The Gironde estuary : listed as a world heritage?

This was the subject of the third debate co-organised by the association Gens d'estuaire (Locals from the estuary) and the regional newspaper – the Sud-Ouest. It is a huge question to which the organisers of the evening did not expect a definitive answer at the end of the debate.

The Gironde estuary : should it be listed as a world heritage by the UNESCO?

The following participants intervened : Didier Coquillas (association Terre et Océan), Eric des Garets (Conseil General de la Gironde), Anne-Marie Civilise (assoiation Renaissance des cités d’Europe), Claire Steimer (conservatrice du patrimoine au Conseil Régional)

Several trains of thought were developed. The first part of the debate was to look at what is meant by heritage. When Didier Coquillas brought up the estuary, he spoke of “living heritage”. He spoke of the fear invoked by mentioning the possibility of a listing because this often makes people think “that things are fixed or frozen or set in stone”. However, you cannot “freeze or set in stone something that is alive and which evolves independently of man’s will”.

On this question, Clare Steimer shed some new light. She explained that the notion of heritage had evolved over the years. In the past, a building was considered on its own as an isolated object, now the notion takes into account the space and the environment in which the object finds itself. The classification is a label, an asset, a communication tool but must not be something which « freezes ». UNESCO classification would present an opportunity to homogenise or bring things together because the estuary is not without its laws about protection. All these “strata” of protection (historical monument, chemins de Compostelle, prettiest villages in France …..) bring about a lack of clarity.

Whatever the case, before considering a listing, we need to know all the elements that could justify this step forward. Today we are at the preliminary phase of making an inventory of our heritage. The Conseil Général is participating in creating an inventory for the two banks of the Gironde. For the historical heritage, there exists already a service which makes things easier, however for the natural heritage, it is more difficult because it requires the creation of an observatory to look at the biodiversity.

In all cases the subject broached has been in the sense of the development of tourism. Apart from the lack of a link between the two banks of the estuary (already brought up Tuesday evening in the previous debate in Mortagne sur Gironde) another problem threatens the development of tourism in the Gironde estuary – the fact that everything is programmed from Bordeaux. If we were to classify the whole of the estuary, we would be able to “irrigate the whole territory”.

Another point for consideration was also discussed – the appropriation of the UNESCO label by the inhabitants. In fact the question arose as to the place and responsibility of elected officials, where only a marked and strong political will can move things forward and to the place of the inhabitants who must absolutely appropriate the heritage for themselves “to know it, to live in it and to bring it to life”. (Anne-Marie Civilise).

A small shadow over the proceedings : Certain members present expressed their regret over the fact that the heart of the debate is almost exclusively concentrated on the “Verrou (bolt) of Vauban” which already benefits from this coveted label and not the Gironde estuary in its entirety.

To conclude, I concur with Philippe Lacour, who, in the same vein as when he mentioned on Tuesday that the estuary as a destination suffers from the lack of a link, claimed that big plans could see the light of day

“as long as we can break down the walls that were built up 50 years ago along this estuary”.