Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The times they are a-changin’.......... and about time too

The Easter just past is likely to be one of the last of its kind. Leaders of various branches of the Christian Church are nearing agreement on making Easter a permanent, unique fixture instead of a moveable feast. For more than 1,600 years it has wavered around weekends in March and April depending on the ecclesiastical full moon and the type of calendar used. Pope Francis and the leaders of the Protestant, Coptic and Orthodox churches are all said to be in favour of global uniformity. With the approval of secular governments, a set date for Easter Sunday will have important ramifications, particular for the tourist industry and schools. It ls expected to happen in the next five to ten years, but don’t count on it. “It may take a little while,” says the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, mindful that church leaders have been working on this for the past ten centuries.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the time set-up meant that the sun in Portugal was still rising at 9.00 on winter mornings. Children went to school and adults went to work in the dark. On summer evenings, it was hard for some to get to sleep because it didn’t get dark until nearly midnight. Under the present system, getting up an hour early last Sunday morning was no great hardship for most, and hopefully it will put the daylight saving debate to bed for a bit.
Bumbling crumbling
Silves Castle changed hands several times during the Middle Ages as a result of furious battles for supremacy between the Crusading Christians and Muslim Moors. But at any given time it was always pretty clear who was in charge. The once mighty battlements that still dominate the skyline of the Algarve’s former capital city are now crumbling and in danger of collapsing due to neglect. Officials say it is not clear whether the municipality or the state now owns the castle, who is responsible for maintaining the walls or who should now foot the bill to stop them falling down. As ruefully mentioned in a press report last week, it is generally hoped that the various authorities can find a solution because “the walls show no signs of righting themselves on their own”. Without divine intervention, that would indeed seem to be so.
Feathered failures
Young people have been moving out of Portugal in droves while White Storks have given up migrating. The human population is in decline while the number of resident storks has been increasing. As revealed in a new study, the plentiful supply of junk food available in landfill sites is one of the reasons why storks now resist the temptation to go off and spend the winter months in Africa. Presumably this also explains the plummeting birth rate among Portuguese women. The storks are obviously spending far too much time hanging around landfill sites instead of getting on with the job of delivering babies.
Lot of hot air
Another new study is advocating that humans eat less meat and dairy produce to help curb global warming. Researchers are concerned about the quantity of greenhouse gasses emitted by livestock in the form of flatulence. The world’s cud-chewing inhabitants currently total about 1.5 billion and that adds up to a lot of pollution because an average fart contains 9% carbon dioxide and 7% methane. The world’s human population is nearly 7.5 billion. Humans break wind a lot too, a habit that is expected to increase exponentially. On the plus side, Portugal has relatively few cattle per human head of population. This is negated by the fact that everyone in this country eats beans, particularly at this time of the year. And we all know what eating beans means.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Joyous spring tidings

Expats exiting
Boatloads of British immigrants are expected to head from Portugal and Spain to the South Atlantic if Britain decides to leave the European Union. They fear that Brexit will make them no longer welcome in the EU. For many expats the Falkland Islands seem a good option. For others, Patagonia would do. Anything but having to return to live in that confused homeland misnamed the United Kingdom.
Pumped up
Fuel fury”, as one paper headlined it, has been propelling motorists across the border into Spain to fill up on cheaper petrol. As prices at the pumps in Portugal rose for the third time in four weeks and reached a European high, Economy Minister Manuel Caldeira Cabral called on the Portuguese to be “more patriotic”. He said they should perform their “civic duty” rather than help the Spanish taxman. This laudable appeal is said to have backfired and sparked choruses of ‘Viva España’ as PT number plates sped eastward.
Bigger is better?
Everything is done on a far grander scale across the border. Spain’s 36.5 million voters have been able to do without a government for three whole months – and none is yet in sight. After Portugal’s inconclusive general election in early October, the 9.7 million voters in this country had less than eight weeks to wait before a working government was cobbled together. New elections in Spain will have to wait until June, and the same result is expected – i.e. no clear majority. Just for once the Spanish might like to follow the example of their Iberian neighbours. More than 44% of Portugal’s registered voters ignored the last general election here. The abstention rate in Spain was only 30.3%.
Gloom and doom
Due perhaps to a fleeting shortage of bad news, the online edition of an Algarve paper last Friday declared: “Winter comes to an end this weekend with some miserably gloomy weather. Rain, bitter temperatures and lightning are forecast all over Portugal with maximums expected to plunge from between 7ºC to 3ªC”. As it turned out, there was a nice drop of rain for the garden even if it was a tad nippy at times. Many of those enjoying the first flush of spring have already forgotten that last month was the hottest February ever recorded on the planet - but oh for heaven’s sake let’s not prattle on about doom as well as gloom.
Unannounced visit
The 2016 summer season for Portugal’s tourist industry has started on a high. Another record year is predicted. Hotels and holiday villas are already virtually fully booked for the peak months. Tourists information offices will be kept busy answering all kinds of questions. An unusual group of visitors called into the head office of Turismo de Portugal in Lisbon last week, but they weren't looking for help about where to stay. They were interested in the economic activities of a former member of the Turismo de Portugal’s administrative board. It’s good that the anti-corruption police are getting out and about more these days.
Gongs galore
Almost 100 organisations in Portugal have reportedly received nominations for this year’s World Travel Awards. For example, TAP, the national flag-carrier, otherwise known as Take Another Plane, has been nominated for no fewer than six awards, including Europe’s best airline. The company behind the accolades modestly describes them as “the Oscars of the travel industry”. The global travel industry news service eTurboNews cancelled its media partnership with the company last year saying that the awards “may be interpreted as plain and simple fraud”. Choosing his words carefully, eTN publisher Juergen Thomas Steinmetz went on to note that “unsuspecting tourism boards, hotels, airlines and attractions may have been victimised by this scheme over many years”. Hmm... well, maybe this year things will be different.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Woody, back from the brink

A woman on her early morning walk through the woods came across an abandoned dog lying on his side. He seemed lifeless. It looked as if his collar had been removed and he had been left there to die. But he was breathing, just.
He was a small dog and the woman managed to pick him up and carry him in her arms. At home she placed him next to a bowl of fresh water. He tried to drink but couldn’t. He could hardly stand up.
A vet was urgently needed. On being examined at the veterinary clinic in Alcantarila, it was confirmed he was suffering from pine processionary moth poisoning. It turned out to be a very serious case. Two experienced vets at the clinic said later it was the worst they had ever seen.
The dying dog was a ginger-haired, cross-breed weighing 6.9 kilos. He looked like a pup but was probably about three years old. Without a microchip, his background remained unknown. He needed a name. Under the circumstances,‘Woody’ seemed a good choice.
The small and inconspicuous adult processionary moth lays large numbers of eggs high in the outer foliage of pine trees during the summer. The resulting horde of caterpillars feed on the pine needles. For communal protection, the caterpillars weave silken nests, light grey in colour and prominently positioned. The growing caterpillars remain in their nest by day, emerging to feed at night.
Processionary caterpillars leave their nest for the last time in February or March and move in unison down the tree. They parade across the ground, in single-file head-to-tail lines a metre or more long, until they find a suitable spot to burrow underground to pupate and turn into another generation of moths.
While on the move in this characteristic way by day, the caterpillars are notoriously dangerous. On being intercepted or disturbed, they release fine, toxic hairs that cause painful skin irritations, rashes and sometimes much worse.
There is no mystery to any of this. Warning stories are published in the local press every year. In a letter to the editor published recently, someone living on a campsite complained he had been “infected by these pests to a horrific degree.... I have suffered intensely for over five weeks.”
Dogs that inquisitively sniff or lick processionary caterpillars usually end up with infections that cause their lips and tongue to greatly swell. It is not uncommon for a dog to loose much of its tongue.
Woody must have gone further than sniffing or licking. He must have eaten one or more caterpillars. This inflamed his stomach and in the clinic he vomited blood. His condition was such that the vets doubted he could survive.
The treatment started with cortisone injections, mouth washing and drugs to line the stomach and stop the vomiting. There followed regular doses of antihistamine, antacid, antibiotic and pain-killing medications . He was on an intravenous saline drip laced with glucose and vitamins 24 hours a day for six days, with monitoring continuing through the weekend.
On the seventh day, having shown almost miraculous improvement, Woody was released from his enclosure in the clinic and allowed to return to the home of his rescuer. She already had three dogs, now she had four.
The newcomer remained on medication and was kept under close observation. His health and vitality steadily improved day by day and eventually surpassed all expectations.
Woody is now eating well and brimming over with energy and enthusiasm. He knows his name and has totally integrated. He’s lost more than a quarter of his tongue - but his tail doesn’t stop wagging.

Woody being treated in the veterinary clinic at Alcantarilha. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Citizens to protect Salgados lagoon

Mid-March.... spring migrating birds are on the move while resident and summer species are gearing up for another breeding season in the Algarve’s Lagoa dos Salgados. Something else is in the air now too: fresh hope that greater care will soon be given to this coastal lagoon.
Lagoa dos Salgados, an ecological gem, has been suffering abuse for many years - and it still is today. Human disturbance to wildlife and farm animal damage to habitat go unchecked.
Fishermen with night-vision equipment are still outwitting the environmental police and illegally trapping eels, fish and shrimps. Diving birds, terrapins and water voles also die in these traps. Stray dogs fed by parked campervan owners go on the rampage by the lakeside and kill what they can.
The abuse is obvious but the relevant authorities seem unable or unwilling to take action. Does the general public really care?
An innovative project is about to be launched based on the conviction that nature conservation is an obligation for all. The initiative will involve various sectors of society, from public authorities and private companies to community groups and individual volunteers.
Cidadania para o Ambiente is being organised by SPEA, the Portuguese ornithological society, with funding from the Toyota Motor Corporation of Japan.
It is one of two such projects in Portugal to be backed by Toyota, the other being in a wetland area near Aveiro in the north. Both have internationally agreed Important Area for Birds and Biodiversity (IBA) status.
The Salgados project will be unveiled at a day-long workshop session in Albufeira on Friday 18th. All interested parties will be welcome.
The current situation and special needs at the lagoon will be discussed during the meeting and this will form the basis for defining what activities should be undertaken and by whom.
SPEA’s Executive Director Luis Costa will be pressing for unified action. “The aim is to develop alternative models of management based on the participation of civil society and relevant stakeholders at local level: communities, municipalities, NGO’s, farmers, scouts, etc,” he says.
The Lagoa dos Salgados and surrounding area is home, seasonally or all-year-round, to a remarkable range of waders, waterfowl and other aquatic birds, as well as raptors and passerines, some rare or endangered.
The lagoon is playing an important economic role in eco-tourism in the Algarve, though of course it is impossible to place a value on such sightings as a flock of 200 Greater Flamingos, Black-winged Stilts busily feeding at close range, or much more secretive Little Bitterns and Purple Gallinules skulking in the reedbeds.
All forms of wildlife are currently benefiting from a bespoke system put in place to control the level and quality of water in the lagoon. This, however, is not enough to fully take care of an ecosystem that environmental groups have been fighting to safeguard for well over a decade.
The major tourist resort planned for a great swathe of land adjacent to the lagoon is a distinct issue and not directly related to the “citizens for the environment” project.
There are no indications that construction is likely to start any time soon and anyway a court decision is awaited on its future, but the development remains a threat.
Luis Costa is optimistic. “A good management scheme involving citizenship and volunteers will hopefully increase the arguments against a development that could cause the degradation of the site.”

* The meeting on Friday 18th March will be in the Biblioteca Municipal de Albufeira, starting at 10am.