RUNA

Articles in ‘RUNA’

60% of Spaniards would pay tax to protect nature

January 28th, 2009

A survey published today in El Pais suggests that there is a growing acceptance in Spanish society of the need to protect nature. Despite the economic crisis, the survey found that 60% of Spaniards would pay a tax to protect nature. 80% stated that they were “very” or “quite” worried about the state of Spain’s natural heritage, and 73% believed it was necessary to intervene to protect endangered animals. The survey was carried out by the Fundación Félix Rodríguez.

Some more results according to the study:

  • 4 out of 10 Spaniards would be prepared to change their own consumer and leisure habits to help conserve the country’s natural heritage and biodiversity.
  • 8 out of 10 are in favour of the promotion of “ecological” agriculture.
  • Spanish people see a very strong connection between rural development and the conservation of biodiversity.
  • 80% say that progress and development of rural areas will guarantee the conservation of nature and the protection of natural species, in addition to improving the life of people living in cities.
  • Most believe that that the recovery of endangered species will help increase the value of rural areas. This is linked to the results showing that the abandonment of the countryside is seen as the third most important cause of loss of biodiversity (17%,) after pollution (28%) and building (30%) and ahead of climate change (16%).
  • Because of this more than half of those interviewed (52%) said that they would prepared to pay a tax to promote development and progress in rural areas. However, society is more concerned by the negative consequences of environmental degradation than for nature in itself. People stated that the loss of species would affect them directly in terms of health (31%) and in terms of food quality (31%). Read in El Pais

The survey is line with the ideas promoted by the RUNA project of the Fundación Félix Rodríguez which in some capacity I hope to be involved with.

RUNA seeks to combine rural life with the natural world, and hand back the custody of the latter to the people who live in isolated rural areas, and who, by accident or design, over the centuries managed to foster such a rich biodiversity. This is to be a partnership between those who live and work in the rural world (farmers, hunters, foresters, etc) and those who work in natural history (biologists, wardens and environmentalists), turning biodiversity into an economic asset which can foster sustainable development and bring young people back.

RUNA

April 17th, 2008

Over the next two days (18-19th April) I’ve been invited to attend what promises to be one of the most interesting meetings in recent Spanish conservation history. The seminar is entitled “Conservation of Biodiversity and Rural Development” and is organised by the RUNA project under auspices of the Fundación Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente. Some 40 representatives from an array of Spain’s leading conservation and rural groups will be attendance along with experts in e-portals and information technology. The aim is to help to define the RUNA (rural – natural) project, which seeks to find ways of combining rural life with the natural world, and hand back the custody of the latter to the people who live in isolated rural areas, and who, by accident or design, over the centuries managed to foster such a rich biodiversity. This is to be a partnership between those who live and work in the rural world (farmers, hunters, foresters, etc) and those who work in natural history (biologists, wardens and environmentalists), turning biodiversity into an economic asset which can foster sustainable development and bring young people back. Benigno Varillas, founder of Quercus, and the person in charge of the project notes, ”The rural as we know it is coming to an end. It needs reconversion… Nature conservation stands at a crossroads… As the rural population grows older and EU money dries up, the rural world must change.

The Internet platform will be formed by several distinct areas. These include (there are more):

  1. Public and private forums and blogs. Some of the forums will be closed to the public as they will deal with sensitive information discussed by experts.
  2. The division of Spanish territory into areas each with a threatened species which will function as a flagship species around which to concentrate efforts (conservation, IT, education, business). The first of these flagship species is to be the brown bear.
  3. A digital book covering all issues affecting Spanish nature.
  4. A single-topic magazine sold in kiosks covering all aspects of each of the flagship species.

Some questions:

  1. The project is very ambitious. How to organise so much information and so many people with so many different ends.
  2. How to make these admirable digital contents useful for the real projects in villages and the countryside. That is, how to transform information into a real economic asset for the inhabitants of the rural areas, especially those least visited, and to turn their protection into an economic asset, and provide a real alternative to the attraction of mass development (skiing, golf, residential estates for the rich. industrial agriculture) in some areas and to the rapidly dying communities in many, many more. I repeat. We must offer real alternatives. The project must in the end be useful for the inhabitants of these areas and not just for the usual suspects (like me).
  3. How to get everybody to work together. As Roberto Hartasánchez notes in this month’s Quercus, it is not only farmers, hunters and who are in conflict, but often pointless infighting between conservation groups themselves. As a Spanish friend recently commentated, the Reinos de Taifa come to mind.

A few ideas off the top of my head:

  1. Rural tourism was seen several years ago as the panacea to all ills but in its present model of just offering accommodation it has reached a saturation point in many areas, with properties being full for a few key dates of the year while the rest of the year owners are faced with very low occupancy levels. Rural tourism must be promoted – as it often is – with additional activities or as part of a route if it is offer more. I’m stating the obvious I know.
  2. Conversion of activities – as an example I heard yesterday in Grazalema- with the end of EU grants a goat farmer is going to convert to horse riding activities. But the land will no longer be grazed which will affect the landscape and for example the orchid biodiversity.
  3. Setting up/strengthening national commercialisation channels for agro products to bring the produce to the cities. Although the production costs will remain the same, distribution costs could be reduced. Perhaps a national brand “Producción de Biodiversidad” Agreements with large supermarket chains in return for improving their corporate image. Health food shops are not enough to bring about a revolution.
  4. Broadband

More on this soon.

Rural depopulation in Spain

January 21st, 2008

Excellent article from El Pais this Sunday on rural depopulation in Spain. Below is in part my rambling summary and in part my own thoughts on the subject.

The overall Spanish population is rising rapidly, and has recently topped 45 million people, confounding all predictions made just a few years ago. But, the only areas which are growing are those where immigration has reached. Parts of Spain, particularly in the West in the areas bordering Portugal, are still depopulating at an alarming rate. The provinces of Salamanca Leon, Zamora and Caceres have all lost people between 2006 and 2007. Orense, Lugo and Asturias are also in decline. The population of Salamanca fell by more 0.5 percent, though Guijuelo countered this trend with its role as a pole of regional development, attracting employment to the Iberian ham industry. In contrast, Zamora has been in freefall since 2000.

Professor Valantín Cabrero believes the problem is that Spain and Portugal “have always lived with their backs to each other, and if it were not for EU aid, the area would be a desert”, in contrast to the border between France and Spain. “Here (along the Portuguese border) are now areas with a Siberian demography with four to five inhabitants”. Projects have to struggle against decades of decline, heightened, historically, by dictatorship on both sides of the border. The young left these village en masse in the 1960s. Ever since they have been slowly dying. With thousands of villages all across Spain now populated by just a handful of old people, within ten years many will become ghost settlements, only visited by returning emigrants in the summer months. This will also have a huge effect on the landscapes and ecologies of the areas surrounding them, as many of these elderly people still work as small-holder farmers, cutting back scrub, keeping fields open. In many cases, they are the last of tradition dating back 2000 years.

In addition to promoting immigration, Cabrero believes the old La Plata railway should be reopened. “It would help save energy and reactivate the economy”. In contrast, waxing geographically as these people do, “autovias are tunnels of passage between faraway spaces”. Building roads in an area without people will not, in itself, attract them to move back, although it might increase day trippers.

One of the greatest problems of the rural world is the absence of county-wide policies, which are capable of organising and planning macro areas. Each village functions as its own microcosm, its own mini-republic, if you were. This is killing the rural world.

Another way forward is that provided by the new project, RUNA, organised by the Fundación Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, which seeks to combine rural life with the natural world, and hand back the custody of the latter to the people who live in isolated rural areas, and who, by accident or design, over the centuries managed to foster such a rich biodiversity. This is to be a partnership between those who live and work in the rural world (farmers, hunters, foresters, etc) and those who work in natural history (biologists, wardens and environmentalists), turning biodiversity into an economic asset which can foster sustainable development and bring young people back. Benigno Varillas, founder of Quercus, and the person in charge of the project notes, ”The rural as we know it is coming to an end. It needs reconversion… Nature conservation stands at a crossroads… As the rural population grows older and EU money dries up, the rural world must change…”(Fapas/LNE).

The forum as ever has lots of interesting things to say about this topic. Here’s Simon for example:

“I saw the issue on the TV news the other day and that article is really interesting. I think one key point is the frontier issue which. The same applied to our ‘comarca’, which lies on the border bewteen Catalonia and Aragon, we certainly feel very forgotten – there’s even a local refrain “Catalunya se termine a Camarasa” (you’ll have to look this up on the map to see what I mean, look out the huge natural barrier of the Sierra de Montsec and Tremp nestling in its basin beyond) we certainly used to feel very left out until new roads came in. Now there are lots of ‘Novas’ from Barcelona but still a general downward trend in population.”

Rural Spain needs to change

December 1st, 2007

Interesting artcle by Benigno Varillas, founder of Quercus. “The rural as we know it is coming to an end. It needs reconversion… Nature conservation stands at a crossroads… As the rural population grows older and EU money dries up, the rural world must change…”(Fapas/LNE). I’ll be writing a full article soon on RUNA, a massive project, which aims to find a convergence between the rural world and nature conservation in Spain, and which I’ve been asked to help with. More soon.