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Field notebook

Wednesday, 30 de March de 2016

Orchids in the Sierra of Huelva

Babel Nature


Fotografía Orquídeas


The sierra of Huelva has a large number of natural treasures. One of these is a group of plants considered to be one of the best at evolving to adapt to their environment, the orchids. The word derives from the Greek ορχις (orchis = testicle), due to the appearance of its underground parts and was first noted in manuscripts of Teofrasto in 375 BC

This group of plants has long been admired: In Asian cultures it is a symbol of perfection; the Chinese philosopher Confucius described the virtues of its perfume more than 1500 years ago; the Greeks believed in its curative and aphrodisiac properties; and the Aztecs used the vanilla orchid to enrich their cocoa drink known as xocoatl.

With almost 850 genera and some 25,000 species known in the wild, in this sierra there are nearly 30 different species catalogued, each one adapted to a particular local ecosystem. They are in flower practically all year round, starting in the cold winter months and finishing when the last ones lose their leaves in autumn.

The local orchids are terrestrial species which have evolved to be pollinated mainly by insects. These orchids attract insects by 3 processes; by offering pollen, tricking or capturing. As many species of orchids don’t produce nectar and only emit a faint scent, the insects are attracted either by error, or by what appears to be a nectar-producing flower.

It is possible that scent is more important than visual signals for the pollinating insects. In fact it is thought that some species give off perfumes similar to some female insect pheromones. These pheromones can provoke courtship behaviour in the males which leads to pollination. The evolution of these forms of insect attraction is very complex and advanced.

We ask you to join us and discover this marvellous world of orchids, following numerous trails where we can observe these species in their natural environment and help to respect and conserve them.

Author: Pablo Castro

Friday, 19 de February de 2016

Ethnobotany, the roots of our culture.

Babel Nature

Ethnobotany focuses on the study of the relationship between plants and local human populations, how they interact and how plants have influenced the development of these cultures. Today we are looking at the Iberian Peninsula, in particular the Natural Park of Sierra de Huelva y Picos de Aroche.

The different cultures which have populated this region, all of very different origins, have contributed to an increase in the number of plant species present in this region. Each civilisation to settle in these lands has left a botanical gift of a new species of plant, or a way of working the land. These species would have been crucial for daily life in these people’s homelands and were transferred to the new villages with migration. The way these plants and trees are used for food, grazing, construction, medicine, and ceremonies nowadays are a result of centuries of co-habitation and adaptation.

We could start further back, but we will begin with the Romans. More than 2000 years ago, the Romans began to systematically clear the Mediterranean woodland leaving only those species of value for raising cattle, and creating large areas of grazing land known as dehesa. They also extended the cultivation of olives, vines and cereal crops.

Later at the hands of the Arabs, irrigation was introduced with the use of infrastructures to channel and store water (irrigation channels and tanks), thus transforming the lower areas of the valleys. They also brought citrus fruits, mulberry trees for silkworm production, vegetables and pulses.

After the Christian re-conquest the area was left uninhabitated, and it was necessary to repopulate with people from northern areas, in particular from Castille and Leon, and Galicia. These people introduced the colder northern species of the chestnut and walnut, important for their edible fruits, wood and dyes.

With the discovery of the Americas the variety of products available for cultivation widened, such as potatoes, peppers and tomatoes. The Indians, in memory of their American plots, introduced the palm tree in their gardens. Religious orders, conscious of the economic and social importance of the vegetable species, created botanical collections with samples from all over the world. One example of this is the botanical garden in Villa Onuba, near the village of Fuenteheridos.

In the 19th century trees were introduced to mark the boundaries of properties or regions. The stone pine was planted along boundaries due to its height and rounded shape to separate one county from another, gaining the nickname of watchtower pines.

In more recent times, the construction of the industrial plants in Huelva brought the plantation of eucalyptus trees for paper production, transforming huge areas around the county.

Nowadays there are still signs of this contact between nature and society in our culture. For example, the trees present in many of the ceremonies such as the ‘Fiesta of the Poplar tree’ in Cortelazor; or in Los Marines where the people carry a tree cut from the riverbank to the village square to celebrate the arrival of summer. In the celebration of Corpus the streets are decorated with aromatic herbs, such as lavender and rosemary. These celebrations have their origins in the worship of Mother Nature, some of which are still repeated throughout the world, such as the Nordic custom of bringing a pine tree into the home during Christmas.



Wednesday, 27 de January de 2016

Santa Ana La real. The Heart of Nordic Walking in Andalusia.

Babel Nature

Something has changed in a small village in the sierra recently. The elderly have put their wooden walking sticks to one side and have instead taken up two aluminium poles. Along the walking trails, it is becoming common to see people Nordic Walking; that is walking with poles.

This sport is based on walking with the help of two special poles, dividing the effort between the upper and lower body, and using up to 90% of the muscles in the body.

This new craze, apart from bringing foreign tourists to the region -British, German and other Northern Europeans- also brings to light the value of these footpaths as an ideal place for this healthy, outdoor activity.

This sport is especially attractive for those with obesity related illnesses and cardiovascular problems, and other reported benefits including: high calorie consumption and fat metabolism; a reduction of joint pressure (ankles, knees and hips); lowering of cholesterol levels; and prevention of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

The initiatives put into place by the tourist board have helped spread the word of this new sport and created a group of guides or instructors in Nordic Walking for tourism and local group activities.

Santa Ana la Real has turned Nordic Walking into a tool for social and environmental change, using it as a way of encouraging social cohesion and as a fundamental part in the conservation and education of a rich natural heritage. Over the years most of the walking trails in the region have been restored, mainly by the locals, who have in turn become active in this conservation.

There have been a great number of large-scale events in the area involving all the community. Recent initiatives include the development of healthy walks by the women’s group and the necessary walking sticks have been put on sale in the local bars. These activities are being offered by the local tourist business Serrachuela, and more details can be found at www.nordicwalkingsantaanalareal.com.

Nordic Walking should not be seen as either a passing fad or as an activity only for tourists and sports enthusiasts. This sport also offers local people a way of improving their health and way of life.


Tuesday, 12 de January de 2016

The Kingdom of the Chanterelles.

Babel Nature

The rains have returned once again, and fungi once again become kings of the forest.

In this corner of the south-eastern peninsula between green velvet mountains and on one of the oldest soils in Europe, mushrooms flourish under leaves and decorate the shadiest corners of this national park with their colours.

Even after the autumn boom when the queens of mushrooms (tanas and boletus) appear, there are still more species to be discovered. The smallest and most frost resistant mushrooms can be found under the protection of trees during the winter months. They are also characterised by their diversity of shapes and colours; from the purple-coloured Blue Foot, to the almost human shape of the Judas Ear.

The Cantharellus, can be widely found at this time of year. This is characterised fundamentally by the hymenium, (where the spores are found), which looks like nerves or veins opening out from the trunk to the cap. They are generally cup or funnel shaped with a firm, scented flesh. These are symbiotic species and can be found living off different trees and shrubs.

The most famous and easily found is the chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius), which lives near oaks and chestnuts. Less well-known, but just as interesting from a culinary point of view are the other types of chantarelle such as Cantharellus cinereus, Cantharellus lutescens or the Cantharellus tubaeformis, species which are also relatively abundant in number in pine forests and Mediterranean woodlands.

Curiously, this group of mushrooms are not often consumed by animals, or attacked by insect larvae as they contain antibiotics.

Method: In a large cooking pot add the same amount of sugar as mushrooms together with the cinnamon sticks and leave to marinade for a few hours until the mushrooms release their juice. Add a cup of water and cook over a low heat for an hour. Peel and chop half an apple, add to the pan and continue to cook for another 30 minutes. If the mushrooms are still not tender, add another half a cup of water and continue cooking. When ready, remove the cinnamon, liquidize the mixture and bottle in sterilised jars.

Enjoy throughout the year for breakfast!

If you know any other recipes using this mushroom, please share them with us!


Monday, 9 de November de 2015


Babel Nature

Welcome to the beginnings of Babel Nature on-line, although this is not our initiation as an eco-tourism business, and all our guides have many years of experience in their field.

The idea of Babel Nature came to Daniel Calleja after years of working as a nature guide on the trails of the Sierra de Aracena. He started his career in the marshlands of Huelva, Marismas del Odiel as a guide for birds, animals and environmental education. His passion led him to expand his interests to mycology, ethnobotany and astrology.

Little by little he surrounded himself by experts and friends, as passionate as himself about their own areas of expertise, and who in time joined together to form the great team that is Babel Nature today. Each of these guides will be sharing their knowledge and passion through entries in this notebook section of our web-page.

We will show you the secrets of nature on guided walks celebrating the joys of each season: in autumn/winter the fruits of the forest, the deer-rutting and above all mushrooms; spring brings bird watching, animal tracking, geology, and the secrets of orchids and plants; while in summer our star activities, literally speaking, are our astronomy evenings and our moon-lit walks.

Apart from the courses and workshops we offer on a regular basis, we love a challenge and we are open to all ideas and propositions. So, if you are a group of friends wishing to go out and experience something new, get in touch with us. We offer special rates for groups, schools, holiday homes and businesses.

Come with Babel Nature and open your eyes to nature.