Archive for April, 2008

Peregrines of the Sagrada Familia

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Eduard Durany, of the Barcelona Peregrine Falcon Reintroduction Project, a scheme close to my heart, has sent me this photo of chicks in Guadi’s Sagrada Famila. Eduard notes that this year four chicks have hatched in the nestbox, a record for the site. In 2005, 2 chicks were hatched, in 2006, there were another 2, and in 2007 just 1 females. The father was released in Barcelona port in 2001 and the female was born on the Montjuïc cliffs in 2006. Photos here another BCN pair. + More info on Barna’s peregrines.

Thalassia and Galanthus are also organising a Peregrine Watching Day on 10th May from the Plaça del Sagrada Família, which is right in front of the nest. Telescopes will be available. I’m going. The activity starts at 10:00am.

Cazorla lammergeyer shot in Granada

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

One of the lammergeyers released in the Sierra de Cazorla as part of the reintroduction programme has been found shot dead in the nearby Sierra de Castril (Granada). Its body was found thanks to the satellite tagging system fitted to all the released birds. The female was born at the lammergeyer breeding centre in Guadalentín (Jaén) where another 14 birds have been born. This is the first bearded vulture to be shot since the reintroduction programme began. The programme is to go ahead and three more birds are to be released in May. El País

Plesiosaur fossils on the coast of Asturias

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Aragonese dinosaur hominid and maño by adoption and inclination, Rupert Glasgow has kindly sent me the latest update on Spanish dinosaurs from aragosaurus, this time news of Plesiosaur fossils on the coast of Asturias.

The latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (March, 2008) features a paper entitled “A Juvenile Plesiosaur from the Pliensbachian (Lower Jurassic) of Asturias, Spain”.

Plesiosaurs were marine reptiles that flourished through much of the Mesozoic Era, from the Upper Triassic to the Cretaceous. Along with the ichthyosaurs and the pliosaurs, they were classic “sea-monsters” or “sea-serpents” from the age of dinosaurs. Famously described as “a snake threaded through the body of a turtle”, or as resembling some strange cross between a lizard, a crocodile and a turtle, they combined barrel-like bodies, four flippers and a mouthful of sharp teeth: they were powerful and highly successful predators. Later forms from the Cretaceous reached lengths of 15 metres and had exceedingly long necks. Among cryptozoologists, the plesiosaur has traditionally been one of the favourite candidates as a possible Loch Ness Monster.

According to the authors of the paper, the size of the specimen found in Asturias suggests that it was an immature individual with an estimated body length of 1.8 metres. The fossil remains include eight vertebral centra, seven neural arches and sixteen ribs, which were recovered at the foot of the Santa Mera sea-cliffs, near Villaviciosa. They are currently on display in the Jurassic Museum of Asturias (MUJA).

The bones are excellently preserved, yet as the incomplete nature of the specimen makes precise identification impossible, the authors assign it to indeterminate Plesiosauroidea. It is the most complete plesiosaur yet found in Spain, one of the few specimens of young plesiosaur worldwide, and also one of the few specimens of plesiosaur dating from the Pliensbachian, some 183-89 million years ago.

For more information: see (Noticias, 19 April 2008)

Fire threatens Garajonay National Park on Gomera

Sunday, April 27th, 2008


29/04/2008 Latest news: fire appears to be moving away and is under control.

A fire is threatening the laurel forest of Garajonay National Park on Gomera, one of the last remaining Tertiary habitats to survive in Europe. The humid subtropical forest of Laurisilva covered almost all of Europe during the Tertiary, but disappeared due to climate changes . More soon. El Pais

Sounds of Spanish animals

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

valsain forest

Valsaín forest near Segovia (El Mundo)

A short run-around of Spanish animals sounds I’ve found on the web. Some remarkable grunting and snorting of Paca and Tola when they were bear cubs here. Emotive Iberian wolf howls from this Basque wolf site. The gruff barking of a roe deer and a wild boar sounding just like a wild boar somewhere in Extremadura from here. And here this rather nice natural history soundscape with commentary from the Valsaín forest near Segovia. And lastly but not leastly, the mating call of a female Iberian lynx Here from the BBC (real audio).

Latest lynx brief

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Dan Ward has just sent me the latest and as usual excellent Lynx Brief (pdf). This issue looks at:

  • The serious situation for the lynx in Doñana whose population seems to be going from bad to worse. He calls for an action plan to combat:

– High traffic speeds and volumes
– Habitat loss to intensive agriculture
– Apparent mismanagement of protected areas
– The population’s small size and low diversity
– Conflicting attitudes amongst local people

This is all undoubtedly true but I personally feel the greatest threat to the lynx in Doñana is the extremely low rabbit population across the park which is forcing young lynx to disperse into conflictive areas. Despite being increasingly hemmed in by infrastructure, Doñana is still big and wild enough to support a far larger and almost sustainable lynx population than now, as indeed it did until myxamatosis arrived.

  • The Iberian Lynx captive breeding programme is advancing well, both in terms of more captive breeding success, and in terms of actions and plans made for: further captive breeding centres, and; the planned reintroduction of captively bred animals in the future.
  • Lynx presence in Cuidad Real, Castilla-La Mancha with a population of 15 individuals, including 3 reproductive females, 2 adult males, 4 sub-adults and 6 cubs

Cuidad Real province borders the area of northern Andalucía with current lynx presence (Andújar – Cardeña). This, combined with the fact that extensive surveys conducted over previous years failed to confirm lynx presence, suggests that the lynx in Castilla-La Mancha are individuals dispersed from northern Andalucía rather than a separate remnant population. Unofficial suggestions have been made that the photographed lynx come from a specific private hunting estate bordering Andalucía in southern Cuidad Real province, which, if true, would confirm the hypothesis that these animals dispersed from Andalucía. Unfortunately, however, the regional government has
refused to confirm the precise location of these lynx. The Castilla-La Mancha government has justified withholding this information so as to protect the lynxes’ habitat. However, the reverse would seem to be true. The precise location of lynxes in Andalucía has been widely publicised for several years without apparent detrimental impact upon their habitat. Moreover, it would seem that accurate and openly-available information about lynx presence has been key to allowing effective lynx conservation in Andalucía through co-ordination, lobbying, conservation projects, research and outreach.

Also check out Dan’s recommendation for the new website with some beautiful photos and videos.

Pyrenean snowfall could drop by 50%

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Spanish scientists from the Pyrenean Ecological Institute have predicted that temperatures in the mountain range in eastern Spain and south-west France could rise by between 2.8C and 4C by the start of the 22nd century. At the same time, snowfall levels could decline by between 30% and 50%. The study also claims that the slopes above 2,000 metres may see snow for only four to five months, whereas today they are covered for up to six months. The report, published in the International Journal of Climatology, also claimed rainfall levels could go down by between 10.7% and 14.8% a year by the end of this century. Researchers said the predictions, which cover the period between 2070 and 2100, were based on possible rises in greenhouse gases. They used six climate models which accurately estimated conditions in the Pyrenees between 1960 and 1990.
Juan Ignacio López-Moreno, a geographer, who led the Spanish High Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) team, said that in the best-case scenario, if emissions were low, by 2100 average temperatures could rise by 2.8C. However, if emissions rose, temperatures would increase by 4C. This would clearly have major implications for the Pyrenees. The Guardian or CSIC report here in Spanish

Pyrenean bear news

Monday, April 21st, 2008

The last photo of Canelle?

The French hunter who in 2004 shot Canelle, considered the last autochthonous Pyrenean female bear has been absolved by a court, which believed the hunter’s version that he did so in self-defence after the bear attacked him. The death of Canelle caused outrage in France and led directly to the current reintroduction project of Slovenian bears. El Pais

Also in the Pyrenees, Guillermo Palomero, president of the Fundación Oso Pardo, notes that the Pyrenees still has enough habitat for a bear population to develop and stresses the role bears could play in increasing the need to combat the animal’s poor image here in contrast to the Cantabrian Mountains. (Aragon Digital). Some 15-20 animals survive on both sides of the border.

Dangers of ecologist fundamentalism for conservation

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

Excellent article by Roberto Hartasánchez here at Fapas and published in this month’s Quercus on the dangers of ecologist fundamentalism for conservation in Spain. I’m on the road so no time for a summary, but it’s well worth a read.


Thursday, 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.