It began with Bernd
Sue Parker looks back on four years of writing a monthly column for Algarve Resident.
“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop (or in this case pause) the story” – this quote by Frank Herbert sums up how I feel about this, my final regular article for Algarve Resident. To be given the opportunity to write about the subjects that interest me (and the readers, I hope) has been a huge privilege, and an opportunity to reflect on what my 18 years (so far) in the Algarve have taught me.
The inspiration for my first article for Algarve Resident was a chance encounter with a very special man: Bernd Gerken. A highly-qualified and respected professor in the field of ecology, Bernd has written and contributed to numerous books and research papers. This eloquent and passionate advocate of sustainable living doesn’t just talk the talk. He walks the walk in a remote valley in the most northerly part of the Algarve. My visit, with husband Pat, to this hidden valley took place on Boxing Day in 2013.
The half-hour drive from Fitos to this remote place is along a winding, up-and-down rough track (now greatly improved), better suited to a four-wheel drive than a puny hire car, and it required driving skills not called for on motorways.
What we discovered was a revelation: how land badly damaged by unsustainable agricultural activity could be remediated without using copious amounts of chemicals which may increase productivity initially but inflict even greater damage in the long term. As a result of our visit, and observations not just of the land where he lives but also of Berndt’s lifestyle, I sat down and wrote the first of the “At One with Nature” series of articles. For more information about Bernd and his work, there are articles in the archives of www.algarvewildlife.com
Since then, I have been privileged to meet many more inspirational people involved with the protection of the Algarve’s priceless natural heritage, and they too have been the subject of articles over the years. I want this final regular contribution to the newspaper to be about them and their continuing work.
Clive Viney and Ray Tipper, co-authors of Algarve Wildlife – the natural year, have taught me so much about the Algarve and its natural history. Their wonderful book, which is now in its second edition, is rightly regarded as the wildlife ‘bible’ for the region. Few areas are fortunate enough to have specific guides, and this one is the result of many years of personal observations and meticulous recording, particularly of the birdlife of the Algarve.
One of my favourite places to visit in the Algarve is the nature reserve at Ria Formosa. Not only is this one of the best places to see the Mediterranean Chameleon when the females descend to the ground in September to lay their eggs, but it is also excellent for birds and wildflowers.
If you have never seen the beautiful spring-flowering Portuguese Fritillary, Ria Formosa is the place to visit. Also in the reserve is RIAS, a privately-funded animal hospital. This wildlife rehabilitation centre has been in existence for more than 20 years, managing the care and treatment of injured and sick wild animals, aiming to returning them to full health before releasing them back into the wild.
Its facilities are meagre: a small reception area, an operating ‘theatre’, a room full of cages for the really sick that require solitude or constant attention, a store room or two and then, outside, several enormous aviaries housing the largest raptors.
Run by a truly inspiring team of young people, many of them volunteers, RIAS is totally dependent on donations from the public, although the government does provide the buildings and power to run the operation within the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve. If you would like to sponsor one of their animals or make a donation to their vital work, you can contact them via the algarvewildlife website.
Environmentalist and campaigner, Carla Cabrita, was another source of inspiration for one of my articles. In 2014, Carla teamed up with longstanding friend Ana Luísa Simões to produce 200 Plants of SW Alentejano & Costa Vicentina, a lovely bilingual book about the flora of Cape St Vincent.
As a writer of wildflower guides, I know only too well the work and financial commitment required to produce such a work. You just have to have faith, as Carla says. With no grant aid available, the two girls wrote the book in their spare time and, faith notwithstanding, they came up with an ingenious way of covering the cost of printing. This involved ‘persuading’ the local town halls to buy the book unseen.
Wielding written commitments of purchase, they were then able to persuade the printer to go ahead and produce the book on the basis that money would be forthcoming soon thereafter – an optimistic view of the process by which any government establishment settles bills, but eventually the funds arrived.
Today Carla runs a guided walking service called ‘Walkin’Sagres’ in her beloved Cape St. Vincent Natural Park. She is a mine of information about the area and its flora and fauna, and her enthusiasm and irrepressible optimism for the future of the Algarve’s natural environment is truly inspirational.
Rosie and Rob Peddle will be well known to gardeners in the region through their work with the Algarve’s Mediterranean Gardening Association, but it is the association’s latest project which has really caught my attention.
Guided by Rob and Rosie, volunteers from the association have begun work on establishing a Barrocal Botanic Garden in an area close to Silves. The idea is to conserve the special plants of the Algarve, and as a result of their back-breaking work, the new garden is already taking shape. On a recent visit we saw volunteers planting spring bulbs among the existing trees and shrubs. By springtime there should be plenty to see, and you can get more information from their website: www.mediterraneangardeningportugal.org
Finally, my thanks go to Inês Lopes, our fine Editor and a committed environmentalist, for her kindness in allowing me to express my views and feelings about the Algarve through Algarve Resident each month over the past four years. I look forward to continuing to contribute to the newspaper albeit on a more occasional basis. This is not a ‘Termination: I’ll be back!’
By Sue Parker
Sue Parker is a Director of First Nature, Publisher of Algarve Wildlife – the natural year; Wildflowers in the Algarve; and Wild Orchids of the Algarve – how, when and where to find them.