Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente

Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente

March 14th, 2010

Foto

Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, (Poza de la Sal, March 14, 1928), the great Spanish naturalist and broadcaster, died 30 years ago today. He was killed in a helicopter accident while filming in Alaska on his birthday March 14, 1980.

He was an expert in falconry and animal behavior and spent many years studying wolves, but above all he was a great communicator who captivated Spain in the 1970’s, doing more than anybody to promote natural history among the general public. He is best known for the highly successful and influential series El Hombre y la Tierra (1975–1980), which you can watch online here. Millions of homes in Spain were captivated by the series, and there are possibly apocryphal tales of the streets being empty when the episodes were broadcast. The series and his other work played no small part in the change in attitude towards wildlife in general and wolves in particular. Rodríquez de la Fuente used wolves he had raised himself from cubs living in a semi-wild fenced estate for the film. They were different times with inferior cameras than today. But, for all its trickery, the episode on el lobo still stand out as superb and beautiful piece of nature documentary and holds a rightful place in contemporary Spanish folk memory. And his work inspired a whole generation of young Spanish naturalists who work in nature conservation today.

The legacy of his work is continued with the Fundación Félix Rodríguez .

Call for yews to form World Heritage Site

January 13th, 2010

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

See also

Falconry at Spanish airports

October 5th, 2008

Birds can crash into planes and cause serious damage. Planes at Barcelona’s El Prat, for instance, receive some 22 collisions a year from birds. Airports throughout the world use a variety of methods to control their presence, but the most efficient has proven to be the use of trained falcons. Emitting the sounds of birds of prey or using flares have only a short-term effect, although new techniques may prove more successful. The birds get used to living with these so-called threats and the danger of collision returns. 95% of airports in Spain use falcons as a deterrent. There is for instance a “fleet” of 70 peregrine falcons at Barajas Madrid. Forestman reminds us with this video the role played Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente in setting up the first falconry units at Spanish airports.


Aena offers this information on Malaga airport

Malaga Airport uses a falconry service made up of three falconers, a tutor dog (working in conjunction with the falcons) and a team of falcons and eagles (of the Harris species). Fully-experienced in the complexities of falconry, they patrol the airport grounds every day combining their techniques: waiting on and out of hood or similar, thus creating an area that is completely prohibited to all other birds.

With the waiting on technique, the falcon flies in concentric circles over the falconer and the dog. When the birds go into hiding, the dog helps to flush the prey, startling the birds to take flight, which are then caught by the falcon. With the out of hood and similar techniques, the birds go from the falconer’s fist to catch their prey. The main differences between the waiting on technique and out of hood and similar is that the latter are direct attack techniques, used to control rabbits and hares, herons, seagulls and the like, whilst the former is used mainly as a preventive measure.

The birds of prey currently used at the airport are employed to scare away bird fauna. Every day an average of six birds make deterrent flights of between ten to thirty minutes. The time and place are never repeated to ensure that the invading birds do not get used to a behavioural pattern that they will eventually get to know and, therefore, evade.

The majority of the time, the flights are preventative, with no attacks and expulsions. When the flocks are located, the falconer sets the falcon loose to drive the birds away from the airport grounds. Birds of prey always perform a natural selection process and choose the weakest bird that is less lightly to survive.

Before taking flight, the falconers weigh the falcon or Harrishawk (Parabuteo unicintus). Weight control determines, amongst other aspects, the aggressiveness of the bird of prey. The less they weigh the more aggressive they are and with greater desire to hunt. Furthermore, the bird of prey is tagged with a small radio transmitter on its tail that enables easy and permanent localisation.

The falconers train the birds of prey at the airport and training can last up to three to four months. During this period, by rewarding certain behaviour and punishing others, the falcon or Harris hawk is turned into a relentless hunter.

Malaga Airport also has a breeding programme for Harris hawks to ensure the maintenance and development of a service that helps, day after day, to make air traffic safe. Read Falconry at Malaga airport

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Golden eagle hunting video

October 1st, 2008

Here’s an old and spectacular favourite from El Hombre y La Tierra series by Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente. The golden eagle has actually been trained to pull/knock animals off crags. I don’t think it’s fair to be too critical as it follows the standards of nature films of the time, when filming was incredibly expensive and they didn’t have the benefit of today’s remarkable equipment. The scene was filmed in a private estate in Segura y Cazorla. The unfortunate animal is, I believe, a mouflon. The rest, too quick footed for the eagle, are Spanish ibexes (cabras monteses). Read commentary on the forum where it was first posted, and where Clive suggests this behaviour occurs in the wild in Grazalema.


Iberian wolf videos

May 12th, 2008

I’ve put together this collection of videos from Google Video and YouTube of documentaries and news items on wolves in Spain. there also a link to a radio programme on wolves from Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente. Enjoy.

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.

Short-toed eagle video

February 22nd, 2007

9-minute extract on the Short-toed eagle from the essential “El Hombre y la Tierra”, by Félix Rodrí­guez de la Fuente. As you will see in full gruesome detail , Águila culebrera its Spanish name (snake eagle) is well chosen. And as De la Fuente puts it in his indomitable style “even the lynx, the prince of the predators of the Mediterranean forest, stands in awe at such a feat” Remarkable.