Archive for the ‘Rural Spain’ Category

60% of Spaniards would pay tax to protect nature

Wednesday, 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.

Poison in the Spanish countryside

Sunday, January 4th, 2009
Poison is killing Spanish wildlife, it’s official. According to a study carried out by Ecotoxicología, with figures confirmed by the government, the number of dead animals found is only the tip of the iceberg. The study has revealed that in the last 15 years almost 7,000 animals included in the National Catalogue of Endangered Species have perished even though the practice of setting poisoned bait in the countryside has been banned since 1983. In general terms of species affected, the bodies recovered account for only between 5% and 15% of the estimated total of deaths due to poison. The author of the study and director of a forensic wildlife laboratory, one of six such centres in Spain, Mauro Hernández says the figures represent the minimum amount of casualties. Every year at least 800 animals are admitted to his laboratory alone. In the case of the Spanish Imperial eagle, the study believes that for every bird found poisoned another possible nine could be undetected. The problem is proving a stumbling block for many recovery and reintroduction programmes.
The method of setting meat laced with poison is aimed at predators in competition with man such as foxes and wolves but is indiscriminate in its killing. Even a small quantity ingested can weaken an animal and leave it vulnerable to death by other means such as collision with traffic or overhead power cables, or drowning because one of the effects of the poisons most commonly used is severe thirst. Most recent cases have been the discoveries of a Lammergeier and an Iberian lynx, both in Andalucia. 
As in a previous study by WWF/Adena, “Poison in Spain, 1990-2005“, the blame is mainly directed at a small proportion of the hunting and farming communities, the administrations of which are both trying to combat the problem from within. Temporary closure of hunting reserves where poison has been discovered has been found to be insufficient but stricter penalties should help. Two hunters were recently succesfully prosecuted and sentenced to two years in prison for setting poisoned bait on a hunting estate in Lérida, Catalunya. To supplement the national SOS Poison hotline campaign, a network of predator control managers is to be established. Let’s hope that tighter regulations on the selling of the noxious substances follow.
News from El País.
SOS Poison
More information from the Black Vulture Conservation Foundation.

Be a shepherd for a day

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

It is increasingly difficult for shepherds to make a living these days, and without them the landscape and biodiversity they help to produce would be seriously affected. Ways must be found to increase the earnings of shepherds and to compensate them for the work they do. In Catalonia for instance there is a pilot scheme which pays shepherds to graze forests thus cutting down the undergrowth and reducing the risk of fire. They are also employed to detect and warn about fires.

Another way forward is the great initiative by a group of Aragonese shepherds in the Medinaceli and Calatayud area. Ser Pastor por un Día, offers you the chance to go out for a morning or afternoon with a shepherd and a biologist and learn about the different skills involved in shepherding, mastiff dogs, local sheep breeds, shearing, lambing and the landscape they help to create. Knowledge of some Spanish is probably a must. Tel: 659 834 121 or visit Ser Pastor por un Día. I intend to sign up one of these days.

Update: The Guardian newspaper has since picked up on this story:

Stressed out city folk have found a new way to unwind – becoming a shepherd for the day and tending flocks of sheep. Caring for lambs at a remote hillside farm has become popular for urban Spaniards who want to rediscover nature.

Jesús Valtueña, a 44-year-old vet and sheep farmer, charges urban visitors €10 (£8) a person a day to tend a flock of 1,200 Aragonese sheep at his farm in Monreal de Ariza, in north-eastern Zaragoza province.

“The point is for people whose families may have had some connection with the countryside in the past but who now live in cities to come and re-establish that connection, perhaps showing their children sheep,” says Valtueña.

“Most of the people who come here live in the big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona and are stressed out.”

City dwellers and their children flock to the farm in January, May and September, the lambing season. When they arrive at the Pastores por un dia (Shepherds for a Day) venture they meet Valtueña’s eccentric partner, Miguel Garcia, a 20-year-old goat de-horner, or descuernacabras – the man who by tradition clips and trims the horns to stop goats wounding each other in fights. Garcia believes he can tell the sound and timbre of the bells on each and every sheep in the flock.

Half the lure of the farm ( is that Valtueña and Garcia let the flock roam and graze over various fallow fields and pastures, a traditional method of shepherding typical to the area for hundreds of years. It is not so typical now, however. Valtueña is the last shepherd in the area, his neighbours having turned to easier-to-manage cereal crops.

Abandoned villages in Spain

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008


I’ve just come across Pueblos abandonados, an interesting blog detailing abandoned villages in Spain with hundreds of photos and lots of detailed information. The photo above is from La Vereda, an abandoned village in Guadalajara, with classic examples of the black architecture (arquitectura negra) style. (more…)

Traditional huts in Spain

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

The iberianatureforum image gallery just gets better and better. Check out here the array of huts everybody has collected from around Spain. And it’s only been going three weeks. Here below a corrala from the Sierra de la Culebra.


A corrala (not corral!) is a traditional construction unique to the the Sierra de la Culebra. The heather thatch edging with an open centre protected sheep against both the rain and the wolf, and should the latter have managed to jump in, it would never have got out.

Most corralas are falling into disuse. A few have been restored as folk monuments. These days, shepherds lock up their flocks in warehouses.

Rural depopulation in Spain

Monday, 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.”