Thursday, May 31, 2012

Birds, mountains and a love affair!

After some heavy duty blogs and writing about such depressing aspects of self-interest among our species i.e. Buzzard culls and unwanted and unsustainable property developments, I needed to cheer myself up a bit and what better way than indulge and immerse myself describing a great love affair of mine, La Serrania de Ronda!

Birding your local patch is a great way of getting to know your area and over a period of time, trends of species visiting and breeding. My ‘patch’ covers a vast area, some 48 10² kilometre grid squares broken down into 1² kilometre tetrads for reference purposes! Of course I am lucky as I lead groups in and around the study zone, so not only do I get to keep a regular eye on my birds, but I also have the enormous pleasure of sharing my knowledge of them with others.

Upland meadows and out of the way places...
It never ceases to amaze me, and others accompanying me, the diversity of habitats within my patch. In just a few minutes you can pass through mountain terrain, woodland and rolling hills, through dramatic landscapes and over soft green hills. My patch is a far cry from what many of the uninitiated perceive or imagine as Spain. The epicentre of such a stunningly beautiful landscape, fauna and flora rich area is the historical town of Ronda, nestling between 2 large UNESCO Biosphere Parks and giving a focal point for visitors and residents alike.

Flowers are another attraction for visitors
The area has become famous with birdwatchers from around the world and it has the added value of being scenically stunning and accessible. This wonderful area of Spain also has the advantage of being easily reached via the many airports close to its heartland i.e. Malaga, Seville, Gibraltar and Jerez. The Serranía, famous for its white villages, culinary delights and historical monuments is certainly one of the friendliest places you will ever visit in Spain, quite apart from being a haven for a rich diversity of wildlife.

Short-toed Eagle one of many raptors present in the area
Throughout the province of Andalucia there are many great expanses of wild places and natural parks, including some of international importance for both flora and fauna. Many readers will already be familiar with nature reserves such as the wetlands of Doñana and the cultural centres of Seville and Granada and yet the Serranía de Ronda provides the most accessible of all wildernesses and cultural areas within the province. The road network throughout is extensive and together with park tracks, much of the interior can be safely explored, in fact the adjoining natural park of the Sierra de Grazalema is also famous for its fauna and flora which gives further reason for any visitor to base themselves in the Ronda area.

Thekla Lark an interesting species here.
Emblematic birds for the area include resident Griffon Vulture and Bonelli’s Eagle, both have populations here that are of international importance, other breeding raptors include Golden, Short-toed and Booted Eagle. In more recent times Egyptian Vulture have declined, but both Black and Rüppell’s Vulture are becoming more frequent, so pay attention when you see those large flocks of Griffons! Many smaller birds are noteworthy such as Black Wheatear, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Orphean and Subalpine Warbler, with some good populations here of Olivaceous Warbler and Iberian Chiffchaff. It is a fantastic area and some great birding can be achieved here.

Hopefully such a wealth of scenery and wildlife might tempt you to explore this wilderness, I thoroughly recommend a visit.

Some useful links to the area:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Andalucia - Tarifa horror story!

A new horror story from our beloved Andalucía. 
Jesus Gallardo García & Peter Jones

It looks like the Local government of Tarifa, together with the regional government of Andalucia, are going to approve the coastal "development" of Valdevaqueros!

Help us to help our nature here in Andalucia!

Where is it? It’s within the main bird migration route between Africa and Europe, it is in the heart of the International Biosphere Reserve of the Mediterraneo, it is within the Natural Park of the Strait of Gibraltar (granted with the European Chart of Sustainable Tourism), the development proposals are also against the European Strategy for Biodiversity 2020. A few of my many friends have already been there during one of the several Famtrips organized to Andalucia, volunteering, birding or even as part of wildlife/birdwatching tours that are organized to this important area.

This ill thought and damaging scheme is against the will of the local people, it’s not the path for growth Andalusians want to continue with. Already in 2010 59% of the coast in the Andalucian region had been built-up, showing that this model of tourism destination is not sustainable in the long term and only provide benefits to investors at the early stages of the project, indeed neither is it sustainable to locals who have to live with the environmental and cultural externalities caused, including the degradation of environmental services emanated from the existing ecosystems.

The intention is not to stop regional development, but at the very least to have the possibility to choose a different scenario, a sustainable one. Please share this post with friends and NGO´s for sustainable development, customers, us to raise a social concern to change the political will. Let’s have the word spread before RIO+20 nice words must be backed up with good practices and demonstrative actions; let’s provide our politicians with enough social support to change their minds!

To register your objection to this scheme, please sign the petition on the following link:

Please do share this blog post, thank you all so much. Peter and Jesus.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Defra - Culling of Buzzards!

The news that Defra is going to spend £375,000 on looking at how to reduce buzzard impacts on pheasants, in a time when funding of any kind is so difficult, is startling and a disgrace! Why is Defra to fund research that should be funded by the shooting industry, if anyone at all.  Why is this a subject for government to fund? Does it deliver public benefits?  Is it a subject of huge scientific import?
There is no doubt that buzzards take a few pheasants but why a government department is spending my taxes on the trivial consequences of a native predator on a non-native gamebird escapes me completely.  Perhaps Defra should also be funding research on the most efficient poisons with which to kill off raptors while they are at it?

I had been, unusually, dumbfounded and at a loss for words, when reading of this project by Defra. I seriously cannot remember a comparable situation which has so angered my sense of injustice, compounded by a total, complete waste of our tax revenue at a time when funding of any kind has become so difficult.

Living for so many years in leafy Devon, I remember well the absolute carnage of road kills adjacent to release areas for Pheasants, which of course provided wonderful sources of fast and easy food for the local Buzzards! During all my years I had not questioned the morality of releasing and slaughtering millions of these chicken sized birds on the basis that so much woodland had been preserved to house this ‘so called’ sport. It had been a compromise of my beliefs, but I had convinced myself and others, that it was of benefit to so many other ‘natural’ species relying on mature woodland to roost, breed and feed. Sad, but I believed factual. Of course this belief was slightly flawed to some extent by the encouraging of under storey cover for Pheasants to skulk and hide, with obvious adverse affects, for example, to such species as Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher. So where now is the reciprocal compromise from the hunting fraternity whereby tolerance of some species of raptor can be demonstrated?
A new protected species for the UK?
Having had time to digest this latest in a line of follies from Defra, I am actually feeling positive about the negative! I have a sneaky feeling that at last we have a cause which will galvanise support against raptor persecution, a platform for uniting conservation bodies and public opinion against the senseless persecution of the hapless Buzzard. I believe this latest act of supporting a minority sport will be a massive own goal by Defra, Countryside Alliance and BASC.

FOOTNOTE: SUCCESS. Yesterday (30th May 2012) Defra did a U-turn on their proposals to investigate buzzard control for the benefit of pheasants.  It’s not easy for governments to do U-turns, we should thank Defra Minister, Richard Benyon for his re-think.  Thank you!