I’m guessing Andy Capp, a famous English cartoon character hailing from somewhere ‘up north’, wouldn’t have liked the heat or the local food of Tenerife but I could have strung out a conversation with him over a pint in his local boozer if we’d talked about pigeons. But unlike northern England any pigeon fanciers seen on Tenerife aren’t kitted out with cloth cap and whippet; it’s usually binoculars, a ‘scope and something to keep the sun off your head. I was that man for a day when I went to Erjos and took a walk in the woods.
The climate in the north-west corner of this and several other islands in the group provides a warm, humid and relatively stable atmosphere that suits the growth of ‘laurel forest’. It’s called Laurisilva and although it’s not unique to the Canary Islands it is quite special due to its dependence on the fog and mist that precipitates up to about 1600m. It occurs in suitable sub-tropical areas throughout the world and the ecosystem it supports is usually very rich. In the Canary Islands, Laurel-like trees up to 40m in height develop a dense, evergreen canopy across the steep valleys and escarpments. Laurisilva is still found on several islands in the group but the area of forest on Tenerife has been much-reduced through logging and agricultural clearance so only something over 50 Km² remains. And this is where the pigeon fancying comes in; two endemic species occur there. These are Bolle’s Pigeon Columba bollii and Laurel Pigeon Columba junoniae and, as a birder, it was essential for me to get a look at them. I’d been to the Canary Islands before but not to Tenerife as a fear of crowds, misspelled body-art and Albanian street gangs had kept me awake through the nights before I finally booked the flight. So that trip was spent, very enjoyably, on Fuerteventura. A birder visiting these islands has the essential task of adding ‘the endemics’ to his list so this second visit for me required views of the pigeons as well as Blue Chaffinch Fringilla teydea plus a few Canarian subspecies.
The laurel forest on western Tenerife is protected as the Teno Rural Park and there is also a Special Nature Reserve that covers some of the area. I was both interested and pleased to find that of 146 protected areas on the Canary Islands, Tenerife has 43. I was also interested to see that ‘protection’ in Canarian terms means something very slightly different to what it means in my world. The framework for protecting natural areas is the Canary Islands Network for Naturally Protected Areas and, of course, that was drawn up not by conservationists but by bureaucrats. It has all the right references and it’s clear that knowledgeable folk were consulted but ‘protection’ comes in eight different colours and because it’s important to keep all your options open the wording of the protection criteria is such that, well, all options are kept open. The protection criteria for a Rural Park describe it as an eco-cultural landscape, nurturing a sort of interaction between archaic land-use and the ecological value. Kind of woolly when you see it like that and worrying when you read on government websites about another protected Rural Park that the ‘Anaga Massif, one of the three corners of the island of Tenerife, offers visitors extraordinary scenery, hidden beaches, spectacular cliffs and leafy Laurisilva forests.’ Apparently, it also offers local farmers unencumbered opportunities to cut trees and staves for use in vine cultivation, too. I hiked about 5Km through the forest to get to the birds but was appalled to meet two noisy and boisterous hiking parties that I’d heard coming for twenty minutes. There was also something else going on that I think was a quad-bike gathering and if they were haring down tracks similar to the one I was walking then there’s no doubt they were having a very good time.
There should be room for all these activities but I wonder why the quad-bikes weren’t somewhere where the noise and disturbance as well as the physical damage wouldn’t affect declining species and I wonder why groups of youths who want to walk through an ancient forest aren’t briefed on the implications of disturbing the environment that makes it so special. I also wonder why someone on the whatever network I mentioned above doesn’t have the temerity to realise that there are tourist Euros not only in noisy youth groups and quad bikes but also aging nature-lovers. But then if they start to think about that too hard the flexibility in the ‘protection criteria’ might just allow someone to build an Ecohotel in the forest so I’d better keep that quiet. And my concern is not misplaced; the European Commission started legal proceedings against Spain last year for failing to provide adequate protection for 174 Natura 2000 sites in the Canary Islands.
I managed to see Blue Chaffinches at San José de los Llanos and it was wonderful to see the two endemic pigeons even if the views were sometimes fleeting. Andy will be pleased about that but I’ll have to ask him what he thinks of these quad-bikes when I see him next.