The Loire River

The Loire is the longest river in France and divides the country into north and south. The Loire Valley is in fact a large river system, with many major rivers feeding into the Loire, mostly flowing from south to north to meet the Loire.The Loire is a fleuve in French, meaning it exits into the sea (beyond Nantes, into the Atlantic).
The Loire at Amboise -- deep and deceptively fast flowing.
The Loire was once navigable along much of its length, but in the 20th century the river trade began to decline and after the Second World War, no attempt was made to clear the river of the debris of bombed out bridges and the like. Within the area covered by this website there are no controls such as weirs, dams or locks on the Loire and it is allowed to run freely between generously spaced levee banks that prevent habitation and agricultural land from being flooded, without canalising the river. The water level in the river rises and falls with the seasons and weather conditions, flowing fast and deep in the winter and becoming shallow with many exposed gravel banks in the summer.
A sand bank at Montlouis sur Loire.
The natural flow of the river creates several adjunct habitats -- islands, shallow swift flowing water, deep slow flowing pools, sand banks, riparian forest, oxbow lakes, calcareous grassland, limestone cliffs and water meadows, forming an important mosaic with high biodiversity. You can find aquatic, grassland and woodland species along the river in close proximity. The mid stream sand and gravel banks offer important safe haven for nesting birds such as terns, gulls, curlews and plovers. The oxbows host beaver, herons and egrets, grass snakes Natrix spp and damselflies. The riverside forests shelter orioles, ospreys, emperor butterflies and large longhorn beetles. In the meadows you can find fritillaries and orchids. The levee banks are home to wasp spiders, broomrapes, pipits and a different suite of orchids.

An uprooted tree forms an obstruction which will cause sediment to build up behind it, changing the flow and providing new, if temporary habitat.
The river is marketed as 'the last wild river in Europe', and it is managed more or less as a long thin nature reserve. The sand and gravel is allowed to erode and shift about the river bed according to the natural flow of the river and this adds greatly to the river's value as a natural habitat, with a natural cycle of constant change and habitat succession.

The Loire at Montlouis.
Not much is left of the old riparian forest. Most of it has been cleared to make way for hay meadows or worse, poplar plantations. However, the meadows can be high quality habitat, if they have not been 'improved'. The world's largest population of the rare Snakeshead Fritillary Fritillaria meleagris grows in the water meadows along the Loire near its confluence with the Vienne, west of Chinon. These meadows are often divided up into bocage style pasture with hedgerows, sometimes very old.

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