The scattered vestiges of the French colony, its ponds and nature trail recount the story of a bygone era. Today, under the management of the Forestry Department, Bras d’Eau greets visitors to a tour of refreshing smells, scents, plants and landscape located in the North East of the island.
Bras d’Eau got its name from the outline of the mass of water protruding in the land in the shape of an arm between Pointe Radeau and Belcourt. The region was once covered by dense forests consisting of black ebony, Eucalyptus, Bois d’Olive, Bois j de Ronde and other indigenous species of which many are still found scattered over the area. ..
ln 1840 the land around Bras d’Eau was owned by Mr Clement Ulcoq, until it formed part of a domain and in 1867 a sugar factory was set up there. Later in 1901, the Government acquired the land and created the Bras d’Eau forest. Exotic species of economic importance like ‘Eucalyptus tereticornis’, ‘Araucaria cunninghamii’, ‘Tectona grandis’ (Teak) and ‘Albizia Labbek’ (Bois Noir) were planted in the forest.
A litchi and a mango orchard, was created and still exists today. It extends over an area of seven hectares, consisting of 280 litchi and 2,800 mango trees. Today the mango orchard çan produce up to 100,000 mangoes when harvest is not aflected by pests and thieves.
The Bras d’Eau forest is also the natural habitat for an isolated species, çalled Mauritius Paradise Fly Catcher more commonly known as the ‘Coq des bois’.
Some years back this endemic bird was considered as a critically endan- gered species but fortunately today some 40 pairs roam around the forest. It indeed, is also a nature) habitat for migratory birds coming from the northern hemisphere to escape the rigours of winter. The Mare Sarcelle in thee vicinity of the nature trail is usually their meeting place.
To protect these species along with the special variety of trees which characterise Bras d’Eau forest, the reserve was put under the Wildlife National Park Act 1993 and the management given to the Conservator of Forests.
The forestry zone of Bras d’Eau spreads over 432.73 hectares of land and its vegetation is mainly Coastal type, rich in lowland plant species putting together some 13 species of which Eucalyptus, Tecoma, Teck, Mahogany, Filao and Bois Noir are the most popular.
One of the main features along the 3,6 km of nature trail between Bras d’Eau and Poste Lafayette, is the three ponds named Bassin Camaron, Bassin, Coq de Bois and Bassin Mahogany.
An ancient railway track sends one wondering about the time when Bras d’Eau was a railway station.
What was formerly a sugar factory was later converted into a granary where goods and stuff used to be stored and provided the neighbouring regions with food. The sugar factory was 183m long by 17m large, a measurement which was quite exceptional at that time.
In the vicinity of the nature track was also an ancient aloe fibre factory. Aloe fibre was brought from the neigh¬bouring regions, processed and bags were made out of them.
Another vestige of the French colonial period is a well built during the French era. A particularity of the well is its rectangular aspect from the outside, which loudly contrasts with its circular form from the inside.
Thirty-seven feet deep, the well was later preserved and restored as a testimony of the French development of the island.
With the aim to sensitise people on preserving natural habitats and plants, and bringing awareness of people to the wealth of endemic and indigenous plants of Mauritius, a forest nursery has been set up for the sale of indigenous and ornamental plants. Today some 125,000 plants are available for Mauritians.