It’s hard for a shepherd when the bear pays a call. It isn’t a good time for me to visit, but when I set out I know nothing of all this. Continue reading The sheep that strayed
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?
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
The debate on the reintroduction of carnivores (think wolves) and omnivores (bears) usually focusses on the polarised views of livestock breeders on the one hand and conservationists on the other. But what about hunters? I’ve just been reading an article in the New York Times about hunting sheep which adds a whole new dimension to the discussion. In the US, receipts from sheep hunting permits are used to finance more sheep reintroductions. Could this idea be applied to the Pyrenees? Continue reading Strange bedfellows counting sheep… then dreaming of hunting them
A brown bear has just been released in Pallars Sobirà as part of the 2011 Pyrenean Strategy for Biodiversity Enhancement agreed by the French, Spanish and Andorran governments.
Ever since ibex were reintroduced into the Pyrenees in 2014 I have been hoping to spot one on the horizon. Last year I contacted the Jordi Estèbe from the Parc naturel régional des Pyrénées Ariégioses and went with him to search for one. Despite knowing where the ibex was holed up, and despite both GPS and radio technology we failed to find him.
But yesterday on holiday in Andalusia (Spain) walking above Lentegí (Almuñécar) there they were, standing on a promontory thirty metres away looking at me: a female and two kids. The female disappeared immediately but the kids stayed, until their mother ibex called them with a birdlike squawk. They stationed themselves a little further down the slope just long enough for me to grab another photo. Wonderful surprise.
It is not clear what is happening to Catalonia’s rewilding project. Despite decreasing damage to livestock, the farmers’ union is becoming increasingly agitated.
The Unió de pagesos is demanding “urgent and effective measures to reduce the damage caused to mountain flocks by bears and wild animals. We need to find equilibrium between livestock farming and biodiversity.”
Last Thursday (5 May 2016), the union organised a demonstration in Vielha (Val d’Aran) complaining about the current situation. According to official figures, which the union does not contest, there were 290 attacks on flocks between 1996 and 2011. But since 2005 increased vigilance and keeping the sheep together in flocks has reduced losses caused by bears from 25 to 10 per year. 94% of the attacks concern sheep.
It is the same with vultures. There were 50 vulture colonies in 1999 growing to 158 in 2009. Between 2011 and 2014, livestock owners claimed compensation for 233 attacks but only 12 were considered to be clearly the work of the birds. In 2014 there were only 24 claims; 6 were compensated.
Yet despite the trends, the union is demanding more preventive measures and a moratorium on reintroductions until the current problems have been solved.
Brown bear – ursus arctos, ós bru (Catalan) oso pardo (Spanish)
Catalonia has just announced [TV interview in Catalan] [report in French] that it will release a male bear from Slovenia in the Pyrenees this May. The aim is to widen the bear population’s gene pool: at present most of the thirty bears have the dominant male Pyros as their father or grandfather (sometimes both). The project has been on the cards for many years but the PirosLife rewilding project is being cautious.
The Senda is a long walk. Like its elder sister, the Pyrenean Way (GR10) in France, it runs from the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean, taking in the entire length of the mountains. With over 950km to hike and around 42000m of climbing it is a serious trek. Kilian Jornet may well have brushed it off in eight days but ordinary humans will take at least six weeks.
Yet there’s more to the GR11 than the one and a half million footprints and the encounters with other nomads. It is also a window on a way of life. The last vestiges of the Old Mountains are still visible in recently abandoned hamlets and overgrown hedgerows. And the New Mountains are moving in, bringing with them infrastructures and ideas conceived on the plains.