Posts Tagged ‘ibex’

In the corridors of the (future) Mountain Parliament

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Part of the audience at the preliminary meeting


I was in Quillan (Aude) earlier this week, for a meeting on the future of our mountains. Following a major reorganisation, the new region of Occitanie (articulated around the two metropoles of Toulouse and Montpellier) has decided to create a Mountain Parliament.

The idea is to give stakeholders a voice. According to Carole Delga, the region’s president: “The aim is to encourage communication and the emergence of new ideas so that regional policies can be adapted to the needs of the whole population.”

And mountains are a significant part of the new region:

  • 55% of the surface area
  • 20% of the population, ie 1.13 million inhabitants
  • 47% of the communes, ie 2153 in total


Footprints on the mountains… the news from the Pyrenees

Monday, May 2nd, 2016
Footprints on the mountains... the news from the Pyrenees

Footprints on the mountains… the news from the Pyrenees

My new book on the Pyrenees and walking

From the back cover: The Pyrenees are by turns beautifully natural and bleakly austere; shaped by centuries of labour… and scarred by human suffering. In the valleys, Steve talks to locals and meets an eccentric cast of hikers. But on the heights he is alone with marmottes and sarrios. He listens to protagonists on both sides of the argument over the reintroduction of bears. And goes searching for ibex imported as part of a rewilding programme.

Sario (Spanish) or isard (French), a common sight in the Pyrenees

Sario (Spanish) or isard (French), a common sight in the Pyrenees


My new book on the Pyrenees is about to be published. This time I’ve been walking on the Senda Pirenaica, the GR11.


21st-century Pyrenees (v): technology

Sunday, May 1st, 2016
Clinometer: my favourite app for estimating the risk of avalanches

Clinometer: my favourite app for estimating the risk of avalanches

Like the cities, the Pyrenees have been invaded by technology, of which the mobile phone is the most important element. In the valleys; above 2200m, except near ski resorts, forget it.

Clinometer for Android phones 

Next on my list is the GPS. Not only for walkers, but also for animals. From time to time one of the thirty or so brown bears will be equipped with a transmitter to see what it is up to. The same applies to goats. If they move less than 200m in an hour they are resting; 200-1000m means they are grazing; more than 1000m and you need to get out there and round them up. Much the same applies for dogs which don’t come home after the hunt. A good hunting dog is worth tracking down.

Any self-respecting ibex will have a GPS necklace which will enable the support team to locate it. Many are also equipped with radio transmitters.


Ibex 2.0

Ibex in Ariège, with a high-tech necklace © Jordi Estèbe, Parc naturel régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises



News from the mountains

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016
Yarn bombing: the 21st century comes to the Pyrenees (La Jonquera, 2014)

Yarn bombing: the 21st century comes to the Pyrenees (La Jonquera, 2014)

I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.

John Muir, 1883

Putting the words ‘news’ and ‘mountains’ together like this seems strange today. Of course, in Muir’s time many mountains were yet to be climbed. But in the 21st century – and in Europe – there are no more discoveries to be made. The mountains are no longer news. Nothing happens in the mountains. Or does it?

I have been thinking about how we view the mountains after seeing a new film: ‘Les Pyrénées, de l’Atlantique à la Méditerranée’ (see trailer below). It shows the Pyrenees in all their beauty, with the cameraman swooning at the majesty of the peaks. It ticks all the boxes.


The return of the living dead: the Pyrenean Ibex

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Don’t miss the exhibition about the Pyrenean ibex in the château de Seix (Ariège), 1 July to 31 August, 14h30 to 19j00.

Pyrenean ibex 2.0

Five-year-old male ibex with tracking collar, recently released in the Ariège department © Jordi Estèbe, Parc naturel régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises

Strange things have been happening in the central Pyrenees, in a triangle bounded by Cauterets and Ustou (Ariège) on the French side and Torla (Huesca) on the Spanish side. The Pyrenean ibex has come back from the tomb.

map of pyrenees showing GR10 and GR11The Pyrenean ibex (bucardo in Spanish, bouquetin in French, steinbock in German) was first reported extinct in 1825 but it actually survived until 6 January 2000, to become the first extinction of in the 21st century. Despite that, another Pyrenean ibex was born in 2009 and there are now thirty grazing in the French Pyrenees. What happened?

The three horsemen of the ibex apocalypse were hunting, inbreeding and loss of habitat.


Here be dragons

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Feral: Rewilding the land, sea and human life by George Monbiot – a review

Feral by George Monbiot

Feral by George Monbiot

On ancient maps the space between the known world and terra incognita was often filled with dragons. We didn’t know much about it but we did know it was dangerous. This is Monbiot’s homeland.

In Feral (2013, Allen Lane), George Monbiot invites us to join him in this wild country inhabited by bears, wolves, elephants, lions and other megafauna. His story surfs from the personal to the global on a wave, sometimes joyously hopeful, sometimes blackly despairing. He is to be found cresting the rollers in his kayak or metaphorically floundering in the troughs where rockhopping trawlers have grubbed up the sea floor in their quest for scallops.

It is an exciting ride, an intelligent well-constructed book, full of insights, even if some of the propositions are fantastical.

Rewinding the clock

Conservation, he says, is not enough: we need to rewind the clock, to rewild, setting aside zones where nature is allowed to find her own way. Plants (particularly trees), fish, birds and animals would be reintroduced. The big question is which species belong in today’s overcrowded Britain (and around its coasts). I say Britain, but Monbiot targets Wales and Scotland. His hit list includes wild boar, bear, wolf, lynx, lion and elephant, all having lived in Britain in the past. He talks of reinstating trophic cascades (based on the idea that big animals eat smaller ones) – claiming that reintroducing megafauna predators is the best way to rebalance the out-of-kilter natural world. Our idea of nature, he says, is informed by what we saw as children, but every new generation brings a new degradation. The baseline shifts, and the next generation’s ‘nature’ is less authentic than the last one’s. Rewilding would reverse the trend.


Rewilding and the Pyrenees

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

I have been reading Feral by George Monbiot. He wants to rewild the planet: the seas, the skies, the land and the animals.  His approach is global but he focusses on Britain. One part of the project is to reintroduce megafauna. Is it possible? Is it even a good idea?

Here in the French Pyrenees and neighbouring departments there are still some thriving megafauna, others are threatened or have recently disappeared; some animals have been successfully reintroduced. So what does all this have to say about rewilding?

Wild boar


wild boar -- photo : GerardM, Wikipedia

Wild boar — photo : GerardM, Wikipedia


Wild boar score 10 (out of 10) on Monbiot’s scale of suitability for reintroduction, a combination of ecological interest and likely acceptance.

In the department of the Aude where I have lived for the past 20 years, there are an estimated 30,000, and over 10,000 are killed every year. Yet, despite their numbers, and many sightings of footprints, I have never seen one in the wild: an unmistakably piggy snort followed by a lot of rustling in the undergrowth is as close as I have been.

But they are dangerous. A few years ago an old woman walking in a vineyard in a neighbouring village was killed by a wild boar; I know somebody whose car was written off when a boar charged out of the forest in front of her; and there are deaths every year as a result of hunting accidents – but nobody is calling for their extermination.


map of GR10

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