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The Forest of Colettes

The Colettes forest is remarkable for its extent and the quality of its woodland. Covering an area of just over two hectares (four acres) it climbs from 350 metres to 720 metres above sea level, from the river Bouble River to a place called La Bosse (“The Hump”) which forms its summit.


The weather varies with altitude, the temperature is cooler and there is more rain the higher you go. Sensitive to these changes, the plants and trees that grow here are staged in several quite distinct levels.


At the bottom of the massif, oak dominates, but is soon replaced by beech, at 500 metres above sea level. Then as we move farther up, the first coniferous trees emerge, eventually occupying almost the entire surface of the highest levels.


The main hardwoods:

Beech and hornbeam are the two widespread deciduous forests in the Bourbonnais region. They are very similar, with their smooth grey bark and small, slightly elongated leaves. They can be told apart by observing the leaf margins. The hornbeam's leaves have a serrated edge while the beech has small hairs.


The fruit of the beech tree is the beechnut, whose kernel is edible.


The Sessile Oak, can reach 120 feet  tall and live up to 500 years. The acorns tell oak trees apart – those of the sessile oak, Quercus petraea often grow in a cluster, directly attached to the branch, while those of the European oak, Quercus robur grow singly at the end of a stalk.


The main softwoods:

Douglas fir is part of the conifer family, its leaves are needles, which it keeps throughout the year. This evergreen family is also known as "resinous", because of their sap, which contains a very fragrant resin. Douglas fir, a native of North America, can reach 100 meters (330 feet) in height. It was introduced to France in 1842 and has become the most popular managed plantation tree in modern times. It has many qualities, but its young shoots are vulnerable to being eaten by deer.


The Scots pine is easily recognizable by the salmon colour of the bark. This is a very important species as it happens to grow on the poorest quality land, where other species scarcely survive.



Woodland wildlife

Animals are not always easy to see in the forest, but they leave traces of their activities. Deer, to mark their territory, often strip the bark of young trunks, onto which they secrete their musk. Heavy animals such as deer or wild boar leave easily tracked footprints on the forest floor.


Badgers live in burrows whose surroundings are flattened by their night-time games.  The hare is to be found living deep in the woods, while the rabbit prefers the forest edge


Although foxes are often considered pests, they are also the allies of local farmers, as they consume thousands of small rodents. Small and agile, the weasel is another formidable hunter that may be met in the forest.


Forest birds

The black woodpecker: recognized by his plaintive cry and rollercoaster flight pattern. This is the largest of all woodpeckers, the size of a crow.


The nuthatch: This little fellow has a particular way of climbing down tree trunks head first. His cry is shrill and repetitive.


Jay: remarkable for the small bright blue feathers along its wings and its squeaky cries which echo through the forest.


Buzzard: one of the largest hawks, and the easiest to spot. Very large form, with broad wings and a broad tail, she hovers and spins high in the sky.


Tawny Owl: a nocturnal bird of prey, which often nests in hollow trees. It is distinguished by its large head and eyes which look straight ahead.


The Forêt des Colettes - mining country.

Geologically the area of La Bosse is a granite outcrop surrounded by mica schists. For specialists, it is a geological complex of primary interest. The forest is rich both in botanical and mineral wealth.


A unique deposit. The Gallo-Romans dug here in search of tin and probably copper, the two metals that give the alloy bronze, which was so important to the ancient world, especially for the manufacture of weapons and currency. Nevertheless the major importance of the site is in its deposits of kaolin and tungsten.


Kaolin is an aluminium silicate, known for its whiteness and purity. It is the result of the breakdown of feldspar-rich rocks such as granite. Used as a raw material in the manufacture of porcelain and ceramics, it is also used in the creation of high quality paper.


The discovery of kaolin by Beauvoir in 1848, led to the development of its extraction in the second half of the 19th century.


Kaolin extraction began at the Puy Juillat quarries in the heart of the Massif des Colettes. It was followed by the opening of more than fifteen quarries spread over the entire massif, some with unexpected names — the Morocco, and Madagascar quarries among them. You will come across these as you walk around.


Today, only one quarry remains active, the Beauvoir quarry, which extracts about 30,000 tons of kaolin per year. The company that operates the quarry has about thirty employees.


During the washing of kaolin, a certain percentage is recovered as “cassiterite”. This tin compound is used in the manufacture of bronze. It also contributes to the profitability of the operation.


Tungsten, the second major production sector, was active between 1915 and 1962. First in underground galleries and later in open-cast mines. At one time it employed up to three hundred people. Tungsten is used in many specialist branches of metallurgy, such as steel with greater hardness and toughness, and is also used in the manufacture of filaments for light bulbs and ball-point pen nibs. This deposit of tungsten is one of the few to be found in France. Before closing, 650 tons of concentrated tungsten ore were shipped annually for the domestic market, representing 35% of French consumption. The discovery of very much larger deposits, notably in China, as well as the lower operating costs overseas, are the main reasons for the activity at La Bosse coming to an end.


An important source of lepidolite, a lithium ore, was also discovered on the site. This ore is mainly used in aerospace industries and in the manufacture of batteries. To date no lithium has been produced, but the potential of this deposit is certain. It is one of the reasons why La Bosse attracts many collectors and eminent geologists.