Iberia: natural history and environment

The weblog of the iberianature website: www.iberianature.com
The environment, geography, nature and landscape of Spain

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Naranjo de Bulnes

Naranjo de Bulnes is a limestone horn of almost sheer walls which rises above the village of Bulnes to more than 2,500 metres. Its base resembles an immense chunk of bread. Until well into the spring its fissures and crags are adorned with blankets of snow. Climbing Picu Urriellu is extremely difficult, and although each of its faces has been conquered, it is still by far the Spanish mountain to have claimed most lives of climbers. Read

Friday, July 23, 2004


The huge swarm of locusts which invaded Port de la Selva on the Costa Brava this week, spreading panic and hysteria among tourists and locals alike, is not related to the desert species which is causing so many problems in North Africa. Read

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Lammergeyers (adapted)

Lammergeyers or quebrantahuesos (bone breakers) as they are known in Spanish are the largest bird of prey in Eurasia. They feed on marrow which they get by dropping bones repeatedly onto rocks, as their Spanish name aptly suggests. Their old name in English of ossifrage also refers to this habit. Read

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Winners and Losers in Catalonia

A rise in forest birds, a decline in steppe species and six new parrots are some of the conclusions of the second edition of the Atlas of Breeding Birds of Catalonia, whose summary has just been released. It reveals some interesting details. In broad terms... Read

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Costas in Literature

Following on from ‘the State of the Coast’ (see below) here’s a few literary references I’ve come across on the condition of the costas.

The mountains had withdrawn from the sea, keeping their distance a mile inland, Near Sotogrande the golf courses began to multiply like the symptoms of a hypertrophied grassland cancer. White-walled Andalusian pueblos presided over the greens and fairways, fortified villages guarding their pastures, but in fact these miniature townships were purpose-built villa complexes financed by Swiss and German property speculators, the winter homes not of local shepherds but of Düsseldorf ad-men and Zürich television executives. Read (page down)

Friday, July 16, 2004

State of the Coast

Following on from yesterday’s report by WWF/Adena on the state of Mediterranean wetlands (see article below), Greenpeace today added their piece in a comprehensive and damming study of the Spanish coast. Not one autonomous community is saved from criticism, though the report notes improvements in the protection plans and anti-pollution policies of Catalonia, the Basque Country and Asturias, while at the other end of the scale lambastes (surprise, surprise) the Balearics, the Canaries, Murcia, Valencia and Galicia. Read

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Tourism, wetlands and the Delta de Llobregat

News today of a report by the WWF called 'Freshwater and Tourism in the Mediterranean'. It claims that tourism is destroying wetlands and depleting water supplies in the Mediterranean. The expansion over the next 20 years, with a predicted rise of visitors to the Med's coastline from the current 235 to 355 million tourists a year by 2025, will make things even worse. With tourists come apartments, and swimming pools, and golf courses which all demand water (the latter is said to use the equivalent of a town of 12,000 people in a year), and infrastructures which eat up valuable space. France, Greece, Italy and Spain have already lost half of their original wetland areas, the report claims. Read

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Els Aiguamolls and Malaria

The Aiguamolls or marshes of the Alt and Baix Empordà were formerly much more extensive than the few thousand hectares to be seen nowadays. Nothing remains of the large lake at Castelló, with its three islands, or the lakes of Siurana, Vilacolum, Riumors, Bellcaire, Ullastret and Pals except historical records (documents from the 17th and 18th centuries). After heavy rain and high East winds the water can again be seen to rise in their former beds, most spectacularly in the case of Ullastret as seen from Llabia.
The legend of "El bruel", which refers to .... Read

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Bites and stings

When I was eight years old I was bitten by an adder in a fern forest in Norfolk, England. Ever since I have been fascinated by the dangers lurking in the woods, rocks and the sea. And it’s summer again, which is when most of us get bitten and stung, so here’s a compendium of beasties in Spain out there wanting a piece of us.
Attacks by wolves and bears are of course extremely rare, though there was a case in May this year of a man who was seriously injured by a bear in Palencia. He was out mushroom picking and stumbled upon a female with its cubs. After being battered and left for dead, the man managed to save himself by tying a tourniquet above a deep gash in his leg. King Favila of Asturias, son of the legendary King Pelayo, was allegedly killed by a bear in Covadonga. The historical symbolism was not lost on Spanish republicans this year, when they paid homage to the ‘regicide bear’ in a celebration to....Read

Friday, July 09, 2004

The Little Ice Age in Spain

The decline in temperatures throughout the world between the15th and 19th centuries, commonly and poetically known as ‘the Little Ice Age’ is a well documented event supported by copious and extremely diverse scientific and historical evidence, ranging from studies of ice core and tree ring samples to the disappearance of the fledging Viking agricultural colony under Greenland’s ice sheets and the prevalence of snowy landscapes in the art of the time. Scientific consensus reckons on a temperature of 1º to 2º C lower than today in Northern Europe, but is there evidence for a cooling in the Mediterranean and Spain? Read

Monday, July 05, 2004

Flamencos and eagles

La Vanguardia has two bits of bird news today.
A mass flamenco ringing took place in the Park of the Delta de Ebro yesterday involving 170 people. While the adults were away on their morning feed, 400 young flamencos were rounded up into a pen and ringed. Flamencos have been breeding in the Delta since 1992, and there are currently some 1,500 pairs which this year have raised 900 chicks.

Not so healthy is the Bonelli’s eagle population. Read

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Castilian synonyms for mountains, etc

Richard Ford, the 19th century traveller and first British hispanophile, jokingly said in ‘Gatherings from Spain’ that the country is just one big mountain. 24% is above 1000 m and 76% between 500 and 1000 m. Spain has an average altitude of 660 metres. In Europe only Switzerland is higher (by a long way - average altitude of 1,300 metres).
So it should come as no surprise that Castilian is so rich in words for mountains, hills, cliffs and plateaus. Here’s a by no means exhaustive list.

alcor: hill
alcarria: high-flat plateau with little vegetation.
aguja: jagged peak
altiplanicie: extensive high plateau
altiplano: synonym of altiplanicie
altozano: small hill
arista: ridge; arête

Friday, July 02, 2004


There are many versions to this true story and this is mine.
On a summer’s day in 1879, an amateur anthropologist and his eight-year old daughter were exploring the area around Santillana del Mar, when they came across an opening to a cave. It had been exposed a few years previously by a landslide provoked by heavy rains. A hunter had chanced upon it the year before, but finding no bears or wolves, he continued on his way. Intrigued, father and daughter lit their charcoal lamps and climbed in through the entrance. As the anthropologist scoured the floor for bones and arrowheads his daughter looked up to the cave’s ceiling and exclaimed, “Look Dad, they’re cows! (Mira, Papá, son bueyes)” .

What they saw now forms part of Spanish and World culture..... Read

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Climate change threat to Sierra Nevada Flora

The unique plant communities of the high Sierra Nevada appear to be under threat from rising temperatures. According to the Andalucian government, a rise of 1.2ºC has been detected in the province of Granada over the last 20 years, which although not much in itself has been enough to endanger 65 endemic plants, most of which are only to be found in the highest altitudes of the range. Like its African and Andean counterparts, the pseudo-alpine habitat, known cumbersomely as crioromediterraneo in Spanish, is extremely .... Read

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