The Experience Of Residents Of Ile De Re In France And Asks If There Is Anything We Can Learn From Their Experience For Bribie Island

In this week’s article, MyBribieIsland looks at the experiences of the residents and visitors to Ile de Re – a small island off the Atlantic coast of France at La Rochelle.  This article was written by Lee Shipley, Editor of the Moreton Bay Journal and first appeared in the Journal in June, 2012.  Those wishing to view the original article can do so at

The history of Bribie Island has many parallels with Ile de Re.  The islands are about the same size and have about the same permanent population.  The population of Ile de Re traditionally enjoyed a quiet, laid-back lifestyle and many city-dwellers purchased property there to take in this lifestyle and enjoy quiet weekends or holiday retreats.  Ile de Re was serviced by a number of barges from the mainland, but in 1988 the province built a bridge 2.8km to the island.  This brought more visitors who wanted to enjoy the lifestyle.  More people moved to the island and bought property.  Property values skyrocketed.  Today the summer population surges to over 200,000.  As the article comments, the island was under threat of being “choked to death”.

This has many similarities with Bribie.  More and more people want to come to Bribie to enjoy the lifestyle here.  Catering to that tourist traffic has become a key portion of many Bribie Island businesses.  Virtually all these tourists come by car and various initiatives have been implemented to accommodate this ever increasing volume of traffic.  This has included initiatives such as road widenings, roundabouts, and conversion of much public open space to car parks.  Proposals are now being put forward to convert even larger areas of bushland to accommodate even more visitors’ cars.  Some examples are shown in the photos below.  And as if to rub salt into their wounds, Bribie residents are the ones who are paying for these activities that are destroying their environment and lifestyle.  Clearly, this approach is not sustainable in the long term.

This on-going destruction of Bribie’s natural assets combined with the continual increase in visitor traffic, threatens the “Bribie lifestyle” which is what attracted so many residents to come to Bribie in the first place.  These actions threaten to change Bribie’s character and convert Bribie to something that is indistinguishable from any other coastal community and in that process will destroy its special character and unique attractiveness.  This will decrease the attractiveness of Bribie for those who want to live here and those who just want to come and visit.  That downgrading of the attractiveness of Bribie will be accompanied by a downgrading of Bribie’s property values.  As Dick and Dora pointed out in an earlier MBI article, people will decide they do not want to move to Bribie as it will no longer hold any special attraction.  Some current property owners will decide they do not want to own property here and will dispose of their current property causing the downward spiral in property values that we have seen in recent years to continue.

Ile de Re addressed these issues with what we may see here as some rather unusual measures.  Maybe they would work on Bribie Island.  Maybe they wouldn’t.  However these measures saved Ile de Re’s unique lifestyle and environment, and they saved and grew the island’s economy.  The article comments that there is full employment on Ile de Re these days and no one leaves to seek employment on the mainland.  It’s a win-win for everyone.

Are there are some learnings here for Bribie Island?  As Dick and Dora point out, there has to be some change if people want the lifestyle (and the property values) of Bribie to be preserved.  The directions currently being pursued for Bribie are not sustainable.

 Editor, MyBribieIsland

Fairweather Trail, First Avenue. Much of the vegetation in this picture is under threat of being removed to make way for visitor carpark

Destruction of Woorim foreshore for helipad upgrade. Helipad is now used as an overflow carpark

Trees removed for traffic turnaround at Arcadia

Trees in Lions Park being removed for carpark expansion




















Lee Shipley, Editor, Moreton Bay Journal

First published:  Wednesday, 13 June, 2012

The Ile de Re is an island just off the coast of France near La Rochelle and presents a close equivalent of the Southern Moreton Bay Islands and North Stradbroke.

30 kilometres long and five wide, it was warred over by the French and English until the 1600’s.

Fishing and evaporating water for salt became its industries for the next few centuries until it was discovered as a cooler alternative to the brassy and crowded Mediterranean coast in the middle of the last century.

Bridge to Bribie

Yes the water was cold, but the tidal flats provided an ample supply of fresh oysters, it has great sandy beaches and the fishing was always good.

Just like Straddie, it was favoured by the moderately well off city slickers wanting a seaside retreat.  An ex-prime minister or two retired there, some of the Parisian business elite bought up saltmakers cottages or built modest holiday retreats.  The odd famous person enjoyed the laid back obscurity in the ten villages that dotted the flat, windswept landscape or tied up their yacht in the three pretty-as-a-picture small boat harbours.  But it was still possible for the saltmakers and fishers to own their own homes and make a living.

By the 1980’s the balance between the islanders and the holidaymakers was broken.

The island had become really popular and the barges that had sufficed for a population of less than 9000 were replaced by a 2.6 kilometre bridge financed by the province.  Real Estate values zoomed and the island culture and environment was in danger of being overrun.

The population immediately doubled and the number of summer visitors from all over France sky-rocketed.  Today, the winter population is about 20,000 and in summer it reaches 220,000.

It should have choked to death well before now but the French found a way of dealing with the numbers without destroying the environment and retain the working population on the island.  The first step was to slap a heavy toll on the bridge which not only paid off the bridge in 30 years but went in part to building the infrastructure on the island to cope with the influx.  A decision was made last year to continue the heavy toll of $20 return per car into the future to continue the improvements for the island.

The philosophy was simple:  the private car is treated as a second class citizen.  It was pushed out to parking lots at a distance from the popular locations and are rarely allowed to park near the shoreline.  Most of these parking lots, like the French public toilets, are pay as you go.  Locals get to park on their own property.  At best, guests in the viallage get a short standing time in which they can unload their BMW’s, Porsches, Mercs or other prestige car.  If you bring your mobile home, caravan or tent, there is no where you can put it up for free – taking a vehicle to the Ile de Re is expensive.

But on the Ile de Re vehicles aren’t really necessary in the same way as Straddie or the Bay Islands.  Cycling and walking are the best ways of getting around.

The ten villages of the island have grown to provide accommodation but the streets and pathways in the new sections remain narrow and twisting – which means they haven’s had to go to more than two storeys to get everything in the village withing easy walking distance.  The quiet calm of settlements without the constant buzz of traffic is remarkable.

More than 100 kilometres of cycleways criss-cross the island between villages.  These give excellent access to what is on offer.  Only the locals and service vehicles are allowed motorized transport on them.

Even in shoulder times like June, when the weather is uncertain, the cycleways are packed with bikes of incredible variety.  These are mainly hired from the incredibly efficient bike hire shops found in every village.  As well as you stock standard “sit up and beg” comfort cycles, they have a choice of tandems, baby trailers and child tag alongs.

In fact the tourists themselves have become part of the attraction.  Young couples wobble around on tandems testing out their relationship as well as their personal agility.  Holidaying groups of mums and dads and children paced against the Lycra clad yuppies on their $5000 carbon fibre racers.  The teenagers yahoo around on their BMX style bikes and the less able had the option of electric powered bikes and tricycles.  I even saw a tandem designed to take what was the equivalent of a wheelchair.

The only real failure of the system that I saw was poor signage at critical junctions that lead to minor traffic jams of cyclists trying to decide which way to go.  Good maps are available but it is difficult to tell exactly where you are in the flat featureless landscape of meadows and saltpans.  And your electronic navigation systems are not too good about cycling in France.

Nearly everywhere there was something to see or do – as long as you were biking or on foot.  The intricate and extensive fortifications of the 17th and 18th century are best seen by bike as is the saltmaking and the oystering.  The new museum of saltmaking is being built in the centre of the maze of salt pans halfway along the island.  The magnificent Phare des Baleines (the lighthouse) and park at the extreme west of the island is another popular destination and well supported with eateries, gift shops and entertainment places.

The village squares fill early with cyclists stopping for coffee at the many cafes, restaurants and brasseries (ask a French person about the difference in the eateries).  Horse riding is popular, as is sunbathing on the strands and digging around for shellfish on the foreshore.  A strange twist was to see people biking between workout stations instead of walking or running as is common here.

Ile de Re is an object lesson in how to preserve a natural environment and yet still make it available to all.

So much work is available for those who live on the island that there is little need for commuting to the mainland.  If there is a loser, it is the farmers, saltmakers and fishermen who find that their properties are now valued so high that they can’t afford the local taxes.  In that particular French fashion for dealing with such problems the Government has found ways of subsidising them and preventing those quaint industries from disappearing.

Its all worth thinking about

Lee Shipley, Editor, Moreton Bay Journal