All posts by steve

Making connections

Areou estive
Areou estive (above the Col de Pause on the French GR10)

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.

Continue reading Making connections

Beavers know no borders

Reintroduced illegally on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, beavers have crossed into France.

Beaver. Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/Wildfaces-932734/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1352439">Andrea Bohl</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1352439">Pixabay</a>
Beaver by Andrea Bohl from Pixabay

Extirpated from Spain long ago, by the start of the 20th century the beaver was destined to disappear from France as well. At that time there were only around a hundred individuals, concentrated in the lower reaches of the Rhone. Protection started in 1909 and since then the beavers have been working hard. The  population is estimated at over 14,000; almost half of France has been recolonised.  But, despite being reintroduced into the upper Garonne catchment area from 1977, beavers haven’t progressed far SW towards the Pyrenees. Perhaps surprisingly there have been no official projects to reintroduce them directly.

Then in 2005 a biologist working on the banks of the river Aragón (Spain) noticed tree trunks with teeth marks. It later transpired that the beavers had been smuggled in from central Europe in March 2003 and secretly released. The details are vague but the authorities suspected the activist Olivier Rubbers or someone inspired by his success in Belgium.

“If they had crossed the Pyrenees [of their own accord], we wouldn’t have anything to say except to be happy,” said Miguel Urbiola, director of the Natural Environment department of Rioja, reported in El País.  But “We cannot tolerate this precedent. If we don’t eradicate this colony any environmentalist will be able to release any animal they like.”

The local authorities put together a plan to eliminate this protected animal. They argued that the presence of beavers might also menace the habitats of the otter and the very fragile European mink population. Both the Spanish government and the EU authorities agreed, with the latter curiously arguing that the animal was ‘outside its normal distribution’.

Between 2008 and 2013 a hundred beavers were captured in Navarra at a cost of 131,000€. The Rioja region removed 96. But all became too costly. “We don’t have sufficient funds and have other priorities,” said the authorities in nearby Aragón. But by 2014 it was estimated that there were between 450 and 650 still at large in Navarra alone.

Source: La Ballena Blanca, no 6 April 2016, pp. 68–73.

The latest news is that one of the Spanish beavers is seeking ecological asylum in France, on the river Nive (Pyrénées-Atlantiques).

 

 

Rewilding in Catalonia: sheep and bears, the official version

Sheep from the Boldis-Àreu flock now back in the valley.
Sheep from the Boldis-Àreu flock now back in the valley. In summer they can be seen on the GR11 near the pass between these two villages.

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.

Continue reading Rewilding in Catalonia: sheep and bears, the official version

Bears in the woods in Catalonia (and France)

Bear cubs photographed on an automatic camera near the Port de Tavascan, July 2017
Bear cubs photographed on an automatic camera near the Port de Tavascan, July 2017

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)

Are Catalans better than French in dealing with bears?

On the Catalonia-France frontier above Núria
On the Catalonia-France frontier above Núria on the HRP/GR11

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?

Food for thought on the Way to Santiago de Compostela

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, where the Camino de Santiago meets the Pyrenean Way GR10
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, where the Camino de Santiago meets the Pyrenean Way GR10 just before crossing the Pyrenees

My first is in walking, but under the sea.
My second is saintly, but not on the Way.
My third is edible, much prized and much prised open.
My whole is a riddle, the search for meaning.

How did scallops become associated with the Way of St James pilgrimage, to the extent of becoming a ubiquitous way mark?

Continue reading Food for thought on the Way to Santiago de Compostela

Spanish restaurants serve osso bucco to birds

Quebrantaheusos (Spanish), bearded vulture, Lammergeyer vulture (English), Gypaète barbu (French)
Quebrantaheusos (Spanish), bearded vulture, Lammergeyer vulture (English), Gypaète barbu (French)

Photo: Richard Bartz, Munich aka Makro Freak

The French and English names (gypaète barbu and bearded vulture) refer to its distinctive red “beard” but the Spanish name for the Gypaetus barbatus, Quebrantahuesos tells you more about it: the name means “bone breaker”. Continue reading Spanish restaurants serve osso bucco to birds