Andalucia spain

Ghost Birding at the Edge of Euroland under the pall of Cop26

Comparing 2005 with 2021 – by James Wolstencroft :

a student of Ecolo-nomics at the Universidad de las Vegas, Andalucia!

In late January 2005 I had returned to our little blue cottage in Spain refreshed by having converted my ecological experiences of an ecologically impoverished midwinter up-there into the sub-equatorial wealth of a warming Northern Tanzania. Consequently I felt able to answer with a little detachment questions that had plagued me for at least seven years previously. Long years that had passed through us as we raised our little boys in a safe European home.

Surely the activities of the bank-elite’s global profit development as we experience it everywhere, (eg here in agricultural Andalucia), and the ecological health of our planet are mutually exclusive?

The infinite expansion of unsecured digital ‘money’ is in truth utterly inimical to our fundamental indebtedness to ecological health.

Laguna de la Janda a hundred years ago

It’s obvious isn’t it?

Seen through the prisms of that cold dry winter (of 2004/5) what kind of bird community had been shaped by a ‘greater winter’ of biological destruction which, if we were honest, defines the nineteenth and especially the twentieth centuries?

I will try to describe the ecological community that one can find here on my biodiversity doorstep at Cortijo de las Habas. a “farm” incorporating some 600 ha of wheat barrens and beef ranch-land  which overlooks the lower valley of La Janda (once designated an Important Bird Area – an IBA) in south westernmost Andalucia, Spain.

I wrote the following piece at the end of February in 2005 when we were preparing to leave Europe for a new life in tropical Africa. And the wild-world of La Janda for the most part seemed doomed. Consequently I was aware that this piece might also become a “requiem for La Janda – a crane-song perhaps”.

“The tiny lavender coloured cottage and the cortijo out-buildings which shelter it are carved into an open pasture studded with healthy tussocks of asphodel, thistle and palmetto at about ninety metres above the sea. it faces south across a broad valley towards the North Atlantic. the ocean is obscured by low coastal sierras which fringe the valley’s western rim.

If, with the notional benefits of hindsight, I turn my head from this screen west ninety degrees I cast an (inevitably mournful) eye over the ghosted shorelines of a huge freshwater lagoon whose biological richness was unrivaled in Spain until the middle of the twentieth century.

In 2005 the panning eye no longer feasts upon a wavering expanse of water reed and sedge interspersed with great beds of grey green rush, surrounded by roaming herds of cattle and pig on pasture land backed by well tended fields of beans and maize. The always beautiful sky is no longer filled with an orchestral din of fifty thousand frogs nor by the varied chevron skeins of flighting waterfowl. Indeed such bittersweet nostalgia is only made possible through talking to the older locals hereabouts and by reading the diaries of eminent English ornithologist who made frequent visits to these lost marshes and meadows of La Janda, usually in springtime, during the first three decades of the twentieth century. Ignorance is said to be bliss, at least by those who know better – just as access to a cramped ballot box is equated with a life of freedom.

Lesser Kestrel now winters at the farm. Climate processes are restructuring life.

Now look, through the medium of those departed ‘birders’ what useful observations can be made of today’s ‘faunal assemblage’ here in what amounts to the dried out shreds of the glorious carpet that was once the Laguna de la Janda? The contemporary lives of La Janda – remain as residue, the tangible environmental result of just two human generations that witnessed the unfurling of our global markets technocracy. Specifically, how is an assessment of the health of the avian community here in 2005 to be set against ancestral records etched across the historic landscape.

Ecotourism may help, partly by teaching people to look with rapt attention at, the real world fragments, the world of their be-here-now distant ancestors

As we turn aside from the bird journals to survey the valley below in early spring of 2005 one is struck by the almost complete absence of any visible water. Until last winter – 2004 – La Janda returned to being a lagoon for at least a part every winter and to a depth of a metre or more. However in February a highly controversial, and at best quasi-legal, drainage tunnel was completed that draws the valley flood water to the Barbate estuary and out into the ocean in a matter of hours. This winter the land is an homogeneous three-piece-quilt. A slab more like of artificially vivid, greener than green, winter wheat. Of dirt brown ploughed ground and unsprayed, but all too temporary, patches of set-aside. The green and tans blanket the entire valley floor with this broad patchwork. There are three frequently sluiced drains, gouged along the lines of what were once seasonal watercourses. These drains carry the life-giving water across what is now a newly subsidised and rigidly compartmentalized land, the “Dollar-ena of our New Rome”.

And now? What of now?

Our back yard, go-wilder corridor,a ladder snake and a free vixen Vulpes vulpes

It is early November 2021 … and we have been back in this same farmhouse for 13 months …. I’m afraid to tell you that the story hereabouts is not so good …

Firstly, if I seem to be blunt, to be short, then try to forgive me, my friends:

It’s up to us individually to save what once was here … Humankind-in-Nature.

I’ve spent over five decades waiting for the ‘penny to drop’ in the corridors of power. But what of the rich, the financial oligarchy, who seek to control our living world?

Well, they seem to be motivated nowadays by a belated realisation that climate change (in particular) actually does threaten us, or rather their accumulated wealth and soft and easy life-style. So now the celebrities are scrambling over each other. Many seem hyper-keen, especially in their need to double down on control of the poor.

In simplest terms: some of them seem to want to lock ordinary people out of nearly half the planet and to police the remaining area with ever more draconian laws.

Such a policy will never work. Man is part of Nature. We evolved out of Africa and latterly, over the last five millennia especially, we have drifted into an almost complete alienation from Nature.

Now those whom we must assume to still be the ‘imperially minded’ seek to colonise the infinite sub-microscopic intricacies of our Earth-life processes themselves.

Motivated seemingly by an insatiable hunger for ever greater profit. Meanwhile the system claims to wish to set-aside large areas of formerly colonised lands as ecological health zones. These are in the global north as well as in the south. Are they doing this as much for the recreational benefit of run-away profit on a screen as to keep our planet habitable?

Is it in fact a Cop-out(21-4-26). It’s not a convincing sight for the poor! Just go onto Twitter for a minute to see the straight suits of affluence gathering over cocktails to congratulate each other in a choreographed pretense of caring for our World.

Much to the discomfiture of our many landlords down the line I’ve always known that : Biodiversity Begins at Home, at the bedside, outside the kitchen and up the garden path.

One reply on “Ghost Birding at the Edge of Euroland under the pall of Cop26”

Reading this prompted me to find my 1989 diary and the entry for April 2nd, when I visited La Janda. There was not a lot of water even then, and I couldn’t imagine that drawing of a sailing dinghy on open water! I remember the dozens of little bustards popping up through the grass as they displayed – and then the whole flock taking flight in a explosion of black and white when a tractor passed too close for their comfort. I go to a place to enjoy it for its own sake, and the wildlife is the icing on the cake, as it were. A Montagu’s harrier quartered the distant reeds, and an American birder (on hearing someone call out Montagu’s) went into almost panic mode trying to see it for himself, saying ‘I need that bird’. What? How do you ‘need’ a bird? He meant he needed to tick it off his list – a concept that is still totally alien to me. And once he had seen it, does he care if the species remains there for future generations to see, or if the habitat remains there to support future generations of birds? One day, perhaps the laguna can be restored, and I will get there once again to enjoy the experience – I have to be optimistic, or there is no point in living.


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