BirdLife: The Magazine Apr-Jun 2018 - Page 43

nature & culture F A C T F I L E Discovering Andalucía When to visit: Throughout the year for birdwatching. Spring and Autumn for bird migration Saltpan & marshland birds: Marbled Teal (breeding); Black Stork (wintering); Eurasian Spoonbill (breeding); Slender-billed Gull (breeding); Osprey (wintering) Must see: Sunset over Doñana’s wetlands, as featured in Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun” Find out more: saltpan-recovery- project to reconnect people with nature and a thriving local economy. How? Through salt and birds. Internationally, more than 40% of migratory bird species are declining. They’re on an energetic knife-edge flying between habitats where they need to rest and refuel, ever-diminishing as coastlines develop (particularly here in southern Europe). Natural saltmarshes and coastal lagoons are vital sites, but not enough are left to support the vast numbers of birds funnelled through Andalucía on migration between Africa and Europe. Martín says that saltpans here are invaluable, and the flocks before our eyes are clear proof. It’s a rare case where the human impact of managing land for industry (often reclaimed from the sea) actually benefits birds. Birds love saltpans: with many dykes circulating nutrients, salt-loving vegetation, fish, gravel banks to nest on, and basins of different, but stable, water levels, there’s something for a huge variety of leg and bill lengths. They even trump natural saltmarshes, which are inundated by the tide for a large proportion of the day. An industrial salt company in the Bay of Cádiz, Grupo Asal, is going one step further, too, under Salarte’s spell: they’re thrilled to show their installed Osprey nesting platforms and posts, adapted lagoon banks for nesting plovers, and they’ve set aside part of their land as a bird reserve. “Three years ago they pumped water through – now there’s so much beautiful habitat”, says Martín. But the benefit of such work is even more important when you look at the whole region. Doñana is dying of drought. Spain’s celebrated National Park, an extensive wetland wonder home to half of Europe’s bird species, is still an incredible landscape of fan-like palms, umbrella pines, extensive marshlands, and the Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus (Endangered) and Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti (Vulnerable), but is only a fragment of what it once was. In 1998, Doñana famously suffered a horrific environmental disaster when a mine’s dam burst and poisoned the Park’s waterways with deadly heavy-metal sludge. It woke the Spanish authorities to the region’s environmental value, but there’s the ever-present risk that this is forgotten. The biggest threat today comes from industrial fruit-growers that illegally suck water from Doñana to fuel our demand for out-of- season strawberries. As baselines shift, it’s hard for people collectively to remember what a landscape used to be, but some have watched it closely. “As Doñana dries, we’re increasingly seeing birds use saltpans, fish farms and rice fields”, says Martín. Macarena Castro, University of Cádiz, agrees: “To preserve birds here, and support local people, you need to restore the artisanal saltpans.” Because it’s not just about restoring saltpans for birds, or inspiring environmental action to save Spain’s flagship F&@C