France is located in western Europe and covers an area of 248,600 square miles. In the north and west, the country is made up of plains and low hills, largely treeless since the 15th Century. The Pyrenees mountains can be found in the south and the Alps in the east. Rivers flow throughout the country, emptying into the surrounding seas as well as into larger rivers. This article takes a look at some of the longest rivers in France.
Longest Rivers in France
The longest river that runs partially through France is the Rhine. This river runs a total of 764 miles, although not all of it is in France. It flows through 5 other countries as well, making it the longest river in Europe. The Rhine river has been an important navigation tool throughout history and continues to aid in the transport of goods within Europe. The Upper Rhine forms the border between France and Germany and has often been under dispute. The Rhineland area, west of the river, was fought over during World War I and eventually demilitarized, but Germany retook possession in 1936. Today, the area around the river is considered economically developed and houses 5 nuclear power plants. The water serves as a cooling system.
Following the Rhine is the Loire River at 629 miles. This river is unique in that it is entirely contained within French borders. The upper basin is characterized by narrow valleys, forests, and sparse population. The middle basin flows through alluvial plains and and the river widens at this point and connects to various other waterways. Additionally, the largest forest in the country can be found in the central part of this river valley, made up of oak, beech, and pine trees. In the lower basin, wetlands provide the perfect habitat for many kinds of migratory bird species. The majority of nesting birds in this country can be found along the river, approximately 164 species. These wetlands are also home to ash, alder, and willow trees. The Loire River hosts the largest number of phytoplankton species (algae) of any other river in France, as well as 57 fish species and a large number of amphibians. Humans have been inhabiting the Loire River Valley since at least 6000 BC. There are now dikes to prevent flooding and locks and dams to boost transportation efforts.
The Meuse River is the third longest in France and flows over a distance of 575 miles, part of which passes through Belgium and the Netherlands as well. This river originates in the Langres Plateau of France and empties into the North Sea. In Belgium and the Netherlands, this river provides an important transportation route. In the French waters, approximately 169 miles are referred to as the Canal de la Meuse and are traveled over by small, commercial barges.
A more complete list of the longest rivers in France can be found below. Only one therein, the Lot River, is below 300 miles in length at 299 miles long.
Waterways and the habitats surrounding them are often faced with environmental threats. All along the Rhine River, for example, are several major urban areas which rely on the river for their development. These same things that benefit the cities, harm the river. Industrial activity and wastewater disposal both contribute to contamination of its water. Such factors as population growth, agriculture, and hydroelectric power are placing increasing demands on supply. In addition, the Loire River is considered under threat of losing its place as a largely undeveloped river within France, one of the last. Attempts to develop this river by building dams have been thwarted by organizations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). As a result of their public education campaigns, a large portion of the river is now protected as a “Natura 2000” site. Since the 1990’s, the French government has been working to restore natural habitats and wildlife populations along the river. These efforts have resulted in the closure of three dams that were once operational and had led to the depletion of the river’s salmon migratory population. These two rivers, the Rhine and the Loire, are the perfect examples of what human activity can do to both degrade river systems and work to restore and preserve them.