Andalusia’s Conservation Caveat

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As part of the second year undergraduate Zoology degree field course module, students were swept to south Spain to expeience in situ field conservation and survey skills of Andalusia.

The Andalusian region is the southern most autonomous community in Peninsular Spain – touching down in Malaga, the fieldtrip journeyed through Seville, El Rocio, The Doñana National Park, Bologne, and finally Gibraltar to experience the breadth of wildlife and natural spaces locally conserved.

The first accomodation was in the seasonally popular, and eerily ‘Wild West’ town of El Rocio, situated on the boarder of the Doñana National Park. The town is famous for weeks long pilgrimages from Pentercost Monday, the vast umbrella pine plantation provides shade for 1 million visitors, and horses which are traded and admired.

Group of mares being driven by cattle keepers
The Rounding of the Mares Pilgramage

The expansive pine plantations provide an irreplaceable ecosystem service, the Spanish pine nut production represents 60% of world production! The mass reforestation of Pinus Pinea began in 1737, and currently occupies over 400,000 ha in Andalusia. Whilst these forests consolidate the sand dunes, protecting downwind villages, they have been critiqued that the mono-culture crop does not achieve the ecosystem processes provided by natural forests (Bullod et al, 2009).

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The Doñana Pine Plantations Cover

An educational safari drove through the forestry tracks of the Doñana pine plantations, whilst Iberian Lynx have a stronghold population in Doñana, none were spotted that day. It was learned that their conservation depends on Cork tree hollows for successful breeding, and a varied diet, whereas currently there are too many rabbits and too little mature cork trees.

Doñana is perhaps famous for the strong population of the Iberian Red Deer subspecies, these charismatic ungulates were spotted numerously on safari, it was learned that the Lynx occasionally predate on young deer when suitable prey is scarce.

The safari’s route continued through a seasonally dry wetland, where a group of wild Boar were spotted streaking across the horizon of the desert, amongst a variety of bountiful bird life.

Dry marshes in summer
The Seasonally Dry Marsh in Summer
Flooded marshes in winter
The Marsh at full capacity in Winter

The next day, the field trip ventured to the protected National Park area of Doñana, revealing an abundance of marshes, cotos, dunes and beaches, weaving a complex patchwork of habitats for the bird life which migrates and resides there.

Storks, Ibis, Pink footed Geese, Egrets, Spoonbills, Griffon Vultures, Flamingos, Black Kites, Lesser Kestrels, Hoopoes and Purple Swamphens were but a few species observed all in one morning!

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View from the Donana Marsh Bird Hide

The second accommodation in Huerta Grande, swept students from the arid marshlands of east Andalusia to the dense Primordial forests, humid and green, isolated in contrast to the surrounding Olive tree plantations which cover 91.06% of agricultural land in the Jaen Province (2007)

Huerta Grande was a breath of fresh air, ecologically! The pristine primordial forests could not be compared to the most aged woodlands of the UK, where sadly only 20% of forested areas are of old growth. The primordial forest gave insight of how important naturally wild forests create habitat heterogeneity and stability for rarer species.

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Cork Oaks in The Primordial Forests of Andalusia

On the last day at Huerta Grande, a wondrous spectacle of >50 migrating black kites flew overhead, crossing the migration hot spot of the Gibraltar strait.

The Spain field trip was so engaging and diverse, students also gained a taste of the conservation challenges that habitats in Andalusia face, it was difficult to ignore the caveat that 43.3% of land was irrigated Olive plantations – the view from the coach rarely saw natural lanscapes. It was also observed that irrigation is the most limiting factor of expanding agricultural land into exisiting habitats, perhaps the Primordial forests have been left alone due to the unsuitability of agricultural production in that area.

Moving forward, I learned that the conservation of habitats alongside agricultural and economical needs is a balance that must benefit both sides, carefully considering how the natural habitats can provide ecosystem services for communities who may be threatened from future threats of climate change, land use change and re-wilding schemes.

The field trip to Spain was invaluable to the practical and survey skills I Learnt whilst there.

Published by thegardeningzoologist

Emily Madeline Davies is the project manager of the only Student - Led Garden in Bangor 'The Healing Garden'. She works with the project leaders to deliver engaging volunteer experiences for students to maintain the garden. Her background is in wildlife gardening and zoology, by volunteering at the North Wales Wildlife Trust workshops and completing a comprehensive trainee-ship as a Conservation Ranger in 2019. She is currently in her third and final year studying Zoology with Animal Behaviour at University, favouring the conservation and practical management modules. Her current honours project is to investigate the effect of wind direction on the energetic expenses of bird flight, by using the controlled flights of homing pigeons - which hopes to be useful for the conservation of migrating birds in the face of climatic adversity. Her gardening experience includes completing a Horticultural Technician internship at Treborth Botanical Garden, whilst also being part of the Student's for Treborth Action Group committee. Her personal accomplishments include securing external funding for the Healing Garden from Kew Garden's 'GrowWild' initiative, in partnership with the brain injury charity ''Headway', to develop a sensory spiral flower border for therapy, recovery and mindfulness - free to use for the brain injury and local community. She also had considerable input designing the garden to accommodate and benefit the local habitats and wildlife using her experience working with the North Wales Wildlife Trust. With a knack for gardening and illustration, in her free time she paints in gouache for her natural history portfolio. Looking forward, Emily aims to graduate into a local job in habitat management, connectivity of urban green spaces (gardens) or native conservation strategy.

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