Seventy-year chronology of Salinas in southern France: Coastal surfaces managed for salt production and conservation issues for abandoned sites

This is a summary of the article published in the Journal for Nature Conservation in April 2019.

The Mediterranean climate in southern France, and particularly the hot dry summer periods and windy conditions, are favourable to salt extraction from sea water in salinas, which are human-made structures also referred to as solar salt works or salterns.

Salt extraction activities are mainly concentrated during late summer when the evaporation levels are the highest. Salinas have been documented in southern France since antiquity, although the most important creations occurred during the 19th and 20th centuries, which can be considered as the boom period for solar extraction of salt in the French Mediterranean region.

After World War II, twenty-nine coastal salinas (122 km2), located in the vicinity of coastal lagoons and in deltas, were exploited along the Mediterranean coastlines in southern France. Today, only five of these are still actively producing salt, currently representing 175 km2. Concomitant with the abandonment of many of the smaller salinas, the larger salinas in the Rhône delta (Camargue) strongly increased their surfaces at the expense of natural ecosystems, of which a part has also been abandoned after 2009.

This article documents these changes in landscape use by chronological GIS mapping and describes the fate of 91 km2 of abandoned salina surfaces. Managing abandoned salinas as Protected Areas is a challenge, because of the different landscape, biodiversity conservation, natural and cultural heritage issues at stake.

You can access the article here. It stems from a collaboration between the University of Montpellier, the Conservatoire d’espaces naturels Languedoc-Roussillon (CEN-LR), the Conservatoire du littoral, and the Tour du du Valat, in the framework of the H2020 Ecopotential project.

Bibliographical reference: De Wit R., Vincent A., Foulc L., Klesczewski M., Scher O., Loste C., Thibault M., Poulin B., Ernoul L., Boutron O. 2019. Seventy-year chronology of Salinas in southern France: Coastal surfaces managed for salt production and conservation issues for abandoned sites. Journal for Nature Conservation 49:95–107. doi: 10.1016/j.jnc.2019.03.003


Former salinas landscape in the Camargue (France). Photo : © Tour du Valat


ECOPOTENTIAL: Informing management of protected areas through Earth Observation



ECOPOTENTIAL is a European- funded H2020 project coordinated by the National Research Council of Italy (CNR). It focuses its activities on twenty internationally recognized protected areas worldwide, including the Camargue Biosphere Reserve (France).

The project aims to deliver products of Earth Observation data to understand and monitor changes to ecosystems and support the effective management of these Protected areas.

Download the brochure of the project here.