a Hoopoe.

It’s all quite concerning.

Admittedly, the weather may be playing a part. In the same way that the 2024 weather has been pitiful in the UK, so it has in much of France. Some of the fields of the marsh show obvious signs of flooding and some of the roads have relatively recently been closed due to floods. Indeed, our campsite has only relatively recently opened after being water-logged.

Flooded ground would ruin the food source of Hoopoes.

We were told that sewage used to be discharged into the waters of the marsh. Relatively recently a sewage system has apparently been put in and the act cleaned up. That should be a good thing, surely, but is that responsible for the lack of duck weed? It looks as if the whole ecology of the marsh has altered.

Late breaking update: we’ve walked further along the water course below our friends’ house and have, at last, seen some odonata activity, including some Orange Featherlegs (Platycnemis acutipennis) and a few Blue Chasers (Libellula fulva). So, they may be much reduced in number but at least some remain.

Posted in 2024 Summer