Tag Archives: Nature

Green October

October has been another busy month back in the UK. I decided to attend The Green Party Conference and see if politics can be done differently. I enjoyed attending policy making for Food and Farming. This was a learning curve and along with the discussions about the Green Party’s policy group there was an opportunity to listen to a spokesman from the National Farmers Union. The farmers are aware of the challenges they face and not just from Brexit. Some farms are experiencing lack of water while others not far away are in flooded areas and excess rainwater was being pumped into the sea. The NFU have committed to zero carbon by 2040 in their industry and have the means to do so by sequestering carbon with more hedgerows, trees and other methods. They have a plan.

Another interesting speaker on farming was Sue Pritchard, an organic farmer near Hereford and chair of a RSA report on farming today which involved discussions from a wide range of people in different communities.https://www.thersa.org/action-and-research/rsa-projects/public-services-and-communities-folder/food-farming-and-countryside-commission

The conference plenary sessions were well organised but slow in some areas but most of the main changes to policies and new policies were quickly voted on. I felt that evidence based planning was important. All policies are voted on by all Green Party members who attend the two main conferences.

There was discussion on how to address the climate emergency and the need to reduce emissions by earlier dates than 2050. Many young Greens want 2025 but most Green Party planning has looked at how to practically achieve this by 2030. And even with this there are still ‘gaps’ which need to be addressed. At least the Green Party has plans and an understanding of the complexity of this and the need for all levels of government to be leading the way. I think they do try to do politics differently with a lot more democratic involvement of all members and striving for keeping kindness at the heart of debate and differences of opinion.

I was in London, my home town when Extinction Rebellion were protesting and I went to see what was going on. This group has created a major shift in awareness as to the urgency needed to address the climate crisis. In Spring they brought central London to a bemused standstill. David Attenborough , our nonagenarian also was broadcasting about the drastic changes affecting nature because of human activity. This, along with Greta Thunberg and the school climate actions has created a new awareness that these issues must be addressed now.

In a recent poll conducted by clientearth it seems that the environment will be important in how people will vote in a general election. ‘Of those polled (54%) said climate change would affect how they would vote, with the proportion rising to 74% for under-25s. The poll also showed support for fossil fuel divestment, with 60% of people thinking banks and financial institutions should ditch investments in coal, oil and gas.’

Extinction Rebellion want the government to tell the truth about the effects of carbon emissions, declare a climate emergency and create citizens assemblies to find local ways forward to create the actions needed. I went into London on the Tuesday and there were less crowds than the Monday but still a carnival atmosphere with determined intent and roads closed around Westminster. Their methods may at times be criticised but I do wonder who we will finally criticise the most if we just drift on with our ‘same old’ ways of running our lives.

 

  • A creative ploy by Extinction Rebellion. Each tree has an MPs name on it and you could ring them and invite them down to collect their present!

I decided to look more carefully at reducing my own carbon emissions. There are many websites about this and often are carbon offsetting ones. However, I had got the open university free course on this so will try their calculator and look at this more carefully on another post.
It certainly will not be easy. Although I could claim my woodland which is allowed to be rather wild, green and vibrant could offset our flights home. One tree in its lifetime may capture 40 tonnes of carbon. We have over 200 trees and lots of wild growth too and birdsong.

But offsetting is not enough. We have to reduce to below  2 tonnes of carbon each.
The average European according to one source will emit about 8 to 10 tonnes of carbon a year. Flight frequency, mileage covered by vehicles, the kind of food we eat can increase or decrease our emissions.

As a vegetarian with little dairy this may save me almost 2 tonnes of carbon. A flight home of about 1000 km is about 0.5 tonnes. The train would be 0.09 tonnes of carbon. As I think I have said before the trains are so much more expensive. From 300 to 800 euros while a flight can easily be below 100 euros and the aviation industry benefits from fuel subsidies. Another problem area that we have little control over yet is how to heat our homes in a carbon friendly way.

How can this dramatic increase not cause many problems?

Change must happen but there is still so much silence and inaction. There are some things we can and must do ourselves and there are others that governments must work on and achieve global cooperation on.

The Guardian is committed to reporting the climate crisis and has many informative and well researched articles from all around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greta Thunberg says ‘ listen to the scientists’. It may be complex but the scientists, the Green Party and now British farmers know we will face too many difficult consequences if we don’t take the right actions now.

And for our natural world the crisis has been happening slowly but significantly with the combination of loss of habitat and climate change creating unpredictable and extreme weather conditions along with wildfires and flooding.

The State of Nature report 2019: loss of nature since 1970 ‘We need a strong new set of environmental laws to hold our governments and others to account and to set long-term and ambitious targets. Only a robust approach to environmental protections and law making can deliver this for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.’ From The National Trust

The Royal Society for Protection of Birds also comments and calls the 2019 report ‘a wake up call’.

Species and habitat protection, forests, wetlands, all will help as are natural ways of capturing carbon and maintaining a balanced ecosystem .

Who we put in charge will matter as there have been many wake up calls, many broken promises and little well informed and coordinated planning and action. And when in charge of our democracies they must be held to account.

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!

Spring in the Sierra Aracena

On the 30th April in Sweden it is Walpurgis Night and time to celebrate the beginning of Spring for the First of May. Anna’s blog has some interesting insights into this festival and of course her wonderful art work.
https://fargaregardsanna.wordpress.com/2018/04/30/walpurgis-night-valborg/

Even though this April seems to be going on the record for Spain’s coldest since 1974 , here in the south of Spain we have had glimpses of Spring. The variability and size of Spain means that there can be variation in the weather but this year the news is showing snow today in Cantabria and people sunbathing on the Mediterranean coast!

Iberian frog enjoying plentiful water and sunshine.

At Navasola we are lucky to have had so much rainfall after the drought that lasted throughout the summer and into the winter. Spring has brought much needed rain. One Spanish programme seemed to be suggesting that the reservoirs were now back to capacity. And there’s still some more rain due! These photos are from early April and at a friend’s finca on the warmer south facing side of the valley. Signs of butterflies, bees and blossom are always welcome.

The Easter celebrations went smoothly in the town of Aracena and it is amazing the dedication and work that goes into the Holy Week processions. The story of the Passion is brought onto the streets and is both a religious and cultural occasion.

It takes at least 5 x 5 pairs of feet to carry the float. And all around the town too!
And the band keeps playing!

Continue reading Spring in the Sierra Aracena