Saturday, April 7, 2018

Azure-wings are here to stay

     April sees the start of the breeding season for many birds in the Algarve, none more remarkable than the Azure-winged Magpie, which is strongly defying predictions that it may be facing extinction.

     About the size of a blackbird but appearing bigger because of its multi-coloured body and much longer tail, the Azure-wing’s brash and boisterous behaviour also make it easy to spot.   
     Male and female are identical in appearance and they remain gregarious even though winter flocks are now loosening. Young couples, as well as monogamous pairs that have already bonded for life, will this month be home-building on the basis of a single new nest per tree.
     In Europe, Azure-wings occupy the southwest corner - the Algarve, southern Alentejo and the neighbouring Spanish province of Andalusia. They are found nowhere else except on the other side of the world - in China, Korea and Japan.
     Pleistocene fossil evidence has ruled out any notion that exotic Azure-wings were imported from the Far East by early Portuguese explorers. The resident European and East Asian populations were slowly split apart a million or more years ago with the advance of the last Ice Age.
      Once fairly scarce in the Algarve, they are now flourishing in woodlands, parklands and orange groves all across the region.  
     Their numbers seem to be ever increasing despite an ominous study published some years ago in the international science journal Nature.
     Researchers forecast that a quarter of all land and plant species in the world might be driven to extinction if greenhouse gas emissions were not drastically reduced.
     The authors of the study named the Azure-winged Magpie as one of the top ten climatically threatened bird species in Europe.
     The study predicted a loss of between 50% and 95% of the Azure-wings, depending on their ability to disperse and occupy suitable new areas in response to habitat changes brought about by global warming.
     While even now they do not care for sparsely vegetated, wind-swept areas and would be forced out by desertification, Azure-wings are extremely adaptable when it comes to diet.
      In addition to all sorts of creepy-crawlies foraged from trees, bushes and the ground, they enjoy fruits and nuts and are thus regarded by some farmers as a menace.
     Their popularity is also tainted by the fact that they will take eggs and young from the nests of song birds.
     Their audacity commonly stretches to swooping into gardens and backyards to raid kitchen scraps or leftover biscuits in cats’ and dogs’ bowls. Cheeky, but as Darwin explained, it’s the most adaptable and fittest that survive.
     While aggressive in some ways, Azure-wings within their own communities show compassion. Individuals within loose breeding colonies help each other with nest building, supplying food to incubating females and feeding fledglings.
     Along with other fellow members of the crow family, this is one of the brainiest species in the bird world. Its brain-to-body ratio equals that of the great apes, whales, dolphins and porpoises. It’s only slightly less than ours.
     Extinction? Not in our lifetime!   

Photo taken in the Algarve by Colin Key

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Winter and long-lets increasing

     The English couple at the centre of the first episode of the BBC’s “Get Away for Winter” series broadcast last month are among the ever-growing number of foreigners renting properties during the off-season, or even all-year-round.
     Trish and Dave Guilford from Sussex stayed in Ferragudo from mid-December to mid-February after their specially filmed search for an ideal winter getaway.  
      They chose a two-bedroom apartment at €650 a month and enjoyed their first stay in the Algarve so much that they have booked accommodation in Ferragudo for six months throughout the whole of next winter.
     Mandy Hughes, a Lagoa-based property consultant who managed the majority of the venues for the “Get Away for the Winter” filming in the Algarve last October, says the winter rental market here is very buoyant.
     “Every year we are seeing more visitors from both Europe and further afield, particularly America and Canada.”
     She says the winter trend provides a great option for local owners who rent their property out in the summer months but often have it standing empty over the winter.  
     “A quality, two-bedroom house or apartment in a good location can often be rented for between €500 and €800 per month plus utility costs in the winter.
     “There is not a great demand for villas over the winter as those visiting from November to April tend to be retired couples.”
     As many of the major holiday resorts almost shut down over the winter months, less publicised places such as Lagos and Ferragudo  are entertaining the bulk of the winter visitors. Mandy says.
     The long term rental market, involving lets of twelve months or more, has also become increasingly busy.

     “Property sales are a very important side of our business and we see that many overseas purchasers are opting to rent before they buy – giving themselves time to decide on their preferred area over a twelve month period rather than basing their property choice on relatively short holiday experiences.”

       Mandy notes that many of those investing in an Algarve property may be well placed to enjoy it either as solely a second home, or making the most out of their investment with holiday and long term lets.

     “In Algarve Sales and Rentals we have found that property owners are turning to us to manage the whole rental process for them. That includes advertising, finding tenants, arranging contracts and then getting the tenants settled into the property.  

     “The incentives to do this are many, not least of which is no  longer having to pay utilities, gardeners, maids and pool maintenance.

     “Once they have taken all their costs into account, 95% of owners come to the conclusion that they actually make more profit for a long-term rental than they do for the summer holiday market.”

      Trish and Dave Guildford, retirees who have fallen in love with the Algarve as a result of taking part in the first episode of the BBC’s “Get Away for the Winter” series, are also expecting to make a profit next winter.

     While renting in Ferragudo again, this time for six months from next October, they intend to rent out their Sussex home. They anticipate a far higher income per month from their own house than they will be paying in Ferragudo, plus saving on UK heating bills, food and other less expensive items here.

     Trish and Dave, who stayed in Ferragudo from mid-December to mid-February, say they would consider renting elsewhere in the Algarve in future years.

     “We love the Portuguese and especially the Algarve area with its beautiful scenery and glorious beaches and walks.
     “The feeling of friendliness from the locals is really lovely. We feel safe here and less stressed.”

  Trish and Dave

Friday, January 26, 2018

Aquarians of very different ages

Some fascinating comparisons between British expatriates born in the first week of the Aquarius sign of the zodiac are personified by Charles Every who turned 102 on January 20, and twin sisters, Mariota and Catriona Anderson, who are celebrating their  20th birthday today, Friday 26.
Although their homes are within a few kilometres of each other in the Lagoa area, Charles and the Anderson sisters have never met.
Despite the generation gap, and leaving aside all the usual horoscope baloney, they do indeed have much in common.
For starters, they have distinguished family backgrounds. The second son of the 11th Baronet Every. Much of Charles' early life was spent in the historic mansion of Egginton Hall in Derbyshire, Egland.
The Anderson sisters are direct descendants of the greatest Scottish bard, Robert Burns, and their original home was a castle near St Andrews in the kingdom of Fife in eastern Scotland.
Neither Charles nor the twins show any signs of pretentious aristocracy and they have certainly downsized in terms of accommodation.
Charles was educated at Harrow, one of England's foremost public schools, founded in 1572 by a Royal Charter granted by Queen Elizabeth 1. He disliked the school because “the people there were all too posh”.
The Anderson girls attended the Algarve International School in Porches, before studying for international baccalaureate diplomas back in Scotland.
A the age of 20, Charles was studying for a degree in architecture at London University. The Andersons are at present studying at King's College, London, for degrees in international relations.
Charles became familiar with international matters in his twenties during the Second World War. He served with the British armed forces in India and Burma. After the war he spent more than two decades pursuing a successful career as a town planner in South Africa.
On deciding to move to Europe in his early fifties, Charles ended up buying a house on the outskirts of Carvoeiro and moved into it permanently in 1969. He has lived here ever since.
The Anderson twins were just four months old when their parents, Fiona and John, brought them to settle in the Algarve in 1998.
In Charles' generation the young faced a deeply uncertain future because the world then was steeped in social and economical turbulence as well as international conflict. And so it is for Mariota and Cariona's generation today.
It's a very different world now, of course, with very different challenges. Life was generally much better in the old days, according to Charles.
The Anderson twins acknowledge that modern technology has both bettered some everyday problems and worsened others, but say that as students they must remain optimistic.
People generally are living longer nowadays. Population statistics have soared. The total population of the world when Charles was a lad was less than two billion. It's now about 7.6 billion. If the Anderson twins make it to Charles' present age, the world will be inhabited by an estimated 11.8 billion.
Females have long had a higher life expectancy than males, though the gap is narrowing. In Britain, when Charles was born, the average life expectancy for a man was 60 years. Today the average life expectancy in Western Europe is79 for a man and 84 for a woman.
As for Brexit or no Brexit, Britain for Charles is a thing of the distant past.. He intends to spend the rest of his days in Portugal and in the place he loves most of all the aquatic garden in his Carvoeiro home.
     While specialising in international relations, either or both of the Anderson twins may wish to pursue careers abroad, but their beloved “home” will always be the Algarve.

Mariota and Catriona 

Recent photo of Charles by Lisa

+ Sadly, Charles had to spend his birthday in hospital and undergo hip surgery after an early morning fall. He is  recovering but, given his age, is expected to remain in hospital for a week or more .

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Expats given agreed assurances

The British Government has published details of the agreement reached in Brussels this week on the rights for UK nationals and their families living in Portugal and the other EU countries after the UK leaves the Union.

The agreement is just part of phase one in the Brexit negotiations and comes with the caveat that nothing is finally agreed until everything is agreed on an orderly withdrawal.

The latest British Government statement emphasises the following points:

Agreement on rights for UK nationals and their families 

  • UK nationals, as well as their family members covered by the agreement, who are lawfully residing in a EU27 Member State by 29 March 2019, will be able to continue to reside in that Member State.
  • Children born or adopted outside of a UK national’s resident Member State after the 29 March 2019 will also be covered by this agreement.
  • Close family members (spouses, civil partners and unmarried partners, dependent children and grandchildren and dependent parents and grandparents) will be able to join UK nationals in their Member State of residence after exit under these rules, where the relationship existed on 29 March 2019 and continues to exist when they wish to move to join their UK national family member.
  • EU27 Member States may require UK nationals and their family members covered by the agreement to apply to obtain a status conferring the right of residence and/or obtain a residency document. Administrative procedures for applications for status will be transparent, smooth and streamlined. Where an application is required to obtain status, UK nationals will have at least two years to submit their applications. Residence documents will be issued free of charge or for a charge not exceeding that imposed on nationals for the issuing of similar documents. Further information on these administrative procedures will be provided when available.
  • UK nationals and their family members covered by the agreement will be able to be absent from their Member State of residence for up to 5 years without losing their right to return.
  • UK nationals and their family members covered by the agreement will continue to have the same access as they currently do to healthcare, pensions and other benefits.

UK nationals who move to the EU after 29 March 2019

For UK nationals who move to the EU after the UK’s withdrawal on 29 March 2019, the proposed implementation period (announced by the Prime Minister in her Florence speech in September) would mean they can still live, work and study in the EU after the UK has left the EU. How long this period lasts is subject to negotiations, however it is likely to be around 2 years.

Details of the immigration rules for UK nationals who wish to move to the EU after 29 March 2019 and during the implementation period are yet to be agreed. We will publish more details as soon as possible, to give UK nationals and businesses enough time to plan and prepare.

UK nationals living in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) states

The agreement reached with the European Commission does not cover UK nationals living in the European Free Trade Association states (Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Switzerland). The UK is seeking to secure the same protections for UK nationals living in EFTA states as for UK nationals living in the EU, on a reciprocal basis, through agreements with EFTA states.

Current status of UK nationals in the EU

Until the UK leaves the EU, the UK remains a full member of the EU and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. This means:

Until the UK leaves the EU, the UK remains a full member of the EU and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. This means:

Travelling in the EU – passports and healthcare

  • UK nationals can continue to travel freely within the EU using a UK passport
  • there continue to be no visa requirements for UK nationals entering another EU country
  • UK nationals can continue to access healthcare during temporary visits to EU countries using the European Health Insurance Card.

Living and working in the EU – property, pensions and healthcare

  • UK nationals retain their legal status as EU citizens and can continue to work and live in EU countries
  • UK nationals can continue to receive healthcare in EU countries
  • UK nationals can continue to retire and collect their pensions in EU countries.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Should neutering pets be mandatory?

Dogs have long been regarded as “man´s best friend” and cats are often considered adorable, but stray or abandoned animals pose a huge problem in Portugal and there’s no solution in sight.
It’s a worldwide conundrum. The European Union estimates there are about one hundred million homeless dogs and cats across the continent.
A single unspayed female dog and her offspring can produce 67, 000 puppies in six years.
A similar exponential calculation concludes that in seven years a single cat and her offspring can produce a population of 370,000.
In Portugal, despite updated protection laws and the dedicated work of veterinarians, municipal authorities and animal welfare charities, the problem of homeless animals continues to multiply.
Sterilisation – spaying females and castrating males – seems the most humane and practical means of control, yet it’s viewed by many people as cruel, immoral, or even religiously sinful.
Traditional anti-sterilisation sentiment – especially about castration - is still common in Portugal.
So is the practice of dumping unwanted animals by the wayside or in rubbish bins. The threat of criminal prosecution, fines or even jail sentences for abuse or abandonment is frequently ignored.
Animals on the loose are vulnerable to malnutrition, injury and disease, as well as pregnancies that proliferate the suffering.
Conflicting and muddled attitudes on what to do about this are compounded when emotion takes precedence over rational thinking. Awareness education is increasingly needed.
But the real nub of the matter is money.
Pet animals are usually abandoned because owners are unable or unwilling to pay for basic food and medical essentials.
Abandoned dogs and cats that don’t perish from starvation, road accidents or mutilation in garbage trucks usually end up in municipal compounds or charity shelters, all of which struggle with limited funds. Taxpayers and donors foot the bills.
Municipal centres are overcrowded with unwanted animals. Before last year’s parliamentary decision to ban culling except in cases to relieve intolerable suffering, an estimated 100,000 street animals were being collected and “put down” in Portugal each year.
The ban was generally welcomed, but it is still controversial and has intensified the need for municipal facilities. The difficulty of rehoming municipal kennel and cattery inmates is acute. No one wants to adopt a pet unless it is lovable and certainly not if it is uncontrollably aggressive or feral.
Of course, dogs and cats support profitable businesses, notably veterinary clinics and suppliers of pet food.
Sterilisation may only be carried out by qualified and registered veterinary surgeons, and it generates a significant part of their income.
The going rates vary considerably between vets. Depending on weight, the charge for sterilising a male dog ranges from about €90 to €150, and for a female €150 to €300. For male cats, it costs about €50 to €65 and for females €80 to €125.
But vets will sterilise for charities at much lower prices. To avoid paying a vet the full rate, those who rescue one or more animals and want to arrange sterilisation can apply for a discount through a charity.
Animal welfare groups and municipal kennels and catteries are intensely busy. They operate independently with strong-minded leaders who have differing priorities.
It is understandable, therefore, why sterilisation campaigns in the Algarve have been sporadic, limited in scope and localised. There has been a lack of regional cohesion.
Sterilisation laws exist elsewhere in various forms. Some places in the US, for example, demand that animals be sterilised by the age of four months.
It would be culturally difficult to introduce and strictly impose such legislation in Portugal. But one line of thinking here is that if mandatory sterilisation is not possible then it must be made much easier to arrange. Incentives could include lowering licensing and insurance costs for owners of neutered animals.
It is increasingly hard to find anyone – individuals or organisations – willing or able to rehome animals. Facebook is full of applicants. There are simply too many abandoned dogs and cats in need of personal care.
Foreigner residents strongly support their Portuguese counterparts in animal charity work. And foreigners, including visitors, have been helping with the burden of rehoming by sending animals for adoption abroad, especially to the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands.
The problem here is acute but mercifully less abhorrent than last week’s BBC revelations that cruel puppy breeding is taking place in the UK on “an industrial scale”. A criminal trade in puppies reaping hundreds of millions of pounds has been booming with the approach of Christmas. Many of the puppies will become unwanted in the New Year.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Brexit, “calm and orderly”

In introducing the so-called Great Repeal Bill in the House of Commons last week, the UK’s chief negotiator in Brussels, David Davies, said the intention of the bill was to ensure “a calm and orderly exit” from the EU.
Only Big Ben remained quiet. It has been silenced for extensive repair work. But politicians of all stripes erupted furiously in a howling debate that heard the Great Repeal Bill denounced as a government “power grab.” The Independent newspaper warned that the bill was no less than a major “threat to democracy.”
The bill, which would incorporate relevant EU law into the British legal system, has also been described as an “astonishing monstrosity.”
Nevertheless, a majority accepted it in a midnight parliamantary vote. That’s not the end of the battle, however. Plenty more fierce argument over the bill lies ahead.
Calm and order have been noticeably absent since the outpouring of lies and distortion during last year’s referendum campaign, through the parliamentary political turmoil that followed, and on to the belligerent divorce proceedings now underway in Brussels.
Last weekend saw the start of the anti-Brexit “autumn of discontent.” Protest groups are demanding a rejection of the referendum vote.
Instead of feeling calm, British nationals living in Portugal and other EU countries can be excused for feeling rather anxious or angry, befuddled or just plain fed up with the pro-Brexit efforts “to make Britain great again.”
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get an accurate picture of what British expats in Portugal really think. For starters, it’s unknown how many of them are living here. Many remain unregistered, though there has been a scramble to apply for Portuguese residential permits to give a measure of security amid the mess unleashed by “the will of the people” back home.
Recent reports claim hundreds of thousands of retired Britons in Europe who cannot afford private healthcare abroad may be forced to return to the UK unless the government guarantees their healthcare will continue to be reimbursed by the NHS. 
It has been pointed out, however, that returning pensioners would be a drain on the NHS and the UK housing market as well.
Other reports have revealed a surge in the number of British pensioners wanting to move out of the UK and settle in Portugal, Spain or France, fearing the imposition of life-changing restrictions when the UK leaves the EU.
Concern among established British residents extends to those contemplating moving here permanently, as well as holidaymakers.
The pound has continued to plummet against the euro and more pressure is forecast, at least in the short-term. Analysts say sterling is heading for parity with the euro for the first time in the single currency’s 18-year history.
The exchange rate has prompted many would-be property buyers in Portugal to adopt a “wait and see” attitude. On the other hand, as Kerstin Buechner, director of QP Savills, specialalising in in the up-market Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo areas of the Algarve, has told us: “The loss in the value of the pound is stimulating our vendors (almost 100% of them) to reinvest in the local market as opposed to taking the funds back to the UK. This has most certainly contributed to our impressive sales volume this year of over €100 million, which has exceeded all our expectations.”
Many tourists have stayed at home despite the appalling weather in Britain this summer. Fortunately for Portugal, the big decline in British visitors has been offset by a significant increase in other nationals.
Many of the Brits who have spent their holidays in the Algarve this summer have been economising by buying more groceries in supermarkets and dining out less in restaurants.
Among long-term expats, there is still smouldering outrage that those who had lived here for more than 15 years were denied the right to vote in what turned out to be a close-run referendum.
Ardent pro-EU expats here are in touch with protest groups across the continent about what might be done to come up with a better solution than Brexit.
At the other end of the spectrum, some expats are contemptuous of the European Union. Yet it seems that many of these ardent Brexiteers want to continue living out here in the sun.
What lies ahead is as much a mystery now as it was during the referendum. It can still only be guessed at. Brexit may be disastrous for both the UK and the EU, or it may indeed help make Britain great again.
Meanwhile, for the UK and EU expats being used as “bargaining chips,” there is still no sign of agreement on their future rights, let alone getting to grips with the fiendishly complex matter of trade relations.
Instead of ensuring calm and order, all this Brexit baloney looks like bungling on and on and causing yet more chaos.
It may or may not be sorted by the time Big Ben strikes again - and that's not scheduled until 2021.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Angela Morado, a true professional

Angela Morado of the British Vice Consulate in the Algarve has been presented with an Honorary MBE, awarded to her by Her Majesty the Queen, in recognition of her significant contribution to relations between the United Kingdom and Portugal.
The award was formally presented by the British Ambassador to Portugal, Kirsty Hayes, at a reception on Tuesday in Portimão.
The Ambassador said in tribute: “Angie has proved herself to be a consummate professional in dealing tenaciously with hundreds of consular cases, and providing exemplary support to many distressed and vulnerable British nationals.
Angie always sees each and every person as an individual, an essential skill in consular work, where each person has a set of unique, personal circumstances, even if the type of situation is one she has dealt with many times before.
She has a seemingly limitless supply of empathy and compassion for fellow human beings, often facing up to the worst situation in their lives in a foreign country, sometimes alone, where they don’t speak the language or understand the norms”.
The Ambassador also noted that crisis response is another significant responsibility of consular staff around the world, and, in 2010, Angela was deployed to Funchal to assist British nationals caught up in the flood crisis there. With all communication systems down, there were huge challenges in making contact with British residents and holidaymakers in Madeira.
A year later, Angela went to Malta at one hour’s notice to assist with the evacuation of Libya during the Arab Spring crisis.
Angela Morado was born in Durban, South Africa. At the age of 18 she emigrated to Portugal with her parents and sister. Her father is Portuguese.
Angela was hoping to study fine arts but did not have the Portuguese language skills at the time to pursue a university degree in Portugal.
Instead, in October 1988, she started working for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the British Consulate in the Algarve, having been advised about the job vacancy by her previous employer, Zita Neto, Director of the language school Interlingua in Portimão. The British Consulate was just up the road from the school.
I was interviewed by the then Honorary British Consul, Dr José Pearce de Azevedo, to whom I am ever grateful for teaching me the Portuguese I am able to read, write and speak today,” she says.
Having started as a consular support officer, she was promoted to consular assistant in 1994. With the retirement of her former colleagues Ron Underwood and Zefita Azevedo, she was promoted to Proconsul and then appointed Vice Consul in 2004.
She has served under seven consuls. Commenting on her MBE award, Roger Nuttall, the British Consul in the Algarve between 2000 and 2005, who now lives in retirement in England, said: “Among former colleagues in my 40 plus years in the Diplomatic Service, Angela Morado was simply the best consular officer I ever worked with. She was conscientious, professional, and wonderful with the public, British and Portuguese alike. I wish we could clone Angela for every consular job in the Service”.
Angela’s own reaction to the MBE award: “I am truly honoured for the recognition and proud to work for this organisation that has provided me with so many opportunities in my career to learn and develop and to travel.
Above all it is the great job satisfaction I have every day in being able to help vulnerable people. Within the consulate we have a saying that “there is never a dull day” and this makes my job exciting.
I have always worked with fantastic teams who have been supportive especially when dealing with the more complex cases.
It is a luxury these days to be able to say that I get paid for the job that I love doing”. 

 Angela (right) with the British Ambassador
photo by Clive Jewell, the UK's Vice Consul in the Algarve.