Meeting Report: Life, Wildlife and Death in Rural Spain

Date: 
4 October 2019
Occasion: 
AGM and Presidential Address
Speaker(s): 
Dr Jeremy Brock

The Society's first meeting of the 2019–20 season was held at 7.30pm on Friday, 4 October, in their new venue, the Dumfries Baptist Church Centre in Gillbrae Road. After the AGM the retiring President Dr Jeremy Brock gave his presidential lecture on a remote area in western Aragon, Spain, where he has owned  an old house for over 40 years. He explained that he wanted to embrace the divergent interests of the Society and hopefully provide all the members with something of interest. He therefore split the presentation into various themes.

He briefly analysed the geography of the area, and then provided a short history of Spain.  He went on to consider how  changes impacted on the village, and then reviewed  the archaeological remains and history of the area. These dated back to early cave paintings about 8,000 years old. Later settlers included the Celtiberians, the Romans, the Visigoths and the Moors. The present village dates from approximately 1205 after the Christian re-conquest when people were encouraged to settle in the area. Thereafter he explained how the village had changed over the centuries.

He then spoke about some research on the demography of the village during the 17th–19th centuries. The village had a very high mortality rate; over 50% of children died before the age of seven, and adult life expectancy was only 46 years. The village was in a very dry, marginal area, and the water supply  in summer was about a kilometre away. Despite adequate agricultural land, this was a village under stress.

In recent times the village had changed, with most houses now being used as holiday homes by descendants of the original residents, but the infrastructure has improved, with a good health service, and physical improvements largely paid for by EU funding.

He then moved on to consider the natural history of the area. The flowers of the area were remarkable, particularly the photographs of wild bulbs such as daffodils. The nearby salt lake nearby even has an endemic species of grass called Puccinella pungens. The mammals included wild boar and genet. Finally he described some of the area's rich bird life. Some species were fairly ordinary, but had an interesting history such as the elusive Dupont's lark, which was only discovered  in Europe in the 1960s  Others such as griffon vultures or great bustards were spectacular.  Up to 20,000 cranes winter in the area, with numbers rising considerably in spring and autumn when they are joined by birds wintering further south. The talk ended with a photograph of cranes flying in at sunset.

J. L.