Roger Deakin wrote about the Albera mountains in his wonderful Wildwood, a journey around the woodlands of Britain and the world, published in 2006 just before his death.
Autumn comes late to the wooded southerly slopes of the Spanish Pyrenees. The mountains are a natural climatic boundary between the rest of Europe to the north and the African Sahara to the south. My friend Andrew Sanders and I have climbed through the leafy fireworks of mixed beech, oak, maple, chestnut and hazel woods in a bright-blue morning up a steep track from Cantallops, an agricultural village in the foothills, to Requesens, a hamlet that is really a long farmhouse, extended down the generations, with a small bar-cum-restaurant, the Cantina, in one end.
Coming in sight of the place, we enter the circle of a hillside wood pasture of cork oaks. A dozen white geese graze outside a two-storey wooden shed with a worn staircase visible inside. Some of the oaks are deep ox-blood red where the sock of cork has recently been peeled, the year’s last two digits painted white on the tree as a reminder of its next date, in just under a decade, with the cork-harvesters. The grass is well trodden and manured with crusty cowpats. This is the home pasture for the cattle now out browsing in the woods. Entering the level farmyard, we are greeted by four dogs. An old mongrel bitch ambles over gently. The others, barking half heartedly, are chained beneath a big horse chestnut. A pointer slinks away back into the shadow of a firewood store under the house. One half of the old stone building is a magnificent ruin like a monastery, in the shade of a giant plane tree and a small lawn above the rocky ramparts looking south for miles across the hazy Catalan hills all the way to the sea.
I took the photo in early November on the same route he took.
The expansion of eucalyptus farming in the Iberian Peninsula began some 40 years ago, sold as a profitable panacea, a fast- growing tree species producing abundant pulp in comparison with slow-growing oaks. Today there are more than 760,000 hectares of the tree planted in Spain and 646,000 in Portugal. Don’t be fooled by the fires that rage each year in the their plantations. They are not forests, but rather green deserts with a huge environmental and landscape cost. Every years hundreds of thousands of new trees are planted: some 30 million will be planted in Galicia alone. Crónica Verde More stats from El País
I wrote this on iberianature a couple of years back in relation to a bout of eucalyptus fires:
Yes, this is bad news for the owners and the people who live in the area. One might call it an industrial disaster, but hardly bad news ecologically. If there was anything more than token policy for reintroducing autochthonous species, one might even say it was a good thing, but as it is, reforestation in this damp corner of Spain will be swift. Eucalyptus is highly combustible but also regenerates incredibly quickly afterwards. There are hundreds of fires along Galicia ‘s coast of year, yet all along the Rias Bajas and Altas there is an almost continuous mono-crop swathe of these Australian trees. This birdless green desert is the true disaster of Galicia ‘s coast.
A team of Catalan researchers has studied the changes in the make-up of animal populations following forest fires, and have concluded that snails are a good indicator of forest recovery. The conclusions of this study, carried out in Sant Llorenç del Munt i l’Obac Natural Park, will help to ensure that post-fire forestry operations that do not harm these species of molluscs, which are sensitive to microclimatic conditions of the soil and vegetation structure. More here in English
February 16th, 2010
I came across this attractive powerpoint in English celebrating the importance of black poplar in forming the landscape in the southern Aragon. The valleys are scattered with traditional pollards which look glorious especially in spring. From Ancient Tree Forum. From the book El chopo cabecero en el sur de Aragon, la identitad de un paisaje. Patrimonio olvidado‘ by Chabier de Jaime Loren and Fernando Herrero Loma.
The Observatorio Convergente de Árboles Singulares y Monumentales, of the Fundación Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente has made an interesting call for all yews in Northern Spain to form a collective World Heritage Site as a method of protecting them, from the serious attacks suffered in the last twenty years. In the photo above, the stunning yew outside the church of San Cristóbal de Valdueza, in Ponferrada (El Bierzo, León). Crónica Verde
Research in five degraded landscapes in the National Park of Sierra Nevada (Granada) appears to show that field mice base their diet on holm oak and pine seeds, causing a deterioration of the habitats and an extension of scrubland in the forests. Science Daily
Dutch elm disease (grafiosis in Spanish) arrived relatively late to Spain. It was first detected in the 1980s, though it may well have reached the country a decade before, and has decimated 80-90% of common elms (Ulmus minor) in Iberia. One of the very few elm stands to have survived in Spain is in Rivas Vaciamadrid, near Madrid, as it is isolated from other trees. Efforts are being made here to conserve the trees here and ensure a genetic bank from which one day to replant elms across the country. Wikipedia (Spanish)
The Spanish government has announced a plan to plant 45 million trees of local Iberian, Balearic and Canarian species with the aim of promoting “Spain’s natural heritage”. The plan involves reforesting more than 61,000 hectares, revitalising ecosystems and creating some 3,000 jobs, particularly in rural areas. The planting will be done in public lands between 2009 and 2012 and will require an investment of 90 million euros. The programme is backed by the a new forest fire prevention plan
The director of Greenpeace España, Juan López Uralde, states that the announcement “is a first step but is insuficient to put a stop to desertification”. El Mundo
Unlike northern Europe where most yew woods were felled, northern Spain is still home to a few remarkable patches of yew forest, the biggest of which (and the largest yew forest in Europe), is in the Sierra de Sueve in Asturias. After years of campaigns, it is now finally to be protected. The wood covers 80 hectares and is home to a remarkable 8,000 yew trees, many of which are more than 1000 years old. La Crónica Verde
Medieval Spain exported much yew wood to Northern Europe which was in demand for boat and longbow manufacture. Iberian yew wood had less knots in it than northern yews because climatic conditions and was highly valued.
A poison from yew was used by the ancient Cantabrians and Celts as a poison to prevent their capture at the hands of enemies. As in much of the world the yew was venerated as a sacred tree and formed part of rituals, no doubt much of which was due to the yew’s extreme longevity. A vestige of this is the common presence of ancient yews growing in churchyards in Galicia and Asturias. Testament to the once more common presence of yew woods is the plethora of placenames – Tejeda/Tejedal/Teixadal – meaning yew wood.
It’s a worldwide phenomenon – whether bears investigating trash cans in the US, coyotes roaming New York, or boars exploring Barcelona – wildlife and human territories are increasingly overlapping. Near Vallvidrera railway station, on the outskirts of Barcelona, a mother boar availed herself of the contents of a litter bin in broad daylight. While two […]