An exceptional area

Overall view

1000 lakes........ But not only !


The Brenne Nature Park is composed of various natural landscapes. In the southern part, along the river Creuse et Anglin, the area is a mixture of forests, hedges and agricultural land and can be quite hilly in parts. This area is known as "La Petit Brenne", where the rivers are forming sometimes tight and rather untouched valleys which are often home to typical villages.

HVI Etang et button tnIn the north of the river Creuse starts "La Grande Brenne", the area which is commonly called " The country of 1000 lakes ". A real mosaic of landscapes, where water, woods, open areas and meadows are intermingling – sometimes they are dominated by the "buttons" ( a name given to the hillocks in the middle of a field or a meadow ). According to the legend they have been formed by " Gargantua" a giant which lived in this area, but their form are in reality due to the erosion of the sandstone ( they are the hard remainder of sandstone hills, leftovers from the ice age ).To discover all those different areas several itineraries are proposed, either by foot, on horse back, by bicycle or by car.

A wetland area of international importance - with its 3000 lakes the Brenne is one of the biggest inland areas of this type in France. Its clay soil, rather poor in nutrients, are the reason of the existence of the many lakes (called:"étangs"). In actual fact, their creation is purely artificial and for this reason preference is given to cattle rearing, rather then to crops.

Those lakes are traditionally used for fish farming:: 2000 tons of sweet water fish are collected every year between October and March. Amongst several local products the visitor can discover carp and the "Pouligny-St. Pierre" ( a goats cheese in form of a pyramid ), which is one of the rare goats cheeses who has an AOP (a quality label = Appellation d'Origine Protégée).

HVI cistude europe tnBeing preserved and protected, this territory offers ideal conditions for the reproduction of various migratory birds, of which the majority spent the winter in Africa. Of the 267 species who are finding food and shelter here, 150 are nesting birds. This area contains also the highest population of the " Cistude d'Europe", an endangered sweet water tortoise. The Brenne Nature Park is also home to many insect species, particularly various kinds of dragonflies.

HVI Aigrette garzette tnThe public bird hides and the various nature discovery trails allow Nature observation without disturbing the wildlife. More then 250 guided outings are planned throughout the year, some of them are adapted to children. (Ask at the Maison du Parc, 02 54 28 12 13 for further informations)
The Park has also a rich architectural heritage although sometimes not well known. (in the area you can find old, little traditional houses which consist of only one living space as well as various Châteaux: Château de Bouchet, Château d'Ingrandes, Château Naillac or Guillaume and the remarkable Abbey of Notre Dame de Fontgombault ). Buildings who's colors are changing from different shades of red of the sandstone to the white of the chalkstone or to the multicolored version of the sandstone in white or grey.

Created in 1989, the aim of the "Brenne Regional Nature Park" is to work for the preservation of it's exceptional natural heritage with the creation of environmentally friendly activities .


Legend of the "Gargantua"

"The giant Gargantua had to cross the Brenne to go from Tours to Limoges. Despite his long legs with every step he sunk further in the mud. His giant feet were soon covered in mud and became to heavy to walk. From time to time he shook his boots to get rid of it. The amount of mud fallen from his boots was enough to form every time a " button". (a sandstone hillock)


A little history of the territory


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From the forest to the lakes

Long before the "Brenne Regional Nature Park" was created or even acquired the international "Ramsar" status for its important wetlands, since centuries already the Brenne has been an area with specific particularities. Over time it has been specified as a unique territory due to its social and environmental history.


The monks in the " Saltus" or the " Land of the buttons"

button 1 tnMost likely written in the 10th century, the tale of "Saint-Cyran", the founder of the abbeys of Méobecq and Longoret in the 7th century, mentioned the existence of a region, named the "Saltus Brioniae", situated on the borders of the Touraine, the Berry and the Poitou regions. An area which was called "wild and humid" by its inhabitants. Thanks to "Palynology" (information acquired using pollen studies), it can be assumed that this area had a very different environment and wasn't necessarily humid. As to the name "Brenne" – it's origin is unknown, but could be linked to the existence of the "buttons", those small sandstone hillocks which are scattered throughout the area.

A small history of iron and steel production in the Brenne

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Before the Brenne is mentioned in written documents, archeological remains give an idea what the landscape might have been before the middle Ages. There is much proof of early human presence (some are even under the surface of the lakes). The most important activity in the antiquity was metallurgy, in particular iron production. The existence of an area of metal production in connection with the antique site of "Argentomagus" (former roman settlement near Argenton/Creuse), let us presume that this area was originally covered by extended forests (necessary for charcoal production), especially throughout a large area in the heart of the Brenne. The massive deforestation, in order to produce charcoal, might be the reason for the hydrological balance in central Brenne. It is possible that the over-exploitation of the forests, causing a barren landscape, and the development of agricultural practices during the Middle Ages, has accentuated the drying-up process of the soil. The forests and tree roots would have been acting as a regulator of the hydrological level of this area.
ferrier rosnay tnIt is in this environmental context that the monks from Saint Cyran and Méobecq constructed the two abbeys in the middle of the 7th century. But, contrary to general opinion, it's not the monks who drained or created the lakes. We can find traces of it from the middle Ages onwards.


"The countries of the Brenne"

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Some ancient maps show that the expression "The countries of the Brenne" was already used in mediaeval times. Several parishes which share the same name had their localization added to it in order to strengthen the belonging to an area. (E.g. Saint-Michel-en-Brenne, Mézières-en-Brenne....)


Fish farming in the Middle Ages

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From the central Middle Ages onwards, the landscape of the Brenne takes more or less the form that we know today. Later, between the 14th and the 16th century, for the purpose of fish rearing a large number of lakes are created. In order to do so dams, using soil, are built across the numerous little "talwegs" which are very frequent in the Brenne. ( Talweg= a narrow hollow but fairly deep passage between two valleys or hills) All lakes are man-made and the arrival of a fish from central Europe, the Carpe from the Danube Delta ( Cyprinus carpio carpio ), has accelerated the creation of those lakes. The carp was a fish very much adapted to the needs and requirements of the mediaeval population. The introduction of this highly profitable species made the Brenne a leader in its commercial and speculative rearing, an area whose poor soils made cereal growing nearly impossible. The carp could be transported alive, kept in water or wrapped in wet straw, during several days to the destination of its consumption. This advantage has been most likely the reason for the success of the fish rearing tradition in the Brenne.
From the, so called, "Modern times" onwards various testimonies (non-written stories, travelers reports, old maps, etc.) are proof that before the Brenne was identified as" a country with forests, meadows and heathlands" it was described as one with "many lakes". The fish-rearing landscape had been created. However, the disappearance of old forests and the creations of lakes in the middle Ages did not course an environmental degradation. Those important changes had a positive influence in the increase of the biodiversity in the Brenne, a fact which we can observe today.


The " Brenne", a " bad" area

The 19th century is particularly difficult for the Brenne, it has been classed as a "bad country" before. In 1789, the complaint books of the parish of Méobecq mentions already, although a bit exaggerated, the bad condition of the land ("Our parish is nothing else than a desert filled with lakes, infected marshlands and heathlands"). During the tumultuous period of the French Revolution constructive plans to dry up the lakes, like stipulated in the law "14 frimaire an II/14th December 1793", could not be implored. But the perception of the Brenne as a "bad country" is mostly due to the memories of the prefect Dalphonse, entitled "Statistiques du département de l'Indre" , published in 1804, and it is mentioned by most of the scholars of the Berry region. Nowadays, this negative picture of the Brenne, like that described by this writer, is considered as an exaggeration, it is an indication of the mentality of this period towards wetland areas.
Doctors, engineers and local politicians were fixed on hygiene and positivism and were interested, like par ex. Dalphonse, in problems like the "lack of cleanliness in the Brenne". They called this area "The wound of the Indre" and even of the center of France. This question was in the heart of discussions and led to a rethinking of its territoriality. They tried to blame this negative approach on its agricultural practices and onto the actual hostile nature of this area.
In the middle of the 19th century the region entered a period of "sanitation", which indicated more the general wish to transform the marshlands of the Brenne, because in reality the majority of the lakes, pointed out since the French Revolution, are remained untouched until the next century.


The commercial fish rearing in the Brenne

2007 11 13 Peche Pifaudiere 2009 carpe tnThe fish farming industry, in crisis since the end of the 18th century, was restarted by fish farmers and lake owners only from the 20th century onwards. At this point a modernization of carpe rearing practices is implemented in France. With those changes the Brenne entered into a period of commercial fish farming for the first time. Fish rearing practices, including fish rearing nurseries, and a different way to manage the lakes have been copied from Central European countries. New carp species with a "rapid growth" have been imported et interbred in order to create the famous "Carpe Royale".



The region as a "Natural region"

In the 19th and 20th century the popular perception of being called a "country" has been progressively replaced by an impression of being a "Naturel region". With this new concept, the emphasis has been put on geology, vegetation, inhabitants, landscape and the choice of various agricultural practices. This positive change was the result of a new scientific approach.
From the point of view of the geologists, the Brenne is a territory which is historically and characteristically very different to other geological areas in the center of France. It is a part of the Berry region where the sediments of the "basin parisien" have been covered by clay and sand deposits, which contain in certain areas "ferruginous" (= iron) concentrations. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Brenne was still considered as a country bordering the Touraine region, despite being geographically in the Berry. The geographer Antoine Vacher described the Brenne as a territory which defines a unique area and an exceptional region worthy of natural interest: the "Champagne berrichonne".
With a certain irony we now can say that social perception of the former "poor region" has changed completely. The notion of a naturel region in the Berry was approved by the state in the middle of the 20th century. According to geology, landscape, social habits or regional identities the division into districts or cantons is however not locally coherent. To correct this, ministerial decrees dated 07/01/1955 and 13/01/1964 set the limits of the four naturals regions. They divide the 6790 km2 of the department of the Indre department into: "la Champagne Berrichon", "les Boischaut", "les Gâtines de l'Indre" and "la Brenne". The territory of the Brenne includes a total of 51 parishes and covers an area of 146 687 ha. This area reunites three big zones: "La Grand Brenne"," La Petit Brenne » and « La Queue-de-Brenne ». The "Brenne Regional Nature Park", created 22th of December 1989, offered this region a new identity, but that's another story......


What we need to remember

Historical and archaeological researches have shown that we must change the original concept of a wetland area as a designated zone and as "naturally" marshy. Two major rural activities have profoundly changed the local environment. The traditional landscape has, to a large extent, been formed by more then 2000 years of iron production and by at least 600 years of fish farming, based on carpe rearing. Due to its important economic impacts it seems that this fish has played a decisive role in the vocation chosen by the Brenne. The lakes have found their place in this area, in parts thanks to its unique landscape. The current condition of the wetlands is in actual fact the result of choices made in the past. This legacy is important and the remarkable biodiversity of the Brenne is the result of special edaphic conditions. It is important to point out, that this is most of all due to the transformation of the environment by its former inhabitants in order to adapt it to their vital needs.


A little bit of the Brenne's geology



The superposition of the various layers of rocks resembles the" closed pages of a book. "Every page represents a different phase in the geological history of the region. The first pages are the most ancient ones, those of the borders of the "Plateau d'Aigurande". The last pages are the most recent ones, those of the Brenne in the tertiary. The last page of this book represents the actual landscape.


An old mountain chain

The geological history of the Brenne starts with the remainders of the chain "hercyniene", a mountain chain formed towards the end of the "Primaire", 250 to 300 millions of years ago.
During the "Trias", about 245 millions of years ago, we can talk about the beginnings of the second phase/ "Secondaire". The "basin de Paris", a flat and submerged area, in which rivers and streams spread multicolored sands and where the sea, arrived from the east, tried to cover the region. This could not be completely accomplished because of the remainders of the "Hercyienne" mountain chain. This resulted in the fact that the sea did not reach beyond Châteauroux.



A warm sea

The sea-level came back from the beginning of the Jurassic period (200 millions) and stayed, like in vast parts of Northern Europe, during 60 Millions years. The sea leaves chalk (shells) deposits on the coastline, similar to those which are currently forming in the Bahamas, but also in deeper sea levels (corrals).
From the swamps to the dinosaurs:
Towards the end of the Jurassic period (145 millions of years ago), the sea withdrew from the region and left behind vast lagoons. This mixture of landscapes (varying between wetlands and dry parts) stayed until the early cretaceous period, the climate was warm and humid. Layers of iron formed on the relief. It promoted the creation of floodplains and marshlands which were home to many different species of dinosaurs and in particularly of herbivores.
The return of the sea and of the chalk:
Around 95 millions of years ago, the sea tried to regain lost territory. The first maritime deposits are green sands, followed by kaolin rich clay to little oysters. Those sediments were quickly relayed by the first chalk deposits. The sea of the later cretaceous period covered the totality of the Paris basin and well beyond during about 30 million years.



An aggressive climate

The sea of the cretaceous period withdrew about 80 millions of years ago and the entire region surfaced. It was again exposed to a hot climate, nearly tropical, which was particularly aggressive to the existing rock formations. Chalk stone and chalky rocks layed on a clay foundation are were exposed to climate aggression. This process lasted about 40 millions of years, enough time to form a thick layer of clay produced by the rocks of the Primaires. This process dissolved the surface of the chalky rocks and put a Karst region in place. It is at this period when the red sandstone of the Brenne was formed in the southern region, a stone already which was already present in the chalkstones of the Jurassic period. In the northern part the clay sand mixed with Flintstone formed the Tufa.


The birth of the Brenne

The area of the Brenne (the" Little" and the "Big" Brenne) has been formed about 40 millions of years ago. At this period of the Tertiary a slow collapse of the Substratum created a vast bowl, capable of capturing the muddy waters of the streams descending the" Massif Central ". Clay and clay rich sands accumulated in those depressions of the landscape, natural hollows which are forming most of the territory of the Park. Between 40 and 25 millions of years ago those deposits were the origins of the "terres grasses" of the Brenne. They are also called "siderolitic fields" because they contained often iron, and are former river deposits mixed with soils with a concentration of iron oxide. Those latter soils are distinguished by a hardened layer with a high iron content. This provides this last layer of the soil with a very high resistance against erosion. This solid upper part of red sandstone is at the origin of the "button".


"Not too far from the beach"

In the Miocene period, about 20 millions of years ago, the sea tried to take over this region for the last time. Coming from the riverbed of the Loire, this attempt has been stopped by the reliefs of the "Ligeuil-Ciran". Therefore "the beach" can be found about 10 km north of the park.


The creation of the actual landscape

The geographical history of the Brenne finished towards the end of the Tertiary period (from 20 to 2 millions of years). During this time the Brenne was completely raised and the rivers spread freely over a vast wooded bog land which had not yet been cut through by actual valleys. Those rivers left large sandy- clay areas and fossilized wood behind them. About one million of years ago, during the ice age, the riverbeds dug into the plateaux and created deep valleys. Nevertheless, the glaciers never arrived until the borders of the "Berry". During the Ice ages the plateaux were exposed to erosion and a part of the sediments were blown away. The sandstone however resisted and the residues/hardcore formed the relief of the Brenne: the" buttons"/the hillocks. Sandy river terraces were formed whilst the actual landscape was created, with the subtle differences that we know today.
The materials of the subsoils are therefore very varied. Direct connections exist between subsoils, soils, climate and vegetation. On the surface of the Brenne it's not rare to find a big diversity of soils and vegetation. The rich botanical heritage of the Brenne park is linked to it's long geological evolution.



Bienvenue dans le Parc naturel régional de la Brenne