Bocage

Bocage is an agricultural landscape term that can be thought of as the opposite to broadacre farming. Instead of wide open areas of cultivated crops, bocage is a bit of this and a bit of that -- a mosaic made up of small fields, a few cultivated, mostly grazed, surrounded by hedges and interspersed with small woods. That at least, is its English and technical definition. In France it is often reduced to mean just the wooded sections of this habitat, but the technical definition is also widely used and understood.

Bocage is typically found in poorly drained places with poor soil. It is primarily grazing land, especially for sheep, but also cattle (both dairy and beef) and horses. The easy availability of water is an advantage because the stock need to drink, and the grass grows lush.

Areas like the Brenne and the Véron (the triangle west of Chinon to the confluence of the Vienne and the Loire) still have significant bocage habitat, but it is one of the fastest disappearing traditional landscapes and habitats -- small fields and poor drainage don't suit modern agricultural systems.

Sadly, this is what bocage often gets turned into now. Most farms here have switched from grazing animals to growing crops (wheat, grapes). This is a poplar plantation, put here because the field is too small and the ground is too damp to support a crop of wheat. The farmer has also ripped out the old hedge surrounding the field. Véron, March.
This small field, with its lush pasture, only a hundred metres or so from the one above, is what bocage should look like. Excess water drains into a ditch along the front and the whole field is surrounded by a dense tall mixed hedge of native trees and bushes. Véron, March.

Bocage supports a rare and declining flora. The pink dots in this photo are Snakeshead Fritillary Fritillaria meleagris, and the Véron, where this photo was taken in March, is home to the largest concentration of this species in the world, now very rare in the wild.
Limousin bulls, a beef breed, in a typical bocage style field, Angles sur l'Anglin, October.
Sheep and Lady Orchids Orchis purpurea share the bocage on the Chateau de Boussay estate, May.

Bocage is typically linked by a network of farm tracks and rural laneways like this one in Véron photographed in March. Note that the field on the right has had most of its boundary hedge trees felled, but it appeared that there may be an intention to let the hedge grow back in time.

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