Posts Tagged ‘marmotte’

The end of the Big Sleep

Sunday, May 17th, 2020
Marmots in Catalonia

Marmot Marmota marmota – marmotte (fr) – marmota (sp, cat)

One of the earliest rewilding initiatives – and by far the most successful – was the work of two locals, Antoine Knobel and Jean-Marie Sabatut, and an avid hunter. The Pyrenean marmot woke up from its ten-thousand-year hibernation on 15 May 1948, in the Barrada valley near Gavarnie. There are now ten thousand marmots gamboling in the prairies above 1400m.

The marmot’s warning whistle has become, like the tinkling of sheep bells, an audible emblem of the mountains. Guided by the sound, walkers’ heads turn to catch a fleeting glimpse of a nose in the air, swiftly followed by the sight a tail disappearing down a burrow. In the more frequented areas of the mountains, marmots can be observed at close quarters. Near Gavarnie, the less timid ones will demand a toll. (more…)

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.


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.


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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