Gazeteer of France’s great oak woods – Les Abbayes, the cult of the oak15 January 2019
The national forest of Les Abbayes covers 1,300 hectares (3,200 acres) to the south of Bourges and forms part of the commune of Jussy-Champagne in the department of the Cher.
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 national forest of Les Abbayes.
The national forest of Les Abbayes covers 1,300 hectares (3,200 acres) to the south of Bourges and forms part of the commune of Jussy-Champagne in the department of the Cher. In the Middle Ages these forests extended from the Seine to the Loire: this was the time when “the world was covered with a white mantle of churches”, as Raoul Glaber, a Benedictine monk of the year 1000, put it. Abbeys were often the guardians of these dense concentrations of woodland, rich in legend. Though both church buildings and forests suffered devastation during the French Revolution, oaks grow back more readily than churches. The royal and abbey forests did survive and are now owned by the state. The ONF is now the guarantor of this continuity, so prolonging the work of monks of all denominations: Cistercian, Carthusian, or Trappist.
The name Les Abbayes covers a number of woodland massifs. In addition to the Cher, there are also several in the Allier. The national forests of Civrais and Soulangis, all close to the forest of Tronçais, belong to the same ecosystem. The neighbouring massifs of Maladier and Messarges, of Dreuille and Espinasse, of Bagnolet and Gros-Bois also share this common forest terroir. As does the forest of Les Colettes in the south of the department, though there the sessile oak is in a minority with 2,040 hectares (5,040 acres) of beech woods that grow above 550 meters (1800 feet). Cohabitation between oak and beech occurs in the more humid terroirs and proves relatively harmonious, in spite of the domineering character of the beech with respect to the oak. This is where the ONF’s selective clearings play such a decisive role. “The totality of the national forests have PEFC certification [Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification],” observes Claire Quiñones, director at the ONF Centre West Aquitaine.
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.