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The Drought Breaks

 

The Rains Return

 

The sky weeps;

Bent low,

Hills soak to refill rills.

Upon the porch, we sit still.

 

The rain – snow in the high ground – has finally returned to much of Spain, bringing some relief to the drought we’ve been experiencing this year.

The spring that supplies our village in the Valdorba is still flowing at a trickle, though. It will take much more rain to raise the water table and refill the reservoirs.

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the spring last week above, the same spring in September below…
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But everyone has been happy to see the rain, despite the need for umbrellas instead of sunglasses.

This is a photo of one of the beaches in San Sebastian, aka Donostia, taken when I was there last week.

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I sat on the beach and wrote this poem.

 

Donostia, December 2017

 

On the breakwater, as tide rises,

Shielding eyes to see gleaming mountain

Snowmelt trickle by.

 

 

We shouldn’t be able to see the mountain from the beach at this time of year, for the blanket of cloud that normally shrouds the city.

But what is normal anymore?

 

Anyway, I wrote a few poems that afternoon. It reminded me of another poem I wrote a few weeks ago, which describes a little of why I’ve written so little recently, and posted less.

But maybe we’ll get back to normal sometime soon…

 

Words Come Forth

 

They say our words won’t be kept down;

They bubble up, under pressure, like lava

Pushing through a fissure,

Bursting forth if they can’t flow.

 

But instead, they are drawn

Under empty sky,

Sucked out by silence,

Pulled forth by the vacuum

Of open space,

Giving them a place to emerge

Timidly into tranquilly

Like deer from the thicket at twilight.

 

 

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This is what drought looks like

This is what drought looks like.20171118_122735

Spain is currently going through a water crisis, with reservoirs drying up all over the country. It’s been on the news a lot this autumn.

Sometimes you see stuff on the news and you just go back to your business and you try not to think too much about it. Like you do with wars and the other stuff that our politicians mess up – the Dakota oil spill being a prime example.

But if you look around you can see local examples of things going very wrong.

Last weekend we went to Ezcaray, a small town in La Rioja that lives off tourism – especially skiing in winter. The skiing hasn’t opened yet. It might not open for very much this year, nor for very long in the future.

There is a little snow on the hills, but with the warm weather that we are still having in November, it is probably melting. Not that you can notice it downhill.

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This is the river. It’s more like a dry canyon from somewhere down in the south, like Almeria, than a mountain river in the north.

 

When you search Ezcaray in google maps, this is the photo that pops up.

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It’s kind of different to the one up the top of this page. Or the following one.

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We were told that this is usually a waterfall. It has a fish ladder, which you can see under the cage on the left, for all the use that can be made of it this year. There are no fish in evidence in that pool, the only drop of water visible in a hundred metres. Directly upstream it’s completely dry. Just a few drops seep through the rocks. A few hundred metres upstream we saw a few small rivulets coming through the stones. But there can be little life there – not even mayfly or caddis fly – to sustain a river ecosystem.

 

The local council wants to put a dam upstream, we heard. The locals are fighting to save their river. A sign hung in a village said, “Water is life, save the river Oca.” I wonder if keeping the construction at bay will be enough to save it.

 

The End of Fire Season… until next year?

The cranes started passing over Pamplona yesterday evening.

They were chased by the rain that came in overnight. The first in weeks.

Autumn has thus officially started.

And hopefully also this means the end of the fire season for this year.

While Ireland braced for an almost unheard of hurricane in the North Atlantic, in northern Spain and Portugal, forest fires were killing even more people than Ophelia killed.

There were dozens burning over the weekend and until Tuesday, when the rains helped to finally extinguish them.

Unlike hurricanes, though, which are terrible, and indirectly related to man’s activities, these forest fires were only wild in the sense of the untamed destruction they could wreak. They were not natural. They were man made, purposefully started, and repeatedly so.

 

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Forest fires across Galicia, photo Diario Sur

After so many deaths, there are now questions being asked of politicians as to how these arsonists can be stopped. Spanish news has little else, other that the Catalan situation – politics and fraud, even football has been put in the background by the terrible scenes of people trying to escape burning villages only having to turn back as the roads are flanked with flames, and others park inside a motorway tunnel to wait rescue, or let the fires pass overhead.

Because these fires have been a part of summer in places like Galicia for years. As soon as the weather dries, huge tracts of forests go up there. All directly caused by humans and usually set intentionally, with a few the result of stupidity and neglect.

The people of Portugal are naturally outraged, after a summer of huge fires has been followed by an autumn death toll almost as terrible, with dozens of people claimed by the flames.

The perpetrators must be caught and jailed for their murders, but also, the politicians and police, if it is the case, must be held responsible for letting this situation get to this state. Why have these people not been caught for their previous fires? – because there’s no way these conflagrations were started by first-time arsonists.

Why do people go out of their way to set fires, driving along highways in the middle of the night with fireworks tied to helium balloons?

It’s clear they have nothing better to do, and they’re assholes of the highest calibre, but there must be some other, external, motivation for most of the fires. What is it? Why has it not been identified years ago and why has it not been removed?

There are forests that could burn just as badly and even more easily in other parts of Spain, so why are there not so many fires elsewhere? Galicia has 40% of all fires in the country, and half the area burnt every year for the last decade.

Surely the arsonists are spread out in a broader swath across the country. Or is there something about the mind-set of Galicians that makes them excessively prone to arson?

The gorse fires and heather fires we have seen in Ireland in recent years were all set intentionally for financial gain – the current agricultural subsidy system means that farmers make more money if there land is considered in use, even if it’s not.

Ultimately, stopping them will require a change in the EU farming subsidy system to allow land go fallow without farmers losing money.

Is there a financial motivation in Galicia and Portugal for setting huge fires?

According to Ecologists in Action, this is only the cause of a small proportion of the fires set.

What other factors are in play?

The use of fire for farming practices is permitted much more freely than elsewhere.

In most of Spain it is not permitted to light fires in camping and picnic areas and other recreational areas during times of fire risk. Not so in Galicia.

Vehicles are also allowed onto forest paths in Galicia during the summer, which is prohibited elsewhere.

AND they allow fireworks in village festivals during the summer, which is just asking for trouble.

 

But as I said, the summer is over.

The cranes, luckily, don’t stay long in Spain during their migration.

When they passed before on their way north I wrote this poem. Hopefully it will ease the depression of these fires. Watching the birds certainly lifts the spirit.

 

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European cranes. photo wikipedia – need a better camera myself!

 

The Great Migration

 

I’ve not yet seen the Serengeti,

Nor the caribou upon the artic plains

But up above my house in the hills,

I’ve been privileged to witness

The cranes migrating, calling

Eyes aloft to observe their long

Strings streaked across the sky

Huge wing beats by the thousands,

 

And can’t but wonder where

Those numbers bide in other times,

(Amazed such spaces yet exist)

And where they will find abode

In other climes.

 

 

Fewer Flags, More Flowers

I haven’t commented on the current situation in Cataluña yet.

I suppose that some might think that strange, given my previous comments on other referenda, such as the Scottish one, and my advocating for a yes vote on proclaiming independence.

This is a little bit more complicated.

And not just because I live in Spain, where some of my friends and family would be of the opposite opinion, and I can do without the aggravation

It’s complicated because the Spanish are, to throw a stereotype out there, bloody stubborn and ill-disposed to listen to the opposite point of view with much in the way of tolerance. Just a few minutes watching any chat or panel show will show you that. They can’t stop shouting over one another even when they’re paid to give their considered opinion.

This means the Catalan question has the potential to get worse, in a way nobody wants, but well, shit happens, and has happened.

People get entrenched.

Of course, my reticence on the subject doesn’t mean I haven’t been asked my opinion, usually with the anticipation that I’ll agree with the inquirer’s point of view.

I have tried to be diplomatic in giving that opinion. But give it I have, for I never learnt one of my father’s lessons – only say something if it’s to your advantage. I can’t hold back the truth. There are too many wankers walking around our world, walking on our world, because people have been reluctant to cause offence or call them out on their bullshit.

I went to Cantabria last weekend. Wonderful. But a small blemish on the experience was seeing the Spanish flag draped from many balconies. Some of these balconies were on the houses of Guardia Civiles stationed in the towns, others were on working class blocks of flats.

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Does the flag add anything here? No.

The thing is, that Cantabria is in the opposite direction from my house to Cataluña. Santander is three hours west, Barcelona five hours east. What the fuck the Cantabrians think they’re doing with the flags that the Catalans will feel any emotion whatsoever is beyond me. Nobody in Barcelona gives a toss if some lad in Santander sticks a flag out his window. At least, they shouldn’t.

But this is how entrenchment starts. First it’s the fucking flags and the waving them and the burning of others’ flags. Next thing you know, you’ve got the Guardia Civil staring across a barricade at a hastily formed citizen’s militia.

I’ve never been one for flags. Nor football jerseys. I can’t see the point of them outside the Olympics, to be honest.

There were several mass demonstrations in various cities across Spain (and I include Cataluña for brevity) over the last couple of weeks. Most of them had flags waving. There were thousands of people in Madrid waving their flags under the biggest Spanish flag ever in the Plaza de Colon, singing Yo soy Español. Amazing. We know you are. You’re in fucking Madrid – the capital of Spain. What the hell has that got to do with Cataluña seeing independence? They aren’t trying to make you a fucking Catalan. How could that demonstration help in the slightest? Or how, pray tell, is bussing thousands to Barcelona from all over Spain to do the same thing going help in the slightest?

It only serves to entrench.

There was one cross-country demonstration where everyone dressed in white and waved white placards. I liked that demonstration. The idea was that the politicians should fucking talk (‘cause you’d be surprised that a group of people employed to talk to each other could hide so efficiently from one another, or from the media for that matter. But Rajoy is a master at staying at home watching football while the country he’s supposed to be helping falls apart at the seams.). Needless to say, it had little impact. Because the politicians get elected by the people in the trenches.

They don’t care if that leads down the road to shitville. They don’t go to war, their kids don’t go to war, they are of the elite to whom this shit just doesn’t stick. And while we’re all in a fluster, they’re quietly getting away with the frauds they’ve been perpetrating this whole time. Both sides are as corrupt as the other.

So here’s my own opinion. which has changed little since last time the Catalans were looking for a referendum…

I would like to see Cataluña remain as part of Spain.

But only on their terms.

If they want to go, the rest of Spain has to let them go. It’s that simple. Anything else is just bullshit. And bloody bullshit if things go awry.

I would like to see true European integration. I bought that idea way back. My kids are trilingual, have two passports and I think we should move to whatever country we like for as long as we like, because we like, and not because some places have better jobs and better wages and their politicians grind other places down to keep things that way.

But the small-minded, short-term thinking of politicians has shown that to be a dream – hitherto fore, anyway.

Until then, though, each community should have as much say about its own destiny as it can get for itself. George Monbiot has been talking about the benefits of the commons in recent weeks. The smaller the group holding the purse strings, the better.

Now, the Catalans have been getting a bad deal compared to other parts of Spain, at least in their view – and let’s face it, it’s their view that counts. So an ever-greater proportion of the population has decided that it’s time to take not just the purse strings into their hands, but the reins and to hell with the rest of Spain.

Once that proportion of the population becomes big enough, then you have to listen to them. You can’t just ignore them as crackpots or begrudgers or whatever else you want to label them.

Sending in the cops against some hippies might work, but sending the cops in against a million people taking to the streets is just not on. As we have seen. I’ve witnessed National Police do similar shit to people in the past, but when they did it to thousands on October first, they got a media backlash that had just the opposite effect to that desired. To quote Peter Gabriel in Biko, “you can’t blow out a fire.”

Had the Spanish government given some certain concessions, perhaps the numbers looking for a referendum. But they didn’t do that. And look where it got them.

If a part of the population looking for independence reaches a critical mass, you have to give them a referendum.

Had the Spanish government done that a while back, well, everybody who knows anything says that the No vote would have easily won.

Look what happened in Scotland, even though we were all sure it would go the other way.

But they didn’t do that.

And look where it got them. Exactly where anyone who knows anything knew it would.

Once you deny a large group something, and especially if you go about it aggressively, without talking, with the heavy hand, the hard boot, well, all of a sudden other people outside that group will ask why the fuck you are denying their fellow citizens, and who the fuck you think you are denying them, and well, hell, they might just ask for the same thing themselves, just to piss you off, you prick.

It’s called History, Mr Rajoy.

So now you have a growing independence movement and a government still saying there’s no way in hell they’re going to get independence. And in fact, some of them are going to jail for sedition.

Easily solved, I think not.

The only option is talking.

There are other options, of course. Like what happened in other countries which became independent. History has lots of those examples.

And at the same time, history means fuck all to the future.

The fact that there was no Catalan kingdom before is irrelevant. The fact that Ireland was never joined as one country before the English invaded was irrelevant. The fact that half of a currently designated area is in favour of separation and the other half isn’t doesn’t mean that they either stay or go – they can split. Look at Ireland – though I know that was a bit of a fudge/fuckup. Belgium can become two countries, if they want, just like Czechoslovakia did. Cataluña might not all become independent. It’ll depend on what the local people say, and how many of them say it.

And everyone else, who doesn’t live in Cataluna can keep their noses out.

Except the goons in government. They need to get fucking talking.

So let’s see more flowers and fewer flags on people’s balconies, please.

 

 

 

If you want me…

It’s been a while. It’s been busy.

But I’ve been doing a bit of writing.

I have a few poems to share, over the next few weeks, as the summer proper hits us.

Meanwhile, if you want me, I’ll be on the porch….

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The House Stands Built, the Garden Lies Laid

 

If we needed lumber, I’d gladly go into the wood,

Cut logs and split them all afternoon.

Were there a shelf to put up, a cupboard fixed,

A picture to hang, I’ve no problem lending a hand.

Should the lawn need mowing, or the hedge trimming,

The garden path cemented, a fence erected,

Bicycle mended, stone wall constructed, a pond dug

Or a border weeded, you can count on me;

I’m always happy to go to work.

 

But the house is built, the garden laid,

There’s left little to do but watch the grass growing

So if you want me, I’ll be on the porch.

 

(This is a short video of what’s in front of said porch….)

Why do hunters have to be such arseholes?

Okay, modify that: why do so many hunters have to be arseholes? After all, I’m one myself; a hunter, not an arsehole.

Seriously, I see so many gobshites who should never be allowed to take up a weapon, it’s embarrassing.

The good news this week that Danish wolves exist again was tempered by the sad fact that the authorities are not going to tell anyone where the wolves are – and what a boon for eco tourism it would be, if we could all go and see the wolves! – because they are afraid of hunters going there to try kill them.

Why would hunters want to kill wolves?

(If that seems like a stupid question, I have another – are you sure you’re not an arsehole?)

Do they really feel that the wolves (five of them, for Christ’s sake) are going to reduce the numbers of animals they can hunt?

The government has that all regulated, and mostly it’s because of the other hunters that you can’t kill more. In Ireland, where there are relatively few hunters, we can hunt lots of deer each (depending on the area, of course) but here in Spain, where I am currently applying for a hunting licence – after several years of living here – it’s hard to get a spot in a red deer hunting area, and it’s a lot more expensive.

What’s the solution to too many hunters?

Perhaps act like an arsehole so that people don’t want to be associated with you.

In fact, that’s one of the reason I never bothered applying for a hunting licence here before. It’s a much more dangerous activity here than in Ireland.

The type of hunting can, perhaps, be more hazardous – larger groups of people in an area, hunting animals that are on the run.

But that’s no excuse for the number of hunters killed by their companions every year.

That’s just recklessness.

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If you have to wear an orange jacket, there’s something wrong with the people around you (photo from Washington Dept. of Fish and wildlife).

In the course I had to do for the hunting exam, I encountered a few of the kind of shitehawks I’d never want to share a cup of tea with up on the hill, never mind hunt with. Dangerously dismissive of the rules, they argued that since they had the guns, they should win the arguments with the walkers and the mushroom pickers that can fuck up a hunt. And they seemed inclined to think that anyone who moved off his post during a beaten hunt deserved to get shot, rather than consider it their duty to identify the target before shooting at something moving past them.

I won’t be hunting with those guys – if indeed they’ll be hunting with anyone, for I’ve serious doubts they’ll study for the exam. Nor will I be running to join a boar hunt, to be honest. I’d rather hunt alone here. I can go home to Ireland for companionable hunting. At least I’ll know I’m not going to get killed by my companions, and the only animals getting shot will be ones permitted.

Yet, separate and apart from my personal problems, the more important point is the issue of our good name. Hunting is getting a bad name, despite its importance in our and other societies. I consider it a necessary activity as well as an interesting one, and believe it will continue, but it will do some in a much more regulated and restricted fashion in most places.

Hunters should not have this bad name. As a collective, disregarding my own intense love of nature, we should be the most vocal, the most powerful guardians of the environment out there. Our integrity and conviction should be unquestionable. It’s a matter not of our personal preferences, but of the survival of our sport.

Hunters should have better long term planning than some are currently displaying.

But, then again, given our human history thus far, perhaps that’s just beyond us.

Introducing Species: A Mouflon Quandary

 

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There are sheep in them there hills. But finding them isn’t easy.

Last weekend I went for a walk from our village in Navarra to try to see the mouflon which had been illegally introduced to the area last year. The numbers had increased to the point where the local police were brought in to try to remove them by baiting them with salt licks to a field where they could shoot them. I’d heard that several of them had been shot already, and I went to see if I could spot some of them. I’d never seen this species outside of a zoo enclosure and I was lucky to catch a quick glimpse of two.

Yesterday in the local newspaper an article said that the local hunters have been authorised to shoot as many mouflon as they can while they are engaged in their normal boar hunting activities. I had seen this coming. This was probably what the local hunters were waiting for, and whoever released the animals had had just this idea in mind. Whether all of the animals in the area will be shot is up for a debate, and in my opinion it is hard to see how all of them will be killed, given the manpower needed to eliminate them. Yesterday three groups of boar hunters came, and shots were fired, but we’ve heard nothing about any mouflon having been hunted. More likely they dispersed the animals more. There are many who think that only males will be shot, anyway, because what hunter wants to shoot a pregnant female of a novel species right at the end of the season when you could shoot two next autumn?

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The field where I saw the mouflon – beside the bank of pale grass at the end.

My question is, however, whether shooting them out is, or is not, a good idea. I’m not sure where I should come down on either side of the argument. As an ecologist, I am aware that introduced species can wreak havoc upon ecosystem, and she sheep can be particularly destructive. On the other hand, there is the fact that rewilding landscapes doesn’t necessarily mean that only animals which were there before in historical times have to be reintroduced and no other species can be.

If these were muntjack, then I’d say get in and get them out. ASAP, using all the manpower you can muster. Muntjack can wreak havoc on the plants. Introducing them to Ireland, which some it seems have tried and been somewhat successful at in recent years, is a stupid idea.

But these aren’t muntjack.

The article does not mention that of these animals might be detrimental to the local flora of the region. Instead, it says they might compete with native animals, such as the wild boar and the roe deer.

The article says that these sheep are very adaptable to various ecosystems in Spain where they have been released. I haven’t heard any horror stories from these other places yet.

Though officially from the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus, Corsica and Sardinia it seems that the mouflon, or a very similar species, must have been native to the mainland of Europe at some stage. They didn’t just pop up and three islands from nowhere. Given their adaptability it seems like to me that they were probably fairly widespread until humans decided they were competition for their own descendants the sheep, in the same way the aurochs were competition for their descendants, cattle.

If wild sheep were here before and they are returned in a small population I’m not sure what difficulties if any, ecologically speaking, may arise. After all, these mountains I’m looking on right now used to be grazed by thousands of sheep and goats., and the landscape suffered much from it from what I’m told by the old timers, with the understory of the forests bare from intense grazing of the sheep and goats of the local farmers.

Shepherding is not so widespread here anymore, but still hundreds are brought around some of the area. The forests have thickened up, though, and I have heard that the local government want to pay shepherds to bring their goats into their forests to help “clean them up” and tidy them because there forests are quite dense with shrubs and thorn bushes. Seems to me that these mouflon might do such a job for free.

On the other hand, I’m not sure if the population of roe deer and boar will be badly affected by these other ruminants sharing the mountains. After all, the population of both the roe deer and wild boar have been increasing in recent years to the extent that they are causing problems with road traffic accidents and farmers are complaining of destruction of their crops. I see tracks and animals all the time. In fact, blind eye is being turned to the poaching of these animals so their numbers can be reduced. Therefore, if the plan were to compete against the roe and boar, it would be a plus in that respect. I can’t see what objection the farmers could have, unless the mouflon are doing more damage to their crops than the roe deer, and boar. That I don’t know, and from my point of view as an ecologist, I don’t have very strong opinion either way.

I heard that the local government is mostly worried that they’ll have to foot the bill for any diseases the farmed sheep might contract from their wild cousins.

However, in terms of the wildlife, the flora and the other large animals, even the rabbits, I don’t see how a small population would have so great an effect.

It’s not as if mouflon don’t coexist with other ungulates in their “natural” environment. There are wild boar and red deer on both Corsica, and Sardinia, and Fallow deer and wild horses on Sardinia too. Cyrpus is a bit smaller, but wild goats share the island with the mouflon. How can the mouflon be so detrimental if they’d not ousted these other from their islands?  Roe are slightly different, but both roe and red deer share the Scottish Highlands with plenty of sheep.

From my walk in the area, there are boar and mouflon sharing the same field.

Boar tracks, on the left, with some soil pushed about with the nose, and mouflon tracks on the right, in the same field of young wheat.

Perhaps they can even help diversify the fauna of Navarra and other parts of mainland Spain, the way the bovines and equines do (a big part of the rewildling movement) Here in Navarra, and in this valley, cattle are led into the woods daily and some are left there for months on end, as are horses, without any concern for the other fauna. That’s because they’d not detrimental; quite the opposite. There are even moves to reintroduce bison into Navarra to help improve ecosystems.

I know the animals were not introduced with the intention of making the land better, but if they can be kept at small numbers, in low population densities it might be for the better.

But I’m open to a more knowledgeable opinion.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

 

 

Small surges forth from huge setbacks

2017 didn’t start with very much good news. There were more attacks on innocent people just like last year. The rich and powerful are continuing to play their chess game with the planet, and have moved their rook into position to fuck things up in a big way. We, the pawns, stand ready to do what we can to oppose, but expect the worst they can impose upon us.

And 2016 slips right into its place in the graph as the hottest year ever recorded, right in front of 2015 and 2014.

Just like we see with all species, the numbers of predators, especially large ones like lions and wolves, have collapsed in the last number of decades.

A large part of the problem are the conflicts these large predators come into in areas where livestock are farmed. There are many different ways to prevent kills (such as guard dogs and electric fences) but in many cases farmers whose livestock are preyed upon take action and kill the predators (one supposes it is the same animal(s)). Thus, one dead cow or goat means one dead tiger or leopard. The former can be replaced a lot faster than the latter, unfortunately.

Just yesterday, a bear was poisoned in Italy.

But there are signs of some steps back from the brink. In Spain, where the population of wolves is actually increasing, the government of the Community of Madrid have increased the compensation fund to help farmers whose livestock are attacked (though it seems at 500 Euro per sheep, there’s a large temptation to fudge the death of an animal to look like a wolf-kill – which was widespread in some areas of Spain and caused a scandal last year).

This will help reduce such retaliatory killings, since farmers don’t see their livelihoods under threat from the predators. There are also movements to protect livestock using mastiff dogs and restoring pens – this helping much more in the long term as farmers readjust to the new reality of a rewilded landscape.

The world needs more of this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saving Salamanders etc.

Among the things I’ve done this summer, is take part in the village festivals. It’s a very small village, but very village has its festival, even if it’s just a dinner for the one family left there. During ours, one of my jobs is to help with the kids game where they’ve to break a flowerpot with a bat, to get at some sweets inside.

botijo

 

It’s called a botijo. It’s like a piñata, but more heavy duty – hence the bike helmet. The older kids are blindfolded to make it interesting. And to spice things up, in one of the pots, instead of candy, lies a creature of some kind – usually a frog or a toad.

It’s been my job to catch said amphibian for the last few years.

This year, instead of a frog, we’d many. And salamanders and newts into the bargain. About twenty or so animals all told (very small, on the whole – there was plenty of room in the flowerpot!).

I’ve no photo of that pot or its contents, because I’m too busy running the event to take photos, and the one above was sent to me since it’s my own daughter knocking the pot to pieces. However, when the pot was cracked open, there was pandemonium.

As you’d expect.

But not for the reason you’d expect.

There were kids everywhere, trying to catch the fleeing animals. And catch them they did, much more eagerly than they’d gathered the sweets that had been scattered for them earlier (in the pot piñata, they know that the sweets are for the kids who breaks the pot, so they hold back).

Once they’d caught them, some of the older kids wanted to keep them. We didn’t allow them, of course, but it shows how starved these kids are for such experiences, and how enthusiastic they are to have them. Another example of the urge to rewild ourselves that George Monbiot describes.

And yet, some of the adults (parents of these delighted kids handling the amphibians) were critical of me and my fellow amphibian catchers for capturing the creatures

It is good that they were concerned for the animals, but at the same times it’s easy to criticise from a position of ignorance. These were mostly people who would scream if they touched one, and who wouldn’t know where to go to see one if it hadn’t landed on the lawn in front of them.

I find that those who can catch such animals are usually the same people who love them, and would not harm them.

The simple reason we’d so many amphibians this year was because we’ve not had rain for over a month and there were scores trapped in a disused swimming pool that had dried up. Only a layer of pine needles in the bottom provided any moisture to keep alive those that were still alive – most of the big frogs and toads had died. Only a week before forty salamanders were rescued from their certain death, and a couple of fat snakes which had had easy pickings. We had collected the remaining animals we could find.

So, while we’d some fun giving the kids a new experience with the animals, we’d not gone and collected scores of salamanders from their pools, but saved them from certain (and unknown, unremarked) deaths, and as soon as they’d been collected, set them free in a 2-metre-deep pool fed from the village spring and never let dry up – and filled to the brim so any which wanted to leave could seek pastures new.

Which was what I saw happening later, when, ironically, I went to that pool to capture a frog again – a much more difficult exercise, I can tell you!

The salamanders, and some frogs, were on their way out of the already busy pond, no doubt to find less congested environs where competition for insects is less.

I’d been asked to get a frog by a Montessori teacher trainer, who’d a course two days later on how to teach the five classes of vertebrates to kids. She’d never used a frog for the course, despite the fact that the course material uses a frog as an example, and had always had to rely on a fish provided by a colleague who’d a pet goldfish in a tank at home.

She’d never know known how to go about getting a frog before….

I showed her. It required patience. And man, was it hot in the sun that afternoon.

But these are the things animal lovers do to spread the word about the creatures we care about.

 

The Wolf, Farmers, Forest Guards, and Fraud

Last week in Asturias, a northern province of Spain where wolves are protected, a group of twenty were prosecuted for fraud. They’d shared a booty of up to two hundred thousand Euros between them.

They had been faking wolf attacks on their livestock and claiming the compensation which the government gives to replace the sheep and cows that any wolf might have killed.

The group was made up of nine farmers and eleven forest guards they were in cahoots with They couldn’t have gotten away with it for so long if not for the forest guards who claimed these were indeed real attacks. Any forest guard who was not getting part of the money would have seen straight away they were fake.

This accounts for a full fifth of the one million euros that Asturias pays annually in compensation.

In 2014, several farmers were caught getting paid double for their losses – claiming insurance for the loss of livestock as well as the compensation for wolf attacks.

But apart from the monetary damage they’ve done, stealing from the public purse, they’ve contributed to the vilification of the endangered predator, making it seem more dangerous to farming than it really is, and pushing public opinion against it’s continued protection and spread into former territories from which it was eradicated in the last century.

In the last few months several wolves have been killed illegally and their heads hung in various places.

wolf head

Wolf head hung at a crossroads in Asturias – image from El Pais newspaper article linked below.

Hatred driven by lies?

The Spanish Civil Guard police think so – they say the animal has been criminalised and this fraud has led to an atmosphere of rejection of the animal.

The statistics of wolf attacks were skewed for years. The numbers of wolf-kills farmers claimed was considered “inexplicable from a biological, physical and mechanical point of view.” Once the numbers of claims were presented in a report (65 paid out in one year on one farm alone, for example) the year later there were drastically fewer claims.

Farmers in areas of wolf recolonisation (for example those south of the River Duero) have resisted the recolonisation of the predator on the basis of false data. In fact, the wolf kills very few livestock and there is less to fear in terms of possible losses than the numbers indicate.

Not only that, it leads us to ask the question, how many more farmers might be trying to fleece the system? How many other attacks have been real? How many fake?

The compensation payments are a useful step towards trying to bridge the gap between farmers and ecologists, two groups who don’t usually see eye to eye in Spain (the farmers often claim that the activists – there’s a difference between ecologos, the scientists, and ecologistas, the activists, in Spanish – have no idea how the countryside actually works when they come up with their plans and laws).

Forest guards claim that farmers pressure them, and even threaten them to get them to sign a death by natural causes, or lightning strike, as caused by wolf attack, and many have been sued. Farmers buy cheap horses and leave them alone on the mountain so they’ll be attacked by wolves, since the compensation is more than the horse was worth.

No ecologist claims wolf reintroduction, or protection, is, or will be, completely conflict free. Yet if the farmers pretend that there are more problems than there really are, what are we to do?

One wonders how many wolf attacks would be reported if there were no compensation at all, if it were just a data-collection exercise. If such fraud is found to be more widespread, there might be some calls to find out.

After all, science cannot be carried out on the basis of economic fraud. We need to know the real figures. Otherwise how are we to guide the reintroduction efforts in other countries?