The Romelaëre ponds: a remarkable ecosystem


Astride the marshes of Saint-Omer, Clairmarais and Nieurlet, the ponds of Rommelaere conceal natural riches. It is no coincidence that this area of ​​the Audomarois marshes is classified as a national nature reserve! It is also the heart of the biosphere reserve (MaB Unesco) of the Audomarois country. Accessible all year round except in winter, the reserve has three pedestrian circuits to discover the fauna and flora of the place, as well as a nearby hiking trail. To organize your visit to the Romelaere reserve, the Grange Nature team in Clairmarais welcomes you with open arms!

Let's discover without further delay the history of this reserve as well as its fauna and flora!

A brief history of the origins of the Audomarois marsh

In the seventh century, the monks Bertin, Momelin, Ebertram, supervised by Bishop Audomar, landed on the territory of what is now called Audomarois. Their goal ? Increase the number of places of worship and communities in Morinie in order to evangelize the Morin people.
At that time, the Audomarois marsh was just a common swamp. A muddy, flooded, bare and inhospitable backwater, frequented only by a few fishermen. It took centuries of hard work to create this incredible natural space that we all know today!
Today, every corner of the Audomarois marsh tells us the incredible story of these workers. These "diggers of watergangs" and these "makers of polders" worked tirelessly for centuries to promote the flow of water and drain the plots of land to make them cultivable. Other eloquent traces of this past, the Upper and Lower Meldyck, two canals which remind us of the first developments by the monks of Saint-Bertin and the Counts of Flanders. The Petite and Grande Meer, for their part, bear witness to the existence of a huge lake in the heart of the marsh, covering more than one hundred hectares. Finally, the polders reveal to us the tricks implemented from the end of the XNUMXth century to get a multitude of market gardening lands out of the water…

The Rommelaere ponds, an old peat bog

The Audomarois marsh is splendid when visited from the water. It is even more surprising seen from the sky! If you haven't had the opportunity to fly over it by plane or hot air balloon one day, the many aerial photos available on the Internet will give you an idea. Seen from above, the Audomarois marsh looks like a gigantic mosaic revealing its 700 kilometers of watergangs, its thousands of plots and its fifty ponds. Some were dug specifically for hunting and fishing in the past. Others are the vestiges of the exploitation of peat from the Middle Ages to the XNUMXth century. This was, before coal mining, the only way to keep warm! One of these bogs is particularly eye-catching given the surface area it occupies. This is the area of ​​the Romelaëre ponds which covers more than a hundred hectares!

Ponds of the Audomarois marshes – Philippe Hudelle

The Romelaere Nature Reserve, center of the Biosphere Reserve.

Today, the Rommelaere ponds display a few titles worthy of their flora and fauna wealth: National Nature Reserve and Biosphere Reserve. Starting from La Grange Nature (rue du Rommelaere on the edge of the Clairmarais forest), a few trails invite us to discover this incredible ecosystem.

Watergang Fauna

This ecosystem is made up of many watergangs, an ideal biotope for an unsuspected life. Indeed, the ditches and the small, narrow rivers participating in the drainage of the land are home to a rich biodiversity. We find on the edge several species of dragonflies, while the waters teem with amphibians (green and red frogs, salamanders, newts…). We also find in these waters from the Aa 26 species of fish.
Within the marsh and especially in the ponds of Rommelaere, a highly preserved place, we can come across a plethora of other animals. This is the case with insects of all kinds, bats, butterflies, but also birds.
In addition to common wetland birds (ducks, coots, grebes, swans, gray herons, little egrets, bitterns, marsh harriers), 200 species of birds make their home in our marsh. They live there year-round, or stay here and there for a few months. The Least Bittern falls into the second category. Local pride, the "smallest heron in Europe" returns each year from Africa in May to mate in France. 10% of the French bittern population is found in Rommelaere, which represents a beautiful colony!

The flora of Rommelaere

Fans of botany and especially wetland plants, are not left out. The waters of the Romelaere ponds are indeed conducive to the development of hydrophyte plants (plants living in water) such as lentils and water lilies.
The banks, for their part, are full of helophyte varieties. Understand by this, plants living with their feet in the water and their heads in the air. This is the case for cattail, reed, cattail, flowering rush, water iris...

On the banks also flourish the "pollar willows". These white willows get their name from their resemblance to the young frog when they are pruned. They indeed display a big green head in summer! Why such a shape? It's very simple: the inhabitants of the marsh prune and top the willows every five years in order to control it and prevent it from developing anarchically. This is how their trunks retain a size "at the height of a man" and display a kind of "ball" at their end. The regular pollarding operation once brought firewood, tool handles as well as stakes and branches used to reinforce the banks. This operation is called “fascination”. This tree also has other virtues: its roots maintain the banks and its trunk, which becomes hollow with age, shelters various animals essential for biodiversity such as the hedgehog or the owl.

Wet meadows, on the other hand, have a wide variety of hygrophilous plants such as orchids and buttercups, loving soils that are waterlogged but not flooded.

An educational journey

Along the walking paths, we appreciate the marked educational trail (adapted to visitors with disabilities). The latter reveals to us all this interdependent life based on a fragile balance. In addition, an audio-guide system reveals the different landscapes specific to the environment as well as the facilities used by men to reconcile human activity and respect for the environment. This is particularly the case for the bocage system (hedgerows between fields fixing the soil and developing biodiversity) or the extensive pasture system.

A walk to do and redo, as a couple, with friends or family, to get away from it all while learning more about our history as well as the mechanics of Mother Nature!

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