At first glance, the wooded countryside surrounding Meymac appears ancient and immutable. Yet, just one hundred years ago it was a very different picture!
Meymac lies on the edge of the Millevanches plateau, also known as “Limousine Mountain”, not far from Mont-Bessou, the highest point in Corrèze at some 984 metres. The lands across the plain are varied, alternating between peat moors, mountainous areas and small valleys.
10,000 years ago, forests dominated the landscape, but farming during various different periods since Roman times caused them to recede.
In the 19th century the mountainous areas of the plateau were little more than windswept heather and gorse moors that supported little in terms of agriculture other than large-scale sheep farming. Only a few ancient beech forests remained mid-way up the slopes.
In 1913, Marius Vazeilles, a member of the forestry and waterways protectorate proposed an ambitious plan to reforest the plateau, aiming to reestablish the natural balance between meadow and forest, and generate a new source of income for those working the land. However, due to a local lack of traditional forestry management skills, it was mainly the older inhabitants of Corrèze who worked the land from the 1950s onwards. With the aim of maximising yield, they planted single varieties of trees across great tracts of land, which was contrary to the recommended practice of alternating smaller expanses of woodland with cattle pasture.
In contrast with the existing forests of ancient deciduous trees, the majority of the species planted were fast-growing conifers such as Sylvester pine, which was quickly supplanted by Spruce and Douglas firs, better suited to the needs of the timber and paper mills. The Farges forest, planted in 1895, today contains the oldest Douglas firs on the plateau. They are some of the tallest trees in France.
A number of forestry companies were set up to take advantage of this natural resource. Nowadays, some are trying to gradually eliminate the practice of clearcutting used in previous years, in favour of more harmonious landscape and habitat management.
Around the abbey
- 1. The Millevanche Plateau Forest
- 2. Building Meymac
The Millevanche Plateau Forest
Meymac lies in an area mostly covered by forest, but that has not always been the case. The development of the countryside and how and why it has changed are explained in this first video.