Category Archives: Biodiversity

An Unsilent Spring. Blossoms, Bugs and Birds. Nature Support raising the bar with banners and song.

Blossom trees in Marple

I cannot believe we have spent nearly 5 weeks in the UK and with no rain falling. I realise now why the blossom was so beautiful and for so long;  no wind and storms to blow the blossom away. We certainly had our fill of spring flowers in our new home in Greater Manchester and I got to spend plenty of time with my 18th month old grandaughter. She is now a chatterbox and knows the names of so many different animals now; ra ra for the pet rabbits and others, bear, maow for cats, ba and sheep too. Some confusion with the variety of dogs with a long eared one being called a ra ra. She is also learning some sign language in a fun signing class for under twos. Lets hope we can all support action to improve the future prospects for the planet and all the young ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I enjoyed being in Marple and we met up with friends and new neighbours.We went for a walk by the River Goyt and saw goosanders, very elegant and love clean, fast flowing water.  We even went to a RSPB ( Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) talk with photos about the Donana wetlands that is close to us at Navasola in Spain! The speaker had visited many times and built up a very good range of photographs. He also looked at the concerns there are about protecting these precious wetlands. ( if interested look at my post in March on Donana) Another talk at the Marple History Society was about the Vale of Avalon by Glastonbury and the wetlands now have visiting birds like spoonbills, ibis and egrets that can be found at Donana. As the crow or ibis flies just over 2000 kilometre more to fly from Southern Spain to Middle England. The RSPB also have a bird song cd out which they want to top the charts this spring and create awareness for the songbirds and others that migrate such long journeys and their numbers are in decline.

Meanwhile in London over Easter the protest group Extinction Rebellion was building up massive support for understanding and acting on the consequences of climate change. Greta Thunberg visited parliament and Caroline Lucas of the Green Party spearheaded meetings. The BBC presented a documentary with David Attenborough talking about the facts of climate change and the changes he has seen for the natural world.

Finally, as the Brexit farce cooled down over the Easter holiday the real issues that we face were raised to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness in a variety of ways. I feel proud to be in my country and experience such support for issues I have long been concerned about. But action is needed and this is if anything far more complex than Brexit

Declaring a climate emergency is only the start but the ideas for a citizens assembly are well founded. All of us will have to make decisions and change our habits to minimise carbon emissions and restore nature. This may be better received if not just from politicians and their supporters and ideologies. A mix of people with access to well resourced information could help with moving forward ways to support people and change our habits.

On our trip back to Sevilla via Brussels there was a young persons climate protest. As I have followed these issues for a long time now and am an ecologist at heart it is heartening to see the young becoming engaged with this and gaining knowledge about many facts.

Youth climate protest in Central Brussels

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we are now of limited means on our pensions and live  a rural life the cost of new  hybrid or electric cars is phenomenal. Also on looking into the cost of taking the train rather than plane between the UK and Southern Spain it is exorbitant. Why? Alternatives to flying must br found across land masses like Europe.  We used to travel on long train journeys in India and these were often great experiences. Ways forward are not impossible but need to be planned to avoid our present ways ‘costing the earth’ and creating more inequalities. For me some travel between our home in our woodland and back to UK is crucial.  Travel for many is one way of opening up our awareness to other cultures and to differences.

 

It was interesting to visit Brussels and see a very multicultural and multilingual city at work and play. The Atomium seems very symbolic of the advances in Science of the 20th Century. Some of these with devastating consequences. It is true that we haven’t quite managed to ban the bomb and there are too many wars and conflicts and displaced people. But the EU was a very European way forward to bring different nations together after WW1 and WW2.

I was very moved by meeting a man of Palestinian heritage. We ate at the restaurant where he worked or managed and ate some delicious middle eastern mezze food. On talking we discover that he was born in the Lebanon in the year and month that I visited in 1975. He went to Beirut University and learnt some English there but 20 years ago left for Brussels. His parents had come from Jaffa a place he has never seen. So many changes and conflicts for a family. He was very welcoming, friendly and so similar to the many people I had met those many years ago in my travels through Syria and Lebanon. His past,  almost 45 years,has been very different from mine. I feel I should look at this more and create a short story about this meeting which affected me deeply.

The Atomium from the mini europe park

One of my reasons for being in Brussels was to take some photographs to turn into drawings for my novel. My artist friend and I are now trying to create some illustrations as the fantastical journey of my animals takes them to many key areas of  Western Europe. In mini Europe where there are small scale reproductions of famous places throughout Europe the weasel manages to ‘pop’ over many of these and then find the old toad. These areas were the old wetlands for many toads and now there is so little left for them.

Mini europe with atomium in background

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture I might use for illustration of a weasel’s eye view of the atomium.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If my grandaughter lives to be 100 in 2117 she may have to witness the loss of so many of the animals, birds and trees that she takes such a delight in now and a world changed beyond what we would hope  for future generations. We are already seeing drastic changes now but are to some extent sheltered from the reality of loss of nature and caught up in the short term issues of business as usual.

My Three Pivotal Points for Planetary Progress

Cut carbon emissions drastically from now. Work together and recognise the urgency of this.

Restore nature for nature not just for us. Natural ecosystems when working well will support life for all on this planet. Rainforests, all native forests, the ocean, coral reefs, wetlands. Peat bogs capture carbon naturally.More wild places are needed. There are many NGO groups that have been working for decades and with some success in holding back the tide of human destruction and conserving many important places. More must be done and especially for the oceans.

Circular and sustainable economies as the foundation for all  human activities. Food, agriculture and waste are key areas. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation has been working on ideas from sailing of the circular economy and many other groups too have very positive ideas.

These are issues for all of us and we will need to reach out towards these three pivotal points for planetary progress. For politicians these are cross party issues and lets give those politicians their due who recognise this. And decry those who still dare to deny. I have still to find out how the Donana wetland issue has panned out but the Spanish elections are now over and hopefully all will focus on what must be important to us all. A long term and healthy future for the living  planet and all species. This will not be easy in the current economic climate but many businesses, local councils, the British parliament ( recently agreed on a climate emergency but needs the government to also accept this) and many others also recognise that action needs to happen now.

I will look into my travel options and cutting more dairy from my mainly vegetarian diet of the last 45 years and look at more ways I can be involved to improve conservation of the natural world.

A beautiful green beetle back in Navasola. Insect decline is  one of the most worrying aspects of climate changes from Costa Rica survey and pesticide use in Europe.

Decision Day for the Doñana Wetlands. A visit to see some of the birds.

We took a day out to the Doñana Wetlands a week ago and for this week the 21st of March is a decision day in the European Parliament for securing the future sustainability of this most important habitat. The wetlands are becoming drier because of more use of the underground water table and rivers.

View of lake at Dehesa de Abajo with carpet of red flowers

We took a short walk around the Dehesa de Abajo reserve on the edge of the Doñana wetlands.

Visitor Centre at Dehesa de Abajo, always full of storks nesting.
Stork nesting near visitor centre at Dehesa de Abajo

We had  a wonderful day out and come back feeling ‘filled up’ with birds. The closeness to storks nesting in nearby trees and wild flamingos swimming with necks underwater in the lake all made for a very bird fulfilling day. We also saw spoonbills, glossy ibis, egrets, linnets, black kites and buzzards.

glossy ibis
Flamingo dipping
Linnet on fence

 

Spoonbill flying

The only shadow of the day is the knowledge that Doñana is at risk, with very low water levels but there is some action and Doñana is at the centre of a political battle for its survival. Local groups have taken the issue to national and European levels. There will be a decision made on the 21st of March at the European parliament that will hopefully outline the measures needed to protect this very special place. This could be an example of how the EU can be used to support and negotiate between different local and national interests.

Egret having to think about this. It makes the head hurt.

The Doñana wetlands have been at risk and the water levels becoming unsustainable since at least 2013. There are a significant biodiversity of species that need these wetlands, including the iconic and threatened Iberian lynx. This area was designated a natural park by Spain and is also under the European Network of protected areas for nature.

Glossy ibis having a think about this or a scratch

We have been to visit on various occasions and in particular we like to walk around Dehesa de Abajo. This is more on the edge of Donana and quite accessible from Sevilla. It is also near the bird sanctuary of Canada de los Pajaros. This is only open at the weekends but is worthwhile to visit and support their rescue efforts. There is also the International Bird Fair being held again at the Visitor centre of Dehesa de Abajo from April 26th to 28th. These are birds without borders that need our support. http://www.donanabirdfair.es/home-2/

Stork in field near Canada de los Pajaros

 

Spoonbills flying overhead

There are many pressures on this area of wetlands situated between the cities of Huelva and Sevilla. It seems there are many illegal wells extracting water for various reasons and there are four gas projects which are about to begin fracking for extraction of gas. Environmentalists and others have taken their concerns to the European Parliament as this should be a protected site under Spanish and EU laws and is also  recognised by UNESCO as a unique habitat and important place for migratory birds.

 

One comment in a Spanish newspaper was about the need to balance the social economic needs of the region with those of the environment. The point of the International nature reserves networks is to protect against these pressures where the wildlife sites are crucial to many species across Europe. It is the first major wetland after the long migratory journey from Africa and across the Sahara  Desert. Any further deterioration and loss will affect too many migratory birds. It is true to say that the Huelva region has suffered greatly economically in the past 10 years but  the way to address this is not to pit this against these protected areas. Sustainable economic policies are much needed. Doñana could be a flagship as to whether the wetlands can be saved and measures taken to restore it where needed while also looking into the local economy and ways of improving this without drawing on the water table that supports these wetlands. I read recently how the Galapagos Isles were saved for the many unique species and restored within three years. It can be done.

 

A bull from the friendly herd that grazes the edges of the lake

The area has long had a rice growing economy, river transport and boats. Some of the new agriculture seems to stretch further away from Donana but does include vast strawberry growing. This kind of agriculture is very dependent on water throughout the whole year. Traditional Spanish agriculture is referred to as ‘dry’ and involves most growing taking place before the normal Mediterranean dry summers. This  new business of fruit crops throughout the year, along with changes in the climate, more erratic rainfall and longer periods of drought will impact on the water tables and the wetlands if there is more unsustainable methods of agriculture. Changing to more use of renewable energy instead of new projects to extract gas from an area where the fragile water table could be disastrously affected should also  be the way forward.

Unfortunately we see in progress a major threat to important wildlife habitats through the old ways of ‘business’ and economic growth. Spain could lead the way on this one with the support of European initiatives. Meanwhile students ask for a climate emergency to be declared. One Spanish poster and cry was ‘ Ni un grado mas ni un especia menos ‘ Not a degree more or a species less. The ideas of a Roosevelt style ‘green deal’ are thrown up into the air.  The UN report gives 12 years to ensure global temperatures are kept from rising too high. Will there be action for a circular economy and not ‘business as usual’? Doñana and the future for its biodiversity is at stake now.

So having filled you up with the complexities of nature conservation and economic growth let me finish with  some more of the birds that filled me up with such delight.

Flamingos on the lake
We enjoyed their swimming antics
Bottoms up

We came for the large flocks of flamingos before they leave.

I can only hope that in the years to come I can take my granddaughter to visit Doñana so she too can have the joy of being filled up with birds. And the birds can have safe places to stop at where they can fill up with food and create their next generation.

 

And here are more storks and other birds peacefully coexisting surrounded by an ecosystem supporting all kinds of life.

Stork walks around the ibis and egret

 

Lets all be like this egret and keep a watchful eye on what goes on around us. Our survival and that of this beautiful planet and all its inhabitants may depend on this.

The Watchful One.

Autumn back at Navasola

September and October have passed in a flurry of activity, visits to the UK and Ireland have filled the days. But now we are back we can stand and stare as we did this morning. A cat still, poised up on the cork tree was there for a good 10 minutes. We were surprised by its behaviour, its ears, and finally tail when we saw it. This cat was fitting so much of the identification features of a wild cat. Here they are called gato de monte, cat of the mountain. They are similar to domestic cats but the ones we have here that are to some extent feral have quite different faces, colours and markings. We know the local cats but had never seen one like this one.

After remaining in the tree for such a long time it delighted us by descending crossing the new grass and then seemed to pose for photos. We saw its teeth quite clearly, tail and markings. I have also seen what I thought to be a wild cat some months ago, much bigger than our usual moggies round here and with the tail. And a larger version of this one which was quite young. When we first moved here we were told there was a wild cat living near the studio where there are some rocks and caves. We suspect this one is a hybrid but are fascinated to see such a different type of cat and are fairly sure it isn’t just a beautiful tabby on the hunt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a lot of autumnal colours at Navasola at the moment as the leaves of the oaks and fruit trees are well advanced with their colour changes. The chestnuts are the last to bud in May and the last to fall. The chestnuts are not quite ready to be picked yet. We will have that pain and pleasure in about a weeks time.

The weather has been warm and mild until this weekend and the red ladybirdlike beetles are intent on mating perhaps.
But for this bumble bee we think it is near the end of its life and was found struggling to fly. We offered sugar water and a safe place but many bees and bumblebees begin to die off in late Autumn or the Queen is looking to hibernate.

It was good to walk around the finca and enjoy the autumn colours and the sunlight through the trees and the rocks covered in green mosses again.

 

I seem to do well with the fruits that I do not cultivate or irrigate.I enjoyed blackberry picking in September from the wild parts of the finca, that is most of it! The Madrono or Strawbeyy trees always give a good show of colour in autumn with both flowers and fruit apppearing at the same time. The flowers will be next years red berries. The berries are gritty but we have managed jam from them but not found the means to prepare a madrono liquor.The quince goes well with apples and creates a good contrasting taste and also makes good membrillo jam which the Spanish eat with cheese. There’s quite a harvest this year as we have had so much rain and the chestnuts too should be larger than last year.

Wild Autumn Crocus

 

Mushroom foraging is a popular and possibly lucrative activity in these parts. We have found a variety this year as shown in the photos. I am not hurrying to pick or eat these as identification is hard work but we do pick the tall ‘gallipiernas’ as shown in the photo below.

 

 

 

 

 

And to leave you with the cat. Is it or isn’t it a Gato de monte?

The Last Post of Summer

Time to officially say goodbye to summer. All the migratory birds are getting ready for their long journeys. Although this year there were many swifts around the village of Castaño de Robledo we had not seen any bee eaters perched high on branches around the valley of Navasola. Occasionally we would hear some high pitched calls high in the sky but there were no bee eaters ready to pose as in previous summers. Finally, we saw a great host of golden wings, at least 30 or more, above the track by the campsite. I am not sure what a large gathering of
bee-eaters might be called but we had witnessed this before in Portugal. We think it happens as lots of birds gather together, travel together, finding good food sources before their journey back to Africa for the winter. I think an angelic host could be fitting as their wings whirr and flash golden light in the Andalucian blue skies. We wish them safe journeys and look forward to their returns.

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Bee eaters seen on one of our dog walks.

What happens to all the grasshopper, crickets, cicadas at the end of summer? We can still hear them in the trees in the evenings but the noise of their whirring legs against their wing cases seems less intense. Perhaps the summer work is almost over. More young will be ready to develop and hatch out at the end of this winter.

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Close up of large grasshopper, early April.

Does one red rump swallow  a summer make? We saw quite a few swallows in early spring in the Algarve but haven’t seen that many in the villages of the Sierra Aracena this year.

May to June 2015 and House MArtins 046
Red rump swallow recovering from being stunned and ready to fly off.

Here are some House Martin young from a previous year. They seem to be imprinting their surroundings and gathering for their long journey back. This year they arrived late in the Algarve and usually we see them here in late September and October. We are by the sea at the moment waiting for my grand daughter to arrive for her first and possibly last trip as a European citizen. Brexit looms and glooms. Perhaps it is the conjunction of Mars and Saturn so clearly seen last night in the summer sky over the Atlantic that makes me edgy about the future. How much time is being wasted on the politics of arrogance, exclusion and supposed greatness? Meanwhile the planet warns us with temperature rises we can do something about and constant degradation of the natural world and its wild places and inhabitants which we can  prevent, now. Those in power who cannot focus on this agenda fail the younger generation.

  • house martins sept 2015 and faro beach 002

We have had a wonderful summer of beautiful nights out with stars and full blood moons. I wrote a piece based on my first night sleeping at the finca. It was often so dark and remote but we build up fears about the dark rather than celebrate its beauty and in Mediterranean culture its coolness. So much happens here late at night and early morning in the summer. We have had plenty of good music from the early music festival in my previous post to rock, jazz and flamenco. Also in the Sierra there’s has been a feast of art exhibitions, theatre, acrobatic drama and a book festival too. Unfortunately we missed our friends Ruth Koenigsberger and Sol Fernandez Coll. But we managed to hear our local writer Margaret Van Epp speak about her book about the historical stories local people have told her. I have also enjoyed some summer reading and love the short stories of Annika Perry, a  fellow writer and blogger. I am building up the rejections on my novel but I will press on as I think it is an  entertaining and imaginative  approach to understanding the value of biodiversity in the 21 st Century.

In the U.K. we enjoyed the annual Fairport Festival at Cropredy and even danced to Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and their band reliving Pet Sounds and the Beach Boys under a more stormy British sky. The rains decided to come as we camped in middle England. We slept in the van we would use to move house! Here is Olivia helping drive our hired VW transporter full of books and stuff for our new base in the U.K. She seems happy we will be nearby.

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For now I have a terrible desire for a camping van( hybrid, electric, solar powered?) and will also head to the beach with the crowds for this last day of summer. I haven’t been swimming in the sea yet! I keep thinking life will slow down so I can write and blog more but this Grandma business seems to take over!

Mayhem in May: Changing weather and other surprises. A sanctuary for snakes!

The May in May. The beautiful hawthorn near the back of our house and its may blossom in the sunshine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild peonies after the rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mayhem here in the south of Spain is not just of the political kind as Spanish democracy votes in a new Prime Minister. Here the weather has remained cool, cloudy but with some beautiful sunshine and thunderous storms. May has gone, the month and as yet not the long suffering UK Prime Minister! Our month of May has been full of wild, wet and windy weather but with some glorious moments. Weather forecasters here in Spain seem to blame this on the USA and Canada. Well,it seems there has been a meeting of a cold front and a warm front and that’s blown over to us across the Atlantic!

Don’t cast a clout till May is out, goes the proverb.But June too began with cloudy, thunder threatening, days.With this inclement weather some wild ones arrived seeking shelter near the house. The feral kitten population seems to expand around this time but we rarely see them again. They will not come near and I fear many give up their lives to the foxes, mongoose, and snakes that live or should live outside of our house.

My day in May began with the need to photograph the very green mosses on the rocks and experiment some more with my new camera. I wanted some close ups before the moss dries out and I had become fascinated by these ‘micro forests’ since reading the book ‘The Signature of All Things’. The main character Alma specialises in mosses and ‘discovers’some of the principles of evolution through a detailed study of adaptation. She talks about’moss time’ and the very slow evolutionary changes that take place. However, on reading the book ‘The Emerald planet’ about how plants have changed and adapted to planetary conditions, it seems it took over 40 million years for leaves to come into existence and changes in carbon levels in the atmosphere affected this. Human evolution in comparison to this took minimal time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So after the sunny morning taking photos of mosses, wild flowers,camelia and lilac,the clouds came and then dramatic storms.

 

It was thunderous and torrential rain. Dramatic change. And then T discovered a 3ft long snake disappearing behind some of my plant pots. We were struggling to identify this and it was very difficult to take a clear photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then another day, a month later, we had more torrential rain and another visitor. I had taken shelter from this downpour inside the house in my sanctuary but on the storeroom side T saw a snake’s tail. We identified this one quite easily.

Ladderback adult snake in house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snakes in the South of Spain and Portugal.

We are lucky that there are few venomous snakes here and none with particularly fatal bites. I think more people in this area might be hospitalised for eating the wrong kind of wild mushrooms.

Snakes are a vital part of an ecosystem and like most wild animals would rather escape from us humans but can be dangerous if trapped or threatened in some way. Snakes may have a bad press but we can learn to live near them if we take a few precautions.

We identified the snake in early June as a ladder snake with two distinct stripes. Just visible from my yet another failed attempt to photo a snake. These snakes have markings like a ladder when young. As they become adult and much larger the ladder rungs disappear and leave the two stripes along the length of the snake. Snakes will certainly help control a rodent population. We think there are some bumps  to be seen. Perhaps a swallowed mouse or small rat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On looking at the snake in May I have begun to think that this was a ladder snake but it looked a bit circular or even zig zag like a viper. Perhaps the rungs are just beginning to disappear on this one. It certainly did not fit any other similar snakes for our area so think this is the answer. We couldn’t see its head either; a triangular shaped head and vertical pupils indicate vipers and therefore poisonous.

Long snake which was hard to identify but think now is a young adult ladderback snake. Just beginning to lose the ladder and to just have the two single stripes.

 

One amazing fact about ladder snakes is that the females stay with their young for a few days. A more sanguine fact is they can be aggressive and bite and these bites can be painful even though not poisonous. Snake bites contain anti coagulants that prevents the blood from clotting and so can take time to heal too.

So what to do with a snake in the house, over 3 feet long, possibly a good rodent killer but with a painful bite if suddenly disturbed. Well, the internet and some helpful advice. We thought about the blanket option of covering over the snake and then gathering it into a bag. I didn’t quite like the idea of the broom to guide it to the door and this was the upper part of the house and no door to the outside! Our ecologist friend sent a note about providing a black bag or box as snakes like dark places. Well, there were plenty of dark spaces behind all the boxes and it had gone under a bag near the pipes. In this area we left one of the natural rocks and built over it. We thought the snake would hide there.

Too much deliberation. When we came to look under the bag by the rock the snake had gone. After some thought we think there may be a natural hole in the rock and the snake has left the house. I did check under the bed that night though.

Here is a good phone photo of another kind of southern Spain and Portugal snake. This was taken by a friend in Cabanas de Tavira. It has distinct markings and is a horse shoe whip snake. Photo opportunities of wild ones are all about good observation, quick thinking and fast shutter speed, and luck with the light!

Horseshoe whip snake photographed by Rosalind Siggs

Most of our days in May have been spent on exploring some local walks suggested by a bird and wildlife guidebook to our part of the Sierra Morena. It has been good walking weather and an abundance of wild flowers. Hopefully I can run some posts on these when I return from another visit to see my grandchild, now trying to stand! She is growing so fast but with all the changes in my life I just about manage a blog post a month. I will try and keep posting and keep up with all your posts too.
 

 

Our Wild and Wonderful World

The human world seems to be distracting me from blogging. But I have been out and about at Navasola and also able to try photographs with a friend’s lumix camera. It was quite disturbing at first as all I wanted was an ordinary still photo and it was set on 4K! It’s been quite a learning curve and I have also been busy in my veg plot trying to create some beds which will retain moisture. I am trying out Hugel Kultur as I have lots of wood and have laid down branches at the base. More on that another time.

April and May have seen Navasola full of wild flowers so here is a glimpse of that glory as the heat from Saharan Africa has already reached us and the Spring flowers have given way to the more drought and heat resistant scabious and mulleins.

First the peonies. There were the most I’ve seen on the Finca this year. It was hard to photograph the overall effect  so there are some close ups with the new lumix camera.

Some of my favourites here in Spring are the tassel hyacinths, palmate anemone, celandine and the knapweed.

But there’s always the Spanish broom and Spanish lavender or French unless you are in Spain! Photo angle courtesy of Steve Schwartzman’s very informative blog for photography tips and botany.

I also had difficulty cultivating one of the vegetable beds. It was full of poppies and a first for me. I couldn’t then remove these beauties! Dig up the ground and they will come!

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We have had had plenty of birds around too but it is our water bath that is the draw not any food we put out! One day red rumped swallows checked out our new porch but didn’t return. Another day the sky was full of vultures. There must have been over 30 gathering and some flew so low over us you could hear the wing beats.

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Greetings to all those bloggers out there who follow me. I have been keeping an eye on your posts but needed to get back in gear. A new blogger and follower from a place I lived in 30 odd years ago sparked me to return to share. Landscaping Nature from Hyderabad in South India. I have got further with my novel about the wild world  and hope the blog can also help inspire us with nature and it’s diverse wonders.

Photos taken with Panasonic LUMIX FZ300

Summer journeys almost over: butterflies, bees and boars.

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From a very lush and wet warm summer in London, through the beautiful greens of France, stained glass of Chartres, Cloudy heights of the Pyrennes, Cool air of Bejar, to the hot and dry Sierra Aracena. However, the Sierra is always green in summer because of its varied trees; chestnuts, oaks and various poplars and willow.

The red admiral landed happily on the sunflower planted by my daughter in London. She loves the garden, birds but is not so sure about the flying insect world! The wild bit at the back with nettles helps the red admiral thrive.

Arriving at our finca there were few wild flowers. It’s the wild carrot time and a few yellow mullein. Most was quite dry. Apart from my garden areas where Ruth had admirably kept the plants well watered from the drought and heat of July and August.

A pretty wall brown landed for a while on the echinacea near the house. Bees and other pollinators seem to like this cultivated flower.

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Another long journey. This cricket was on the windscreenwipers. We thought it would jump or be blown off. It stayed on its green home, our car, while we collected our freshly baked bread from our local village. It is an alternative bakery with organically grown wheat or rye flour. A large traditional clay oven is used. The cricket waited.

And the cricket returned for its photo opportunity and chance to be a celebrity in my animal stories of Navasola! We think its pholidoptera griseoptera, a dark bush cricket.  There are so many, and then there’s the true crickets. And the cave cricket. And a camel cricket! It was light brown and the Dominion guide suggests there are several similar species in Southern Europe.

There is certainly a cricket with a high pitched chirp and it keeps me awake at night too. At least its not aircraft noise and it is rather soothing.

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In April and May it was so wet. The rainfall in May filled our pond to overflowing. We went down to investigate the water level in the pond now. There was nothing. Last year it had retained water at a lower level through the long dry summer. Why had it dried out? The evidence was before us. That wild boar family that loved rolling in the mud in May. I guess now they’ve scored an own goal. No more water in the pond. Tusk marks in the strong, expensive, plastic base. Without this, the water did just drain away. We will have to rethink on this one. Seems a shame to put a boarproof fence around a water hole.

We’ve also just been reading about reports of wild boar, jabeli, visiting the beaches in Spain. At dusk I think and still not quite sure which beaches.The report in Spanish was about the increase in the wild boar population. Not enough hunters? I say, not enough wolves! We’ve got 7 more baby boar on our small finca. Perhaps some will move to the coast?

Apologies for not much blogging recently. I think I have been suffering from my own drought. I have been trying to re edit the first chapter of my novel.It’s been quite a journey writing it, literally as it has taken in a quest through Spain, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Holland and the UK. A nature quest! I have also spent a lot of time struggling with rewriting the beginning and becoming anxious about the next stage. There have also been the chores and the DIY and clearing of beloved brambles and the heat! Most needs to be done in the early morning!

Thank you to all who read this far and have been following my journey. I look forward to some more catching up with you all. The weather is a little bit cooler. I have re edited my first chapter!

Chartres: journeys through La Belle France

We are on the move again! This time we have stopped in Chartres to finally visit this most elegant and spiritual cathedral. With its stunning stained glass, lofty towers and the very special labyrinth, it is a a must to visit. And I feel to return to. The son et lumiere on the rose windowed portal at night was also delightful. Quite a show.we have chatted with visitors and tried a bit of French! There seem to be less visitors at present but our hotel is full. Whenever we visit France there is always something so beautiful to see. On our way to our London home we saw the Osprey in Orleans Forest. Now we see this special place for the first time instead of just passing by. Soyez courageux. We should show our friendship with France and make sure we visit when we can!

On the road; approaching our destination. Chartres Cathedral on the horizon.
On the road; approaching our destination. Chartres Cathedral on the horizon.
West face of Chartres Cathedral
West face of Chartres Cathedral
Detail from stained glass and a reminder of goodness in people and not to be prejudiced.
Detail from stained glass and a reminder of goodness in people and not to be prejudiced.

On the other side of the fence the grass is always greener. Post BREXIT it MUST be for the sake of our green and pleasant land!

On the other side of the fence the grass is always greener.
Post BREXIT it MUST be for the sake of our green and pleasant land!

Buff Tailed Bumblebee, April 2016, by Ruth Konigsberger.
Buff Tailed Bumblebee, April 2016, by Ruth Konigsberger.

I have been grappling with the consequences of the referendum vote and have attempted to share with you my understanding about the EU directives for Nature and Farming subsidies. We all need to be more clued up as our government will begin to frame new legislation or perhaps include EU ones. We must ensure that the UK becomes Greener however muddy the grass looks now. Nature deserves the best from us.

By 2016, the EU under the direction of Member States and the European Parliament has achieved the world’s best record of comprehensive directives and legislation to ensure the environment we humans live in and the rest of the biodiverse species that live in or visit Europe are protected. Protected from habitat destruction, air and water pollution, climate change.  Considering the EU started out as an elite club for business this record in my mind and that of many British conservation organisations had been a good reason to vote remain.

Profit before planet or planet before profit is a way of deciding actions in a very complex world.  Dare we continue to decide profit first? There is a terrific decline in the numbers of migratory and farmland birds.  Add to that the decline in our diverse range of pollinators. We will all profit if we protect the diversity of the natural world.

The wildlife trusts made a statement about why they advocated remain but also stated that whatever the outcome  it would need all organisations that care about nature to step up and ensure environmental protection is continued and improved. The cliff we are really on the edge of is a climate that will make supporting diverse forms of life more difficult. Habitat destruction, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, reducing carbon emissions and preserving water are paramount to all life on earth. The EU directives attempt to address this.
In Britain we should be proud of the role we have played in this within the EU. As a public we support many conservation organisations like the RSPB and have a love for the British countryside and nature. Even political parties at different ends of the political spectrum; UKIP and the Green Party, their MEPs voted against any relaxation in the EU directives and legislation which protects our rapidly dwindling natural world.

David Attenborough expressed his concern about the environmental effect of leaving the EU. It is now the time for all of the public, whichever way we voted, and the charities that look after our beautiful and green England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to hold our politicians to account and ensure that our precious natural places, wildlife and countryside are at the forefront of new legislation and will abide by the EU directives for nature.

BUT we also have the thorn in the side of farm subsidies. Subsidies to support hardworking farmers manage when crops or markets fail may seem a good idea. However, these payments to farmers, landowners have not been without controversy in the history of the EU. From an investigative journalism website there were details of where this EU collected money went to in each country. Now I knew some of this but when I began to look at the ones that had benefitted from very high amounts I was shocked. From a farmer in Romania being given a subsidy of 400 euros to the Duke of Westminster( considered the third richest person in the UK) receiving half a million. His Polish distributors, Cogent received over 8 billion in dairy subsidies. Now, this might mean support for many farmers in Poland but it seems a lot. Finally,  there has been a drive to reform these subsidies.

Examples of EU work to reform aspects of farm subsidies

Luxembourg (2012) ‘Greening Instruments – menu for
Member States within the EU framework’. Presented to the
Special Committee on Agriculture. April 2012.

European Commission (2012) Concept paper – May 2012
Agricultural Council – Greening
IEEP (2012) Agriculture and Rural Development –
European Parliament rapporteur reports and conference on shaping the future CAP
Defra feedback at CAP Greening Workshop held on 5 October 2012.
The National Trust & The Co-operative Farms – ELS+
in England post 2014 – Report
Cumulus Consultants Ltd & IEEP – CC-P-570
Issue: 2.0
Date: 21.11.12

The Common Agricultural Policy ( CAP) reform is intended,
to address the challenges of climate change
and sustainable management of natural resources,
look after the countryside and help
make these subsidies …GREENER!

The E.U. pays out more than half its annual budget, around €53 billion, in farm subsidies, four times as much as the United States. The subsidies cost each European Union citizen around €110 a year, according to the European Commission, a healthy chunk for a family of four. The money is raised from customs duties, sales taxes and a contribution made by each E.U. country based on its wealth.

In order to make Farming and Environmental concerns link up and be more accountable there have been a variety of initiatives. Environmental Stewardship, Ecosystem Services and general Rural Development funding.

With the Brexit battlebus and the millions to be saved in money to the EU there has already been cries from various recipients of EU money to ensure continuity. Much has been invested by EU money through CAP, to charities like the National Trust with environmental concerns and other rural development funding. It seems in Cornwall there has been major investment in rural development and the plans were for this to continue into 2020.

I have read some interesting blogs on these and on ecosystem services and new ideas from the EU. Miles King Miles King
Jeff Ollerton Jeff Ollerton
Adrian Colston

The New York Times reports
At the same time, the E.U. was shifting more funds away from farmers to a rural development plan that paid out €8.5 billion last year. The idea was to wean the countryside off its addiction to subsidies by encouraging it to diversify.
The money, according to E.U. guidelines, could flow to any number of development objectives: organic farming, farm tourism, infrastructure, renewable energy products and rural businesses. National governments were given great leeway in choosing recipients.
e.g that is how a gravel manufacturer like Arids qualifies for farm subsidies, as did Pasquina, which collected €1.13 million for its new asphalt factory in Spain. The Spanish utility Endesa also was eligible — it received €466,000 for installing electrical connections.
Cargill — the mammoth food producer that is the largest privately held company in the United States, with revenues of €120 billion in 2008. Last year Cargill received at least €10.5 million, collecting subsidies in eight E.U. countries.http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/17/business/global/17farms.html?_
Other sources for this blog
Lawton, J.H. et al. (2010)
Making Space for Nature: a review of England’s wild
life sites and ecological network
Report to Defra.
The National Trust & The Co-operative Farms – ELS+
in England post 2014 – Report Cumulus Consultants Ltd & IEEP – CC-P-570
Issue: 2.0
Date: 21.11.12

 

The UK  government with our pressure
MUST
1. Ensure the same if not better level of environmental protection and strengthen the EU nature directives. The UK helped create them.
2. Ensure any subsidies for farming is linked into the already good work achieved by many landowners in Environmental Stewardship. Have high standards for nature, farm animals and sustainable farming.
3. Public accountability and transparency in how this becomes UK law and is abided by.
4. Involvement of a wide alliance of environmental organisations in the development of any new regulations, use of tax payers money for farm subsidies, and further progress in keeping England greener than green.

We must ensure we are not ‘fracked off’ into the sidelines of environmental progress. I am not sure but I believe our role in the EU has helped lead on this. We can still help and support other countries in the EU and elsewhere through e.g Birdlife International and other groups but we will have lost the power to really influence the way the EU moves forward on the environment. We may just be too busy dealing with the outcomes of this post brexit world on our own environment and lives.

There is the loss. Nature has no Borders. There needs to be cooperation and leadership at this time in the world’s history. Joined Up thinking.

SO we must ensure we are GREENER on all sides of any fences. Then maybe,  just maybe there would be no need for fences.

Rhodes; Nature and Responsible Tourism

My trip to Rhodes allowed me to explore some of the islands biodiversity. On a small road down from the monastery of Thari we stopped by a stream. My botanist friend Nick always recommends a good look around water. The pictures above are of some of the creatures found around the valley near Thari. The first thing that attracted my eye were these deep burgundy leaf shapes sticking up in a shady area. As we went to look crickets were jumping out from under our feet. There seemed to be thousands of them. Not for the faint hearted. I later found the name of this species and it is a Greek and Rhodian plant. It was so large that I had immediately thought invasive. Never jump to assumptions. In the stream there was a freshwater crab, some frogs and hovering above beautiful blue dragonflies.  Large lizards are found on the island, one above seen near the monastery and the others at the Acropolis and Monolithos love the ancient sites and rocks. Look carefully for them as they seem to love the tourist sites. The lizard and the lily are linked to dragons. Dragon Lily. But also Voodoo lily! And the dragon lizard. If you look more carefully at the first photo below you can see more detail and the blue. A really charming and obliging Aegean blue kind of creature. They seem to pose!

We did not see the famous Rhodian fallow deer. It seems they are now more scarce since there were devasting fires destroying large tracts of forest. The symbol of the deer can be seen in many places but certainly at the entrance to the old port. We didn’t see any two headed eagles either. However, there were mosaics and many carvings in the churches. It was hard to trace back the symbolism for the use of the eagles and it became quite academic.

Rhodes deer, symbols for Rhodes
Rhodes deer, symbols for Rhodes

 

 

2 headed eagle symbol of Eastern Orthodox Church
2 headed eagle symbol of Eastern Orthodox Church
strange shaped tree Rhodes
strange shaped tree Rhodes
Brimstone or powdered brimstone found on Rhodes
Brimstone or powdered brimstone found on Rhodes
Brimstone on Bouganvillea outside Petaloudes
Brimstone on Bouganvillea outside Petaloudes
swallowtail Rhodes April 2016
swallowtail Rhodes April 2016
dragon lily and cricket
dragon lily and cricket
dragon lily Rhodes April 2016
dragon lily Rhodes April 2016

We also saw many cats. I thought of the blog of photographyofnia as she takes many wonderful photos of cats in Istanbul and comments on how they are loved and respected there. There were plenty of Rhodes cats too and am sure there is an island colour that seems to predominate. The cats we saw in a street in Lindos, a very medieval town with an Acropolis, knew which door to wait outside for food. Unfortunately, not all cats were as lucky and there was a sanctuary for abandoned cats in Kalithea. Having had one cat for 17 years, our own Tigger, every cat should be a loved cat and sterilised. Cats and in particular semi feral cats can have a devastating effect on wildlife.

Many of of the wild flowers were similar to the Mediterranean ones we find in Spain. There was the dragon lily, Dracunculus Vulgaris and Capparis Spinoza, the Caper bush which are endemic to the region. It was quite dry and Madeleine thought there were less flowers than usual for Spring. Certainly the wild carrot, daucos carrota was fully out. This doesn’t usually come out at Navasola until the dry season of July and August. These ones were flowering near some ancient archeological remains, not far from the Acropolis. Bougainvillea and hibiscus and many other flowers adorned Greek gardens, balconies and the narrow streets of the old town.


Wildlife in Rhodes did not have the status that we saw in the Azores. At Petaloudes, the butterfly valley, but where tiger moths begin to fly in their 100s around the end of June there was a nature interpretation centre. There was no person there to discuss and inform as in the Azores and the exhibits needed some updating and modernising. There was also a sense of sadness in looking at the ageing stuffed specimens but there were some resigned comments on the notices too about the difficulties of conservation.

Although there is a severe financial crisis in Greece, Rhodes benefits from a strong tourist industry. I wonder how as tourists we can engage and support the protection of flora, fauna and their habitats in the places we visit.

1. We could always express concern and a desire to know about the biodiversity in a place. The Azores did have lots of leaflets and a display of their plant life at the airport.

2. Raise issues of conservation areas and how these are protected.

3. Try and use responsible tour operators who respect the environment.

4. Write and comment on how much you enjoyed the natural world on your visit. This can be to tourist offices but also flight and tour operators. Encourage and support conservation. Or if need be express concerns.

Greece is a signatory to the habitats directive of the EU.

Some information about the Natural History of Rhodes from Wikipedia.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Mediterranean_conifer-sclerophyllous-broadleaf_forests

Rhodes is in the Eastern Mediterranean conifer-sclerophyllous-broadleaf forests Ecoregion.

The flowering plant species of Rhodes number 1,243.
Dracunculus vulgaris, the dragon lily or voodoo lily
Capparris Spinoza. Capparis spinosa, the caper bush, also called Flinders rose,[2] is a perennial plant that bears rounded, fleshy leaves and large white to pinkish-white flowers.[3][4][5]

257 bird species are recorded from Rhodes, many are passage migrants. 80 are breeding species. We saw red rumped swallows at a reservoir and many swifts around the New Marina and hooded crows
There are 33 species of mammal including the Rhodes Fallow deer, Cervidae Dama dama; E

Rhodes has 4 species of amphibia: tree frog Bufo viridis, Hyla arborea, Rana cerigensis and Mertensiella luschani. Not sure which kind of frogs I photographed.

 

2,652 insect species/subspecies are recorded from Rhodes. Commonly seen insects in Rhodes are the sail swallowtail, the scarlet dragonfly, Cleopatra butterfly, European praying mantis, cicada, glow-worm, hummingbird hawk-moth, firebug, field cricket, European tree cricket, European hornet, cuckoo wasp, carpenter bee and the rose chafer.

178 land and freshwater mollusca species/subspecies are recorded from Rhodes.

The freshwater crab Potamon potamios is found on Rhodes. It is common at Petaloudes.

There are 24 species of reptile certainly found on Rhodes. The species I photographed is referred to as the Rhodes Dragon. It is also known locally as “Kourkoutavlos”. Or the Agama lizard, Stellagama stellio.

Rodini park is a rather neglected old Italian park which has seen grander days. Local people still seem to wander in but it’s neglect means that there are quite a few native and non native species thriving. In the right season it can have tiger moths. We also saw
Terrapins or turtles, goldfish, carp, egret, peacock,
White butterflies( April)
Curry plant,
And heard many birds singing!

At Petaloudes the famous place for the tiger moths, but is called butterfly valley and is a private park, we saw the museum of natural history and some brimstones on the bougainvillea outside.