Geography and landscapes Channel Islands
Forming an archipelago in the Channel anchored off the coast of Cotentin, in the Gulf of Saint-Malo, the Channel Islands were attached to the mainland 8 years ago, before rising sea levels separated them. Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm, the main islands, are just a small sample of the more than a thousand uninhabited rocks and islets that make up the archipelago, some only visible at low tide.
Jostled by violent currents, cut by steep coasts and surrounded by reefs, the islands have been the scene of countless shipwrecks. They nonetheless have a long nautical tradition (the shipyards were famous in the XNUMXth century), and have a few quiet bays which shelter in particular the ports of Saint-Hélier and Saint Peter Port. The tides are among the most important in the world.
Despite its small size, each island conceals varied landscapes.
The largest of the Channel Islands (116 km²) is also the southernmost. Roughly rectangular in shape, it is located 160 km south of England, and only twenty from the French coast.
The granite plateau of Jersey slopes slightly to the south, where it sinks into the sea in wide sandy beaches along the bays of Saint Brelade, Saint Aubin and Saint Clement. The north coast throws itself into the sea in steep cliffs, pierced with caves, some of which are only accessible by the sea beyond the dunes which delimit it, marshy ponds like that of Mielles are the kingdom of birds.
The rural interior of the island, cut out by small fields bounded by granite walls or hedges, recalls the Norman groves.
It is located the most westerly of the archipelago, 145 km from England and 32 km from France. Triangular in shape, the island gradually slopes towards the north coast. From the sheer cliffs of the south coast to the sandy bays of the north, the pattern seems reversed compared to Jersey's topography. The hilly interior gives way to meadows and woods in the middle of which stand old farms. Saint Peter Port, in the center of the eastern coast, is the starting point for the islands attached to Guernsey.
It is the northernmost of the Channel Islands, and also the closest to the French coast: it is located only 12 km from Cap de La Hague. Surrounded by violent currents and more exposed to oceanic turmoil than the other islands, it has less natural diversity. The numerous reefs which surround it are however the privileged refuge of migratory birds and attract in this respect the amateurs of ornithology. The south coast, fringed with red granite cliffs, contrasts with the sandy beaches of the west.
Located about ten kilometers east of Guernsey, the island is in fact double: it is shared between Grand Sark and Petit Sark, linked to each other by a steep isthmus. Rising an average of 90 m above the sea, the granite plateau landscaped with fields and pastures which occupies the center of the island is surrounded by vertiginous cliffs, pierced with caves where sea birds nest. This small piece of land of 4,8 km by 2 km is not marred by any paved road.
Between Guernsey and Sark, 5 km from the first, Herm is a small slender land which nevertheless has varied landscapes.
In the south, the waves crash against high cliffs covered with pastures. The land gradually drops northward, bordered by dunes and sandy beaches overlooking a sea of crystal clear waters. In the center of the territory stands the hamlet where the fifty or so permanent inhabitants of the island live.
Herm, which stretches 2,5 km long and 800 m wide, attracts numerous migratory birds along its cliffs. More surprisingly, the sea currents drain innumerable shells to its beaches, some of which have been washed away from the Gulf of Mexico: the Shell beach is particularly famous for the abundance of these mollusks.
A vast botanical garden
If one associates with the favorable climate the immoderate taste of the islanders for gardens and botany, one quickly understands that the Channel Islands are carpeted with flowers practically all year round.
Let's start with the wild plants and flowers : ferns, gorse, broom which cling to the sides of the cliffs; heather on the moors. Hedges abound with daffodils in spring and hawthorns in summer, while those that line roads and houses mix blue, white, and pink hydrangeas. Many cut plants are cultivated and exported, especially to England: hyacinths, daffodils, orchids, lilies ... The island is also proud to be the world's leading producer of clematis.
- private gardens are open to the public several times a year, and there are even festivals and competitions dedicated to horticulture. Every year in July, the Floral Guernsey Competition is a friendly competition where public and commercial establishments compete in talent to present the most beautiful flowered facade.
A paradise for migrating birds
In addition to the species that have made their home there all year round (owls, warblers, woodpeckers, etc.), the Channel Islands welcome, depending on the season, a great diversity of bird colonies which find there an ideal wintering place. or reproduction.
Among those from the north who arrive in the fall to find a more favorable climate, we can cite wild geese, wading birds, plovers, curlews, etc. In spring, others like cormorants, oystercatchers, crested lapwings, northern gannets or puffins come to squat the cliffs to live their love. The many walking trails that run alongside these are a privileged observation post for ornithologists (a) maters.
Concerned with preserving this natural heritage, the islands have created numerous protected areas which form a real sanctuary for birds: the Quennevais, the Mielles or the Saint Ouen pond in Jersey, the Vale pond or the Érée pond in Guernsey, the island of Burhou in Alderney ...