BirdLife: The Magazine Apr-Jun 2018 - Page 44

which SEO/BirdLife are doing a very good job at their Doñana education centre in El Rocío); conservationists see many problems in Andalucía as symptomatic of people’s disconnection with the landscape, and in particular, their food. Nip into a local restaurant – where is the salt on the table sourced? It’s either chemically mined rock salt likely from Asia (fine-grain “vacuum salt” – like 80% of the world’s salt), or for the connoisseurs of crystal- like sea salt (which is higher in iodine and with more character), Spanish restaurants ship in big brands (from the UK, for instance) – despite neighbouring saltworks struggling to survive. A few decades ago, Andalucía had a thriving artisanal salt business, with a 5,300 hectare network of small, ancient saltpans. Today, all that’s left are crusty white ornate buildings – derelict relics of a strong tradition that suffered with the advent of the refrigerator and was outpriced by foreign salt. Jobless “Machaca” ex-saltworkers walk the streets as now only three of the 170 small, artisan saltpans remain, one of which is supported by the University of Cádiz and bordered by many Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus nests. Only six old men in the Bay of Cádiz remember how to work them, with long-handled scrapers, and large sun-weathered hands that operate the wooden sluice gates as skilfully as they pick green, salty samphire for supper. “I don’t understand why it collapsed so quickly,” one of the men says. “It’s a feeling of loss, all my life. I want it back.” And Juan Martín, Founder of Salarte Photo Salarte with this cultural loss, there’s the associated loss of habitat for birds, and the vast potential for nature tourism. 7 Yet Andalucía is steeped in culture. White- painted houses and castles, such as the Palace of Medina Sidonia Foundation that contains documents from the time Columbus left Sanlúcar de Barrameda for the Americas, featuring sketches of what look like Caribbean birds; the tuna lookouts of the Strait of Gibraltar; a 3,000 year history from the Phoenicians to today; and Jerez – the proud home of sherry wine (such as the bodega of Lustau founded in 1896). But why is this pride not extended to salt? Or a deeper connection to the landscape? The region could be a fantastic model for 3 Spanish Imperial Eagle Photo Salarte A habitat and an industry Photo Salarte 6 Sustainable, lo cal fo o d o f the futur e The saltpan offers much more than artisanal salt: algae, saltmarsh plants, and herbed “gourmet” salts are key to reaching new markets, says Spanish chef Ángel León The restaurant’s bird- watching terrace Photo Aponiente The microscopic organisms that support life on the saltmarsh are also the subject of a new enterprise in Andalucía: that of TV star, “Chef of the Sea”, Ángel León, who uses gastronomy to tell Spain about sustainable seafood. Ángel says phytoplankton are the “taste of the sea” – and indeed the future – as he’s started creating “phytoplankton pâté” sourced from a saltmarsh (restored by Salarte), a turnstone’s throw away from his Michelin- starred restaurant, Aponiente. “People thought I was crazy,” says León. As he looks out over the marsh, he explains what can be achieved when you follow a dream, even if no one understands it at first. Cádiz artisanal saltworker Photo Salarte