The Gironde is a navigable estuary (often falsely referred to as a river), in southwest France and is formed from the meeting of the rivers Dordogne and Garonne just downstream of the centre of Bordeaux. Covering around 635 km2 (245 sq mi), it is the largest estuary in western Europe.
The Gironde is approximately 80 km (50 mi) long and 3–11 km (2–7 miles) wide and the French département Gironde is named after it. The Gironde is subject to very strong tidal currents and great care is needed when navigating the estuary by any size or type of boat.
Second World War
The Gironde was the setting for Operation Frankton, a British special forces operation in December 1942 during the Second World War tasked with destroying shipping moored at the docks in Bordeaux. These German blockade runners were causing havoc in the Western Approaches. The British Operation was led by "Blondie" Hasler, a Royal Marine Commando, who had a long-standing interest in canoe operations, and of the 12 men who commenced what was in essence a suicide mission, only two survived. The others were either drowned, killed by the Germans while on active service, or executed under Hitler's (illegal) "Commandos" order.
Islands of the Gironde
The Île Sans-Pain and Île Bouchaud are now virtually joined due to progressive silting and are referred to as the Ile Nouvelle. They total about 265 ha and are owned by the Conservatoire du Littoral and managed by the Department of the Gironde.
The Île Paté is about 13 ha and in 2006 was privately owned. The island has a historic fort built between 1685 and 1693 as part of the national fortification program masterminded by Vauban. The building is oval in shape, about 12 metres high and was originally equipped with about 30 cannon. Fort Paté, together with Fort Médoc and the ancient citadelle of Blaye, defended the estuary and Bordeaux. During the French Revolution the fort was used as a prison for priests.
In 2006, the Conseil General decided to make the island a ZPENS (zone de pre-emption espace naturel sensible). ZPENS status protects the island from development. If the owner wishes to sell the island then the Department has a pre-emptive right. After two months the Conservatoire National du Littoral has the next pre-emptive right and then after another 2 months the town of Blaye has a final pre-emptive right to acquire the island.
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- The information relating to the protected status of Île Paté and the general information relating to the other islands is public domain information which was summarised as part of an article in the regional 'Sud Ouest' newspaper dated 3 October 2006.
- (C) Parc naturel marin sur l'estuaire de Gironde et sur les Pertuis Charentais : l'étude est lancée Agence des aires marines protégées/French Marine Protected Areas Agency, published 2008-07-25, accessed 2011-03-30