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Laminaria otherwise known as vraic venant at Grouet

This is a collection of two walks undertaken this January weekend spring tides, firstly on the saturday with the marine biology section of the Société Jersiaise then a short follow up on my own.

We set off from La Vielle Chaussée where you come to a vraic mark, this is one of many that were placed along St Ouen’s Bay and are mentioned in the law for the gathering of vraic which is one of the oldest surviving laws of the island, it evolved over many centuries of regulations and in 1829 Constable John Le Couteur proposed a new vraicing law and wrote to Sir Robert Peel urging that the new law, drafted by himself and passed by the States of Jersey, should be placed before His Majesty in Council before the coming vraicing season, “in order to put an end to the spoliation and violence which takes place every day”; and he assessed that the vraic of St. Ouen’s Bay alone could be assessed at £5000 annually. His law was passed, and entitled every parishoner to have his share of vraic according to his property. The marks were put in place so as to allow even access to all and vraicking could not commence until these marks were uncovered, thus allowing those from the inland Parishes of St Mary and St John time to reach the beach. Currently there is commercial pressure to scrap the law, I would hope that some sort of compromise could be arranged and collection out of season be licenced, but the public have little or no say in marine management in Jersey which is run by a questionable panel.

Vraic mark at La Vielle Chaussée

Vraic mark at La Vielle Chaussée

In the Channel Islands vraic was a highly valued fertiliser in 1893 it was said estimated that 30,000 loads of vraic were obtained from Guernsey and Herm and probably more than that from Jersey per year. Sir John Le Couteur (the former Constable of St.Brelade ) in his diaries descibes the early 19th century scenes on the beach which must have been most impressive,  he says  “I reckoned upwards of 250 carts and 17 boats. Averaging each 4 loads, would make about eleven hundred loads cut and brought up, besides what was sold as vraic venu. Some of the single horse carts had cut six loads, similar amounts are recorded from La Rocque area. The areas that are now carparks along the bay were originallyhighly sort after places set aside for the drying of vraic, and not that long ago the government were discussing the need to create more areas. Times past vraic was dried and burnt in the household and the ashes used as fertiliser, the amount spread on the land was at least twenty bushels ( there are 60lbs to a Bushel) of ashes were said to be required for one vergée of land, Le Couteur was advised to put a cartload of ashes per acre and leave for a month before ploughing . A load of fresh vraic would give you the equivalent of three bushels of ashes, and four loads of fresh vraic at least would be used on one vergée, this over twice the amount recommended in Brittany where it is known as goémon.

Grouet paved vraic track

Grouet paved vraic track

Moving down the gully we come across tracks carved out of the rock to allow access to areas and they also serve as areas where vraic collects. The first mention of these vraicking tracks being created was in 1545 by Curé Louis Hamptonne who had rights to the fishing at La Vraquière rock to the north west of Elizabeth Castle. The tracks in the west of the island were created and maintained by the surrounding Parishes with the Constables having the right to sell the vraic brought in with the first and second tides of the season, this money went towards paying those who guarded the vraic over night during the tide, this was limited to 3 shillings per person,. and funds for the tracks.

Petit Port

Petit Port

In the above photograph you can make out the the track making a flat V along the bottom area. The slipways around the island were made almost entirely for the use of vraicking and in 1903 60 St Ouen farmers petitioned the States requested that another slip be built.

At the end of a days vraicking the harvesters would gather and have a party drinking the local cider and eating vraic buns.

Loi (1894) sur la Coupe et la Pêche des Vraics le long des Côtes de Jersey.

Jersey vraic facebook page!

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