Costa Brava’s successful ecological project

Spain’s Costa Brava is one of the most visited touristic place in Europe, and yet somewhere on its Mediterranean shores, through the Pletera Life Project (2014 – 2018), nature activists and local authorities (as well as European Union through its generous funding), successfully worked together in returning to nature a large area of paramount importance for the local ecosystem and its wildlife.

The salt-marshes of la Pletera harbored a series of lagoons that were drained in 1987 in order to build an almost 1 km long promenade and six apartment blocs, of which only one was ever finished. The deconstruction and restoration of the site has regenerated the coastal salt-marshes and lagoons, which are now home to more than 80 species of birds as well as other small mammals. The place attracts also many tourists which love nature, here being able to enjoy fresh air, nature’s finest songs (those of the birds), long walks, excellent biking routes, and a long list of water sports, from swimming to diving and canoe, all in a nature-friendly way!

For me this is a great example that nature still has a place in today’s social and economic reality, and through understanding and willingness we can contribute into restoring nature and wildlife to their lost habitats! Others places and its people and authorities should follow the example! Kudos to all that made this happen!

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The Islands

Islands are ecological ecosystems. Isolated from the rest of the world, the species here may have followed their own evolution path. It is the wildlife in islands that the famous naturalist Charles Darwin studied and made subject of his famous book on evolution: The Origin of Species, considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology!

The volcanic islands of Canary (Spain, Atlantic Ocean) may not seem much today in terms of terrestrial wildlife, since they practice mass tourism or intensive agriculture (bananas and grape-wines are main mono-cultures). But visiting the islands outside summer season, and ignoring the mass of hungry feral cats in wait for the next wave of tourists, the Ocean rewards you with many wildlife encounters (marine birds, crabs, various species of dolphins and even whales), if only you take a walk along its shores or a boat tour around the islands!

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Other interesting activities may be stars and galaxies watching, since light pollution in some places is really reduced, thanks to astrological friendly policies of local administration.

Palma star-watch

Have fun, if you get the chance to visit!

Brown bears of Pirinei mountains, northern Spain

In one of the previous articles ( here ), was mentioned about the effort to re-introduce brown bears in Pirinei mountains, northern Spain. There have been a number of bears captured (mostly from Slovenia) and released in several areas of the mountains, enough to call it a symbolical re-population of the vast area with one of Europe’s top predators, but not enough to secure a viable and self-sustaining population.

Travelling in one of the areas, we had the chance to enjoy authentic mountain scenery, and also learn from locals what is their view on the topic, after reading in press few claims of bear attack over the livestock grazing freely in an area, including a horse! Pretty unheard for a brown bear to attack such big animals, known that they are shy animals, and most of them live on a complete vegetarian diet, unless opportunistically an occasion arises to find a dead animal on their way!

What we were told by locals is that the release of bears was inappropriate, that the central government agreed to an European funded project to re-populate the area with brown bears, but in fact some bears being relocated were coming from private hunting reserves, where they were used to eating livestock…that could have explained indeed the recent attacks in the areas. Unfortunately this bad experience turned completely the local populations against bears in general, which otherwise are peaceful animals, and we are personally afraid that the whole project is now compromised, as well as in the near future, as skeptics will always use this bad experience to fight off any new attempts of the bear introduction. Also all local bears already released, bad or good ones, they are under risk of being shot, poisoned and trapped, by local hunters, thinking they will do what is just, even if illegal!

Pretty sad news, after an initial successful re-integration when few female brown bears already had small cubs, sign that they find enough food in the area and they would accommodate well! A recent amateur video shows a brown bear caught on camera in the area (however a very bad practice to try to film animals this way): video here

The Red Deer of Europe and Asia

The red deer is one of the largest deer species. The red deer inhabits most of Europe, the Caucasus Mountains region and parts of Asia. It also inhabits the Atlas Mountains region between Morocco and Tunisia in northwestern Africa, being the only species of deer to inhabit Africa. Although at one time red deer were rare in parts of Europe, they were never close to extinction.

Subtle differences in appearance are noted between the various subspecies of red deer, primarily in size and antlers, with the smallest being the Corsican red deer found on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia and the largest being the Caspian red deer (or maral) of Asia Minor and the Caucasus Region to the west of the Caspian Sea. The deer of Central and Western Europe vary greatly in size, with some of the largest deer found in the Carpathian Mountains in Central Europe.

Mature red deer usually stay in single-sex groups for most of the year. During the mating season, called the rut, mature stags compete for the attentions of the hinds and will then try to defend the hinds they attract. Rival stags challenge opponents by belling and walking in parallel. This allows combatants to assess each other’s antlers, body size and fighting prowess. If neither stag backs down, a clash of antlers can occur (as present in attached picture), and stags sometimes sustain serious injuries.

Red deer are widely depicted in cave art found throughout European caves, with some of the artwork dating from as early as 40,000 years ago! What a great animal, another symbol of wilderness!

Aran Park in Pirinei mountains, northern Spain

ARAN PARK is located in central Pirinei mountains, on Spanish side of the northern border with France, allowing visitors to get familiar with large mammals (bears, wolves, wild black goats, lynx, deer,…) in their natural environment (living in semi-liberty). These wild animals were once a common sight in Pirinei, especially the large predators, but nowadays due to human activity their number were drastically reduced. The park’s main purpose is to educate, and they are doing a great job in this regard, tourists (families with kids) having the chance to see the animals from close distance and to learn about them through various site activities. And this is very important as wildlife activists are trying to lobby the increase number of brown bears living freely in Pirinei, from around 30 exemplars to minimum 50 exemplars, which would be more self sustainable. The bears were brought in from Slovenia starting 1996 (as the last local Pirinei specimen died in 2004). Now, as of 2016, there were 10 males, 13 females with 6 small cubs born in 2015 and 7 more cubs born in 2016. Another mature male, named Goiat, was just released in 2016 (to see video click following link: Goiat, Pirinei, 2016 ). We are also happy to have contributed a small fee to a dedicated French team to help monitoring the brown bears in Pirinei, this way we can have more feeds/news on the bears well-being (if interested joining, click here Pirinei wild brown bears monitoring program )!

Also you can find out more about the park at www.aran-park.es , recommending checking the schedule before visiting!

Spain’s Costa Brava natural wild beauty

The Costa Brava (“Wild” or “Rough Coast”) is a coastal region of northeastern Spain, very touristic area due to its known wild beauty. When here, trying one of the many offers for diving or snorkeling on your own, you will be surprised by the thousands of fishes around you, all seems indeed wild and unspoiled! But to remember that marine ecosystems are very fragile in general, and an impact on the smallest of species may have an impact on the whole ecosystem! What governments can do to help, in general, is controlling/regulating fish farming and fishing industries, put in place efficient recycling policies to avoid plastic ending up in the seas and oceans, as well as limiting/reducing the use of industrial fertilizers through regulations, prevent untreated wastewater from being channeled into rivers and seas and restore wetlands and natural coast defenses which help filter nutrients out of the water before reaching the sea! What you can do is: to recycle, to consume pesticide-free products and to respect the environment in general!

Wild goats of Montserrat

We are just outside city of Barcelona, in the multi-peaked rocky mountain range called Montserrat (literally means “saw mountain”), with highest summit at 1236 m. It is well known as the site of the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat, which hosts the Virgin of Montserrat sanctuary and which is identified by some with the location of the Holy Grail in Arthurian myth. The forests around are part of Montserrat Natural Park, home to some mammals like squirrels, cats, boars and wild goats, which we had the privilege to spot on nearby rocks!