KOEPPEN–GEIGER CLIMATE GROUP
CSb (MARINE MILD WINTER)
Located at the narrowest point of the Channel, Calais, France has long been a critical logistical node where various transit routes to and from the UK intersect: ferry lines, motorways, and more recently, the railway tunnel. It has also become a key point of transit for migrants who, after the externalisation of the UK border onto the continent in the 1990s, have been subjected to long stays in the area while waiting for a chance to cross into Britain.
Various migrant encampments have appeared and have been destroyed by authorities throughout and at the margins of the small town. Many of these settlements have been referred to – often in a racist vein – as ‘The Jungle’. The largest of these camps, housing an estimated 7,300 people at its height in October 2016, was located on a toxic wasteland next to the motorway that leads into the port. It was violently destroyed that same month and the land absorbed into the neighbouring nature reserve, Fort Vert.
This return to nature, or ‘renaturing’, has involved stripping 20 cm of topsoil to lay bare dormant seeds from several years ago and recreating a dune landscape based on ancient maps. This selective landscaping reveals an attempt to erase previous forms of inhabitation and struggle that have defined the recent history of this place, creating instead the impression of a peaceful and apolitical landscape. The new landscape design and the designation of the area as protected nature have served to prevent new settlements.
Research by Hanna Rullmann
In early March 2017, the then-French minister of Interior Bruno Le Roux paid a visit to the site officially known as ‘La Lande’, or heathland, where the so-called migrant ‘ Jungle’ had been located. In an interview to the press, he declared: ‘I wanted to be in Calais today with the elected officials and the mayor to see that the dismantling [of the ‘Jungle’] was a successful operation and that it will now continue with an ambitious project to return this territory back to nature.’ Following its destruction, the site was designated by local and regional government to be absorbed into the neighbouring nature reserve, Fort Vert, and ‘renatured’ with a landscape design intended to prevent of new settlements. Through interviews with the actors involved, this short film follows construction of this landscape, addressing the ways in which a certain vision of nature becomes part of the border apparatus and interrogating the intersecting mobilities, rights, and co-existence of various forms of life.
Fort Vert’s landscape design is based on the radical transformation of the site’s topography through sandbanks, ditches, and lakes. These elements are meant to act not only as security measures that prevent the return of migrants on the site, but also to stimulate the re-appearance of a highly protected fen orchid known to have grown on the site some fifteen years ago. After the destruction of the migrant camp, botanical surveys found various ‘invasive’ and ‘non-native’ plants, such as onions and date palms, which were subsequently ‘cleaned’ along with other ‘ waste’, to make way for the fen orchid and other species considered endemic to the area. Within the project of landscape restoration, the return of the endangered orchid presents a confrontation and negotiation between what is considered to be worthy of protection and what is not: in this case, between what is perceived as naturally belonging and what is considered invasive.
During the late 1960s and 1970s, in anticipation of the construction of the Channel Tunnel, the City Council of Calais conceived a plan that would enlarge the town’s industrial zone (Zone Industrielle Des Dunes) through the acquisition of what is now Fort Vert. However, as the tunnel’s construction was delayed year after year, the anticipated economic expansion failed to materialise and the area was left unused for decades, eventually becoming a contaminated landfill that offered an obvious site for the concentration of an unwanted population.
Over the last twenty years, a number of migrant encampments have emerged in and around Calais. Each time they were cleared by authorities, and the inhabitants scattered elsewhere. Entire areas have been rendered inaccessible by means of fences, walls, barricades, while activists providing food or medical care to migrants have been harassed and prevented from operating. Over the years, various settlements have been consolidated for a period of time and then dissolved, in a circular process of concentration and dispersal. In this way, migrants are kept in a state of permanent mobility or channelled into areas where their presence can be monitored – a process that can be observed at Fort Vert. In January 2015, the City Council of Calais opened a day centre in the area, while at the same time, French riot police started concentrating migrants from across town towards the site with the aim of exercising a higher degree of control.
This sequence of aerial photographs, spanning almost 60 years, shows the changing land use of the site where the migrant camp known as the ‘Jungle’ was located before being destroyed in October 2016. Initially used as agricultural land and then as a sand mine, the site was progressively abandoned and slowly turned into a greenfield, where toxic waste from the neighbouring factories was illegally dumped. After remaining a contaminated wasteland for several years, it was turned into a migrant camp in 2015. These satellite images reveal a deep and layered archaeology, in which geographies of abandonment, containment, and exclusion emerge across multiple temporalities.