Иво Данчев


The French salt pans at the mouth of the Loire river - a successful model for the conservation of traditional salt production

Mar 20, 2023

Human activity associated with the formation of small salt fields on the French Atlantic coast has contributed to the maintenance of many habitats and protected species of birds and plants. This is the case of the salt marshes in the Loire estuary region, also known as the Land of Salt, which has nearly 16 000 hectares of salt marshes.

The tradition of salt extraction here began in the 9th century and French salt producers continue to preserve traditional methods. Unlike the salt pans on the Black Sea coast, the tides play an important role in supplying the pools with seawater. At high tide, seawater enters the salt pans closest to the ocean and, by gravity, supplies water to the most remote pans. Because of the tides, the dykes easily collapse and it is not possible to mechanise production as in the Mediterranean salt pans. Here the salt is collected by hand several times a year. One salt producer cultivates about 60 basins, each of which yields approximately 1,5 tonnes of salt a year, and in recent years, due to drought, production has increased to 3 tonnes.

There are about 400 producers, organised in cooperatives, who are responsible for the sale and distribution of their products. Their motto is "We work for a living, not to make money" and another thing they share is that it is a nightmare for them to see abandoned salt pans.

18% of the salt panners here are women who have smaller farms because of the hard physical labour.

It produces "flower salt", coarse and ground salt, which is not further washed here and retains its minerals. The products of the salt-makers are sold in a salt boutique near Gerand, where salt can be found in different packages and with different ingredients - for example, with wine, with truffles, with different spices.

Since 1979, a one-year training course has been introduced for those who want to become salt workers. In recent years, the "white gold" has regained some of its former appeal and now, there is a desire on the part of many young people to become salters and leave the computer job behind. But only 15 of them are approved to join the salt-maker course each year.

The advantage for the salt miners of Gerand and Mes is that they can benefit from agri-environmental payments under the Rural Development Programme, because here the extraction of salt from seawater by solar evaporation is an agricultural activity and not categorised as an extractive industry. The measure 'Salt marsh management to promote biodiversity' aims to maintain the biodiversity along the shores of salt marshes such as the nests of the pied avocet, the circulation of water, and the removal of invasive species. In return for complying with the specific requirements of the measure, the salt marsh farmer receives an annual subsidy per hectare over a five-year commitment.

With this, the French salt producers of the Atlantic are privileged over the salt producers of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

A team from the LIFE project "Lagoon of Life" participated in an international seminar on "The present and future of salt pans", organised in the framework of the LIFE Sallina project, where they had the opportunity to share their experiences and learn from the French experience in salt production.

Salt factory
Together 21
Life programme
Natura 2000