Gazeteer of France’s great oak woods – Châteauroux, pearl of the Berry7 March 2019
At 5,300 hectares (13,096 acres), the national forest of Châteauroux is a prime example of a forest massif of the Atlantic type. 99% of it is oak, 80% sessile and 20% common.
Published in October 2018, the book The oak in majesty, from forest to wine highlights the concept of forest terroir: a specific soil, aspect, and rainfall, as well as a particular exposure to sunlight, to which should be added the species or variety of tree, the density of plantation, as well as average age, all of which will influence the grain and quality of the wood. The value of a mature high forest will thus depend on both the terroir and in the way in which it has been “led,” as French winegrowers say, or managed, in the words of the forester.
The book, fully illustrated with photographies, compile, through a gazeteer with a lot of details about geography, mesoclimate and history, a list of twenty-six beautiful oak wood forests, as the forest of Châteauroux.
At 5,300 hectares (13,096 acres), the national forest of Châteauroux is a prime example of a forest massif of the Atlantic type. 99% of it is oak, 80% sessile and 20% common. “Beech and hornbeam accompany the oaks in their striving for sunlight, but they are kept in check by careful forestry practices,” explains Franck Jarry, of the ONF’s southern Berry office. “Soil and subsoil consist of limestone marl, sand, and fairly silty sandstone,” the specialist continues, informing us that the forest receives some 800 mm (31½ in.) of rain a year. The presence of lily of the valley emerging from the humus is the sign of an old forest, while wood anemones are an indicator of a soil favorable to the sessile oak.
Split into 276 plots and 15 cantons, it is, like all the ONF’s forests, divided into “forestry stations,” that each correspond to a type of soil and variety of tree. Châteauroux possesses four: a mix of common oak and hornbeam on the richest soils (pH 7), sessile oak and beech on the clay, sand, and loamy soils (pH 6). More acid soils (pH 5) are home to Scots pine and some sessile oak, while the maritime pine occurs on the most acidic soil (pH 4). “Châteauroux is a productive forest and is the object of a sustainable management plan that provides for maintenance work and clearing over twenty years,” Franck Jarry adds. The objective is twofold: natural regeneration and an increase in the diameter of the trees.” A change of approach for the ONF, which hitherto has put the emphasis on height.
Throughout its history the forest has had to endure the vicissitudes of the seigniory of Châteauroux, passing from the hands of Henry II to Henry IV, then from Louis XV to Louis XVI’s brother, before being seized as national property and entering public ownership. Having long gone up in smoke in the forge furnaces, the oak forests might have enjoyed some respite with the demise of small-scale metallurgy when the railroad reached Châteauroux in 1847. No such luck. It promptly provided firewood for Paris and unregulated felling continued. Between the disappearance of the last wolf in 1885 and the appearance of the first chainsaw in 1959, the oak forest of Chateauroux nevertheless had time to restore itself to health and is now cared for by the ONF.
Find out the entire gazeteer of France’s great oak woods, and much more, in The oak in majesty, from forest to wine written by Sylvain Charlois and Thierry Dussard.