Running almost from Bordeaux to Biarritz — and spreading inland to form an area of perhaps a million hectares — in the south-west of France, the forest of Les Landes is the largest maritime-pine forest in Europe. Surprisingly, nearly the whole region is man-made, having been planted in the 18th century in a massive attempt to drain it of water. Indeed the region was so swampy that the people used to move around on stilts. (See an interesting painting of this on Wikipedia.)
Hurricane Sandy in the Carribean and the east of the USA has reminded us of hurricane Klaus that hit western Europe in January 2009. As it blasted its way across the Gironde and Landes in southern France, it destroyed an enormous proportion of the pine forests. Mature trees were felled or snapped and younger trees were simply pulled out of the ground.
We saw some of this the following year as we crossed Les Landes to spend a few days on the Atlantic coast.
As well as devastating the environment, hurricane Klaus caused a massive problem: how to make use of the millions of tons of wood that was prematurely felled. Left on the ground, all these pine trees would simply rot and their value would be wasted. The solution was to gather as much wood as possible and stock it in massive piles. One of these we passed at Solférino, where eventually 740,000 tonnes of wood were stocked and managed.
Solférino is a 45 hectare site and the surprise thing about it is that all the wood that is stocked there is sprayed with water. Indeed, so much water is used that water canons are employed. The objective is to saturate the wood so that mushrooms simply could not grow. All the oxygen in the timber needed to be taken out – and replaced with water. The intention was to keep the timber there until between 2011 and 2014. Progressively releasing some of the timber for sale should help avoid the market being flooded and the price of timber rapidly falling.
The people managing this system reckon that most of the water is pumped back into the spraying and re-circulated, and that only 10% of it is wasted. The cost of running the pumps was estimated at 40,000 euros a month at the height of summer.