What do people who live in the mountains think about the ‘wild’? The return of bears and wolves – and soon lynxes – has consequences both for nature and for farmers. New website: www.wildingthePyrenees.com
My new book, The Implausible Rewilding of the Pyrenees, is now available from Lulu [best for me] and Amazon.
If you are hampered by the possession of a car and want to go from the hamlet of Quanca in Catalonia to Ossèse in France, you have to drive 210km. It takes four hours.
Yet the two hamlets are only 10km apart: there are mountains in the way.
If, on the other hand, you have a pair of walking shoes, there are wonderful things to be seen.
I walked over the frontier this weekend, trying out a route I haven’t used before, via Fangassal and Mariola to the pass at the Port de Marterat where I stayed in the hut overnight. I spent the evening watching an isard grazing on the other side of the valley.
Next morning, I descended to Ossèse in France.
The route between Quanca and Ossèse is not just a pretty walk, it has a long history. It was one of the paths over the Pyrenees taken by colporteurs (peddlers) burdened with huge sacks of easily sold items, carrying also tales of the wider world to the isolated farming communities. Smugglers too found it useful.
In times of war, particularly during the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War, the route was used by refugees, soldiers and airmen seeking freedom. Nowadays, the route is one leg of a 4-day cross-border walk, ‘The Mountains of Liberty’, evoking that era.
In times of peace, the route was used by migrants attracted by the possibilities of a better life over the border.
In the 21st century, the only people to frequent the area apart from walkers are the livestock farmers and their shepherds who spend four months here each summer.
On Google Earth, the mountain looks bald. Lower down it bristles with trees, but up here it looks like the bald pate of a man trying to hide his age: covered with fine white hairs brushed parallel. There are dozens of these white lines. Animal tracks?
On Catalan maps there is a real path in there somewhere but none of the lines on Google Earth looks important enough to be a path with a name. So, does the Camí de Aulà really exist? I email Fornet, the nearest hostel, but the reply is vague. I look on Wikiloc. Nobody has uploaded a record of having walked it. I ask in the local Facebook walking group. No luck there either. There’s nothing to do but take the risk.
Source: Press release Department for the environment and sustainability, Generalitat de Catalunya, in conjunction with PirosLife and EU Life program, 31 October 2018, with additions based on interviews with one of the shepherds involved.
After five months in the high pastures the 36 sheep farms working with the PirosLife project have brought their 5600 sheep and goats back from the mountains. While in the mountains the animals were grouped into six flocks and various measures taken to protect them from bear attacks. The cost is borne by the PirosLife project.
The French government has recently promised to reinforce of the brown bear population in the western Pyrenees. Predictably this has stirred up French shepherds following an increase in attacks last year. Demonstrations are being planned. But on the other side of the border, in Catalonia, things are much quieter. Shepherds seem to be more willing to accept the new constraints. Continue reading Bears in the woods in Catalonia (and France)→
According to the authorities, the measures taken to protect livestock, principally sheep, from wild animals can be seen to work in Catalonia. The government gives compensation to farmers when their herds are attacked by protected animals (bears, wolves, etc). In 2009 it paid out 97,000€ but by 2015, the last year for which statistics are available, this figure had been reduced to 2,700€! If there is nothing hidden benind these figures it is a remarkable achievement. Continue reading Are Catalans better than French in dealing with bears?→