Pays de Herve – Overview
The Pays de Herve extends south of the Meuse, beyond Liège, and ends by the Vesdre.
Numerous watercourses have shaped the landscape into a succession of plateaux and depressions with wet floors. Underground, compact and impermeable clay deposits create water-rich soils that are more suitable for pastures than crops. From above, we can see a lush green panorama with hedgerows defining the meadows and remote farms the main features of the landscape.
The green and pleasant land so characteristic of the Pays de Herve is best described as bocage. That term refers to a closed landscape dominated by meadows lined with hedgerows. Ancient orchards punctuate the pastures and are concentrated around the built-up areas. Beyond the village centre, the housing spreads out across the landscape and ends for no apparent reason with small secluded farms. The demands of raising livestock and multitude of watering holes explain the dispersal of housing, which is characteristic of the Pays de Herve. Roads and paths spin a dense network like a spider's web and connect the various farms to the village and main communication routes. Unlike anywhere else in Wallonia, the Pays de Herve is the typical example of a bocage landscape. However, that bocage is sadly being lost.
From crops to livestock, the birth of the Herve landscape
Two fundamental factors precipitated the conversion to livestock and radically reshaped the Pays de Herve. Firstly, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, took strategic and economic measures in the 16th century to prevent the Catholic Pays de Herve exporting cereals to Protestant areas in the north. Secondly, the 'dîme', the tax collected by the church on agricultural revenue, didn’t apply to produce from pastures, unlike cereal production. The changing rural economy fractured the housing, with farms scattered around pasturages with wet soils providing quality grass. To contain the livestock, hedgerows were used to enclose the different pastures, creating a giant green chessboard across the area. Finally, fruit trees came to the bocage in the 17th century and still contribute to the Pays de Herve’s physical identity.
Sources: FRW – CPDT
©Photographs: Mark Rossignol