The part of France we live in.

A short background to where we live.

Without delving into how French communities are divided, grouped and structured in the judicial sense, mainly because I don’t think I could really ever fully understand it myself, I will simply use here the division of a French Departement into “pays” without trying to explain how they come about.

If we take the Departement where I live, La Vienne, these days it is sub-divided into 8 Pays as follows which provide a useful division:

Pays Montmorillonnais,
Pays du Haut-Poitou et Clain,
Pays des Six vallées,
Pays des Vals de Gartempe et Creuse,
Pays Loudunais,
Pays Civraisien,
Pays Chauvinois,
Pays de Vienne et Moulière.

and 2 communautés d'agglomération and one area that isn’t either, (I said it was too complicated for me).

I live in the commune of Blanzay which is in Pays Civraisien and the maps should give a better idea of where I am writing about and the wider region.


Pays Civraisien:
Overall area  : 88 780 ha
Wooded  : 11 % with 10 158 ha
Cultivated  : 78 % with 70 131 ha
Pasture and meadows: 8 % with 6 970 ha

As can be seen from the 78% “cultivated” figure where I live the land is dominated by cereal fields. 30 years ago this would have been about 25% and year by year the land turned over to cereals continues to increase. This is broken up with scattered copses, small woodlands and the occasional forest. There are a few pastures here and there with a handful of cattle or sheep but nothing of any consequence and some riverside meadows, some of which flood.

A green desert in France - Colza

Recent history.

50 years ago the region wouldn’t even be recognisable as the same place; non departmental roads were often no more than stone tracks, fields were small with hedgerows. Maize and oil seed rape weren’t known or grown, sunflowers were an occasional small scale crop of the more southern regions of France and wheat varieties were spring sown.  Typically there were small mixed farms such as this 35 hectare farm from the late 1960’s.

Rearing for meat production:
15 calves from the current year,
15 calves from the previous year,
10 calves of 2 years.
70 sheep raised in the current year.

15 cows for milking.
30 breeding sheep.

2 hectares beets,
2.5 hectares of wheat,
3.5 hectares of brassicas,
2 hectares of vegetables,
25 hectares natural pasture / alfalfa / ray grass.

Other farms may have been larger, perhaps up to 100 hectares but there were also a very large numbers of “farms” of between 10 and 20 hectares.

There were large tracts of poor grass land, sparse scrub and heather in places most of which has completely disappeared although rare small pockets still exist as shown below.

It’s probable that 50 years ago every hamlet and farm had at least one pond and more than one wouldn’t be unusual, almost all being man made. Although today the Pays Civrasian still has more than 1,000 ponds at least 50% have disappeared either overgrown or removed and this continues as they no longer provide any functional use for people or financial benefit.

The late 1970’s and 1980’s saw a rapidly rising demand in both this region and west / south west France as a whole for sunflowers, maize and oil seed rape due in large part to a European Community movement to break the monopoly that the USA had at that time. This in turn lead to the “de-bocage”, the removal of the hedgerows that divided fields thus creating large plains, a process that continues today with about 75% of the hedgerows having completely disappeared. The other important major change was to autumn sown wheat and barley. Milking cattle were moved into open barns and a large number of farms have now ceased keeping Dairy cattle altogether, a process that continues due to poor returns.

Goats that provide the milk for the Goats cheese that is to be found everywhere are almost exclusively kept in closed barns and sheds where they spend their lives.

Essentially the "countryside" is now almost devoid of farm animals or natural flora with cereals ruling the roost, big money and big machines.

Even with this much shortened and simplified view of how things were and how things are it should be clear that the region as a whole has suffered from a serious degradation of habitats with many species now either severely depleted or completely absent from the region.