Spotlight on the Camargue
The Camargue is the largest wetland in France, and the second largest delta in the Mediterranean region after the Nile delta. An emblematic site for France and Europe, the Camargue has been shaped by nature and human activities over the centuries during which it has developed a strong cultural identity and unique natural heritage.
The Camargue stretches over nearly 150,000 hectares between the gulfs of Aigues-Mortes and Fos, forming a triangular delta with the Mediterranean Sea at its base, along 80 km of sandy shores.
Its central channel, the River Rhone, splits into two branches near Arles: the Great Rhone, which discharges 85% of the water, and the Little Rhone, which only discharges 15%. The two arms of the river form the boundaries of the Ile de Camargue, bordered by the Petite Camargue to the west of the Little Rhone, and the Plan du Bourg area to the east of the Great Rhone, itself bordered by the steppe-like plain of the Crau, the former bed of the Durance River.
The Camargue hosts numerous animal and plant species. Vertebrates are represented by 75 species of fish, 15 amphibians, 6 reptiles, 32 mammals, and 412 birds, with 111 regularly nesting species. More than 1500 of the 4,700 species of flowering plants identified in France are found in the Camargue.
Over the last 150 years, especially since the diking of the Rhone was undertaken in 1869, the hydraulic functioning of the Delta has been profoundly modified by human activities, in particular for agricultural purposes (rice-growing) and salt production. These activities have led to considerable changes in the natural functioning of Camargue ecosystems.
The Camargue plays a major role for some bird species, harbouring most of their national breeding populations (Greater Flamingo, Collared Pratincole, Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Bittern), wintering populations (Mallard, Gadwall, Red-crested Pochard, Common Teal, Bewick’s Swan, Greater Spotted Eagle), or stopover populations (Pied Avocet, Kentish Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Black Tern).