Left: hideously out of scale and character holiday homes on the outskirts  of San José reveal serious design insensitivity.
For large chickens?
Not all is gloom. Interesting and sensitive projects are undertaken by Industrial Archaeology groups. In 2007 they completed work on the windmill of Genoveses following similar restoration at Fernán Pérez. It is a working mill, beautiful to see under full sail producing flour of reputable quality. Pozo de los Frailes windmill was restored in 2009 and Pozo noria is already famous. ▼ See also our Scenery/architecture pages.
NATURAL PARK you might expect to entail reasonable policies for protection of ‘naturalness’. This applies at only the most basic level to Cabo de Gata. Its category is GEOPARK. Tourism takes priority in almost every respect. Rarely is any action taken against ‘illegal’ development. Polluted water from invernaderos permeates groundwater with pesticides and herbicides and spring winds bring poisoned dust storms off the same source. Little publicity is given to these. These pages will be considerably extended and reviewed.

A field of grain seeded to attract EU subsidy & compensation laced with herbicide and pesticide, never harvested

Voluntary organisations concerned with the conservation of this Parque Natural.

‘Almeriaverde’ promotes a positive side as one might expect from its (semi) official status. URL: http://www.almeriaverde.com

‘Associación Amigos del Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata-Nijar’ seems to be primarily political-polemical seeking to protect what exists. It tends to introversion as a group but produces a periodical ‘el eco del parque’ which chronicles intrusions. URL: http://www.cabodegata.net

‘Ecologists in action’ is a semi-professional & professional international organisation which has a section concerned with Andalucía due to special environments in the region, including Cabo de Gata. URL: http://www.noda50.org/ecoloand

There are societies for Agua Amarga and Mojacar also much concerned with touristic developments in the eastern sector of the park.

Politics and conservation needs


Many Spanish residents (perhaps the majority) resent and do not want Natural Park status. Without being overly paranoid this might be a reason for what protectionist organisations call ‘encroachments’ since members of committees see no apparent need for preservation of things out of an irrelevant past. Conservation grows from elitist societies in over-developed countries. Spain is essentially a decentralised democracy. Pressure that appears to oppose popular wishes cannot be easily enforced. This might especially be true in Andalucía with its not too distant history of economic and cultural suppressions. No matter where, conflicts arise when dealing with the preservation aspects of conservation and Spain is not a backward looking nation. When it puts its mind to preserving an historic place it is done well. In this respect one thinks perhaps especially of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria. What might help would be for developers to adopt more sympathetic projects in visual terms. Conflict between tourism and conservation is intensified in such a condensed environment and requires more skilful planning than is evident here. And planning sometimes needs to resist popular wishes. Words and deeds rarely match, a game played by developers in most countries who can manipulate the ambivalences of language to their advantage.

The concept of conservation contains contradictions. In an essay ‘La pesca en Espinho’ the Spanish writer and commentator Miguel de Unamuno* puts his finger, as he would say, right on the nipple. He was a spectator in 1908 at an immemorial rite in the Portuguese fishing village of Espinho. It has moved him deeply. He creates a vivid image in beautiful erudite Spanish. Then he adds two analytical paragraphs, one as an event the other as comment. The event is the arrival on the beach just as the rite reaches its climax of the state tax collector; the other comment relates to the accoutrements of the oxen, which are specific to this rite. The intrusion of the tax inspector symbolises the tide of materialism about to engulf this emanation of human spirituality and foreshadows the demise of the rite in its meaningful role in this community. The comment on the accoutrements is this: that they are being collected for display in museums. This, he says, means that they will be made especially for that purpose, remote from their original intent. In 1908! This is preservation not conservation. The issues are not dissimilar for modern conservation philosophy. If the original purpose dies what then is the reason for the existence of artefacts removed from their true purpose?

They become, says Unamuno - quite correctly - mere collectors’ items, curios with commercial value to an alien group. Probably the intensity inherent in those produced for their original purpose renders them ‘artworks’, to be admired as a detached object.


This is not to say that artefacts should not be preserved. Those special yokes would now be rotting away in some derelict barn or else rather uselessly decorating someone’s second home by now. The same applies to relict vernacular buildings whose presence gives special meaning to a countryside, the industrial and domestic places from which that countryside derived and which can be seen in that context rather than as many conversions.

Should we extrapolate this? When a countryside created by activities ceases to host those activities it changes inexorably. Its ecology metamorphoses, human and extra-human. What then do we conserve? We cannot stem the human change; we are part of it, so we cannot stop the ensuing consequences in the land. Is the purpose in creating a Natural Park to preserve it intact ‘as found’? That is impossible. Or is it to formulate analysis of those qualities that sustain its value to human beings in this overall ecology and implement well considered actions accordingly? If such qualities are ephemeral, such as lack of pollution by noise, light, waste and human effluents then real conflicts arise with use, most especially tourism. Too many people with no vested interest other than a passing fancy like drinking and sunning on a beautiful beach or two for a few days are immune to the damage their demands will inflict. They demand ‘entertainments’ we are told, an inglorious Disneyland. In Cabo de Gata Natural Park a high proportion of residents are incomers who immigrated for the qualities they perceived here. These are not necessarily the qualities desired by relict earlier inhabitants whose livelihood for some depended on the land itself but who might wish to participate fully in the engulfing materialism. The fishing at Espinho, even in its Portuguese social setting, which is much less materialistic, will long since have been superceded and disappeared. There will be no rite involving parades of oxen along the shore whilst the nets are being sorted. Perhaps it has been ‘revived’ as a tourist entertainment, ‘preserved’ as this beautiful area of Andalucía was preserved, for ultimate degradation by uncomprehending urban tourism, participating only to the extent of voyeurism from a motorbike cavalcade or family car? Eventually what they came to see will be unseeable.


The current political buzzword here is ‘sustainability’. One finds it in almost every statement. There is little credibility in the implementation of the word. Marine pollution increases; traffic pollution increases with its attendant highway ‘improvements’ which then generate more traffic pollution and greater penetration; highway lighting is installed at urban levels in villages (Pozo & Boca); tourist attractions include cross country motor bike and quad bike excursions into the remote zones one might expect to be protected. Up to two years ago black kites (birds) were regular inhabitants of these hills. Now they are rare. Other creatures like large green ghekkos become rarer as they shy away from the intrusions. ‘Natural Park’ or playground? Is it ‘conservation’ to permit daily motor car rallies, motor cycle racing and particularly cross country motor ‘biking’? What chance has wildlife with such disturbances?


Surely it is cynicism to create nominal protection in theory and not to implement protection of its perceived values? A cynic might say that the label Natural Park here appears to be interpreted solely as a means of attracting mass tourism. It thereby discredits fundamental philosophies of heritage conservation and its funding in the wider European context. © Michael Selwood 2010


*Unamuno, M de: Por tierras de Portugal y España. Madrid 2008


Parque nacional: natural space of high ecological & cultural value of general interest to the nation.

Parque natural: natural areas, generally of high quality & desirability little transformed by human exploitation & occupation and therefore, for their landscape quality, their representative ecosystems and the uniqueness of their flora, fauna, geomorphology present worthwhile areas for conservation and preferential treatment for ecological, aesthetic, educational and scientific merit.

Source: translated from Sandoval, J.M.M; Espacios naturales de Andalucía, Vista, León 2004.

Cabo de Gata; As a result of intense tourist pressure suffered by the Mediterranean on all its coastal fringes people seek enclaves which have escaped this frenzied activity. In Cabo de Gata we find one of the most beautiful tracts of coastline on the whole of this sea; and therefore it is most important to conserve it. In 1987 this zone was made into the first maritime-terrestrial natural park in Andalucía, now with an integral area of  45000 ha administered by the municipalities of Almería, Carboneras and Níjar... The Serra de Cabo de Gata, which forms the nucleus of this protected space is the most important volcanic formation in Spain and shows characteristic elements revealing its origins like pitones, domes, calderas, dykes and cornices. A mineral landscape of capricious forms dominated by hues of red, ochre and black...Translated from Sandoval (see left).

Note:  Marine reserves are not yet included in these pages but are extensive if not always respected. They are patrolled.


Criticising the lack of adequate control over conservation issues is one aspect of a difficult concept. There are others where the control exercised might be considered excessive. I have written elsewhere in these pages of living over a saltmarsh and the ultimate destruction of many of its treasures (Ria d’Alvor). But preservation of these has also its downside. My mother was taken to court by the British government for peacefully protesting about habitat destruction and escaped imprisonment only because she had four children to care for. My father was furious with her!


The Avon Crugyll in that essay separated a home beach, a narrow strip of white and golden sand at the foot of high dunes, from a long wide beach, a lovely curving bay backed by ridges of high dunes, enclosed at one extremity by an archipelago of dark rocks whose seaward terminal was Ynys Feirig. To me there could never be a more beautiful bay, swept as it was by Atlantic rollers but this is because it lives as memory, as it was then not as now.


There were two ways to reach that bay. You might cross the shallow areas of the river at low tide from the home beach at the foot of the dunes after climbing through a small pass blown out by usage and winds. Or you could walk to the end of the dirt track, across the compacted sandy silts of the tidal flat and cross the rickety bridge, clunking over its loose scaffold planks, after which you followed the course of the little river, through another dune pass emerging suddenly on to the wide bay where horizons opened out into limitless space. It was a long walk, perhaps 5 kilometres and in winter often demanding a special degree of hardiness to battle against a full Atlantic gale laden with showers of stinging rain. Summer though was usually heaven; it was FREEDOM. In an otherwise often traumatic childhood the hours spent wandering over these sands, exploring the rich marine life, learning about what we found, was a deep joy. This was especially so around that rocky archipelago.


From the shoreward end of this chain to the seaward extremity was a rough scramble. Pre-cambrian schists blasted by eternities of unbelievable alternating ice and fierce suns in an inconceivable past raised jagged edges, convoluted and immensely hard and destructive if one’s agility in the scramble faltered. There were gullies to negotiate and slippery wrack-wreathed boulder strewn passages but at one particular place which the tides quickly inundated a shingle bank rich in shelly jewellery. An infinitely endurable adventure, taking childish eternities, for on the way there were deep rock pools to explore, lime-encrusted basins in shades of pink and purple, coralline white in which exotic anemones as well as the common red one, many crustacea and fish lurked or darted. There were too the terns’ territories to pass. You didn’t go into them. Even passing them one lost many strands of hair to their fierce attacks. We had plenty to spare then.


Really big adventure, the ultimate, could only be negotiated through skilful knowledge of tides, which of course we learned. Between the shoreward part of the chain and that final, grass topped rock, the ‘real’ island to us, Ynys Feirig itself, though of course the whole range was cut off from the beach at high tide, was a low boulder strewn stretch all overgrown with slippery wracks where lobsters and edible crabs lurked in the crevices which we learned to hook out like the local fishermen. It could be crossed only within a short timespan at low tide, longest during the spring tides, especially March and September. During neap tides there were minutes only, too little time. Getting to this ultimate goal involved crossing a deep gully whilst the tide was still in it with water up to our waists, or becoming acrobats and crossing it by a combination of leaps and careful balance. Far more interesting than a similar exercise in the school gym.


On Ynys Feirig lived puffins then and guillemots, the puffins only at certain times of year for they are birds of open oceans. For the rest there were only the rats - how they came there nobody was certain - that preyed on the eggs and chicks in the puffin burrows or the seagulls’ eggs laid on bare ground. Here, as children, we would maroon ourselves during high tides, watching the lives of the creatures around us, fishing for bream and wrasse, spinning for bass, lounging on an area of fragrant sea grass unoccupied by other creatures - there were no other humans - chatting and dreaming of what might be. Oh, what dreams they were! For me as the eldest and after an almost entire childhood spent in lonely restrictive exile in an alien urban place this was an ecstasy of freedoms. We had a flag with us and communicated with mother three miles away using prearranged semaphore signals. There were risks. We learned about them respect for them and the ►

life of the creatures around us during those hours of high tide. The birds became accustomed to our presence, continued their normal existence around us, sallying and returning from fishing forays to disgorge their catch or just digest it. We learned to picnic away from nesting areas but where we could observe them. No cameras then; we could not afford to use them even though we had them. These were days remembered far into adult life, a desperate homesickness for their innocent beauty and so, when my daughter had the physical capability I sought to share this profound experience with her during visits to my still desperately poor and now sick parents.


But no, it was not to be! Together we climbed over all those dangers of passage, she taking great delight in what we found on our way, lingering here and there and looking everywhere. However, approaching that final destination, our picnic safe in my bag, we found ourselves confronted by a small army of humans creating disturbance enough to scare away half the real animate terrestrial residents of that place, rushing around in a motor boat, shouting at us with what seemed like unbelievable aggression. ‘Our’ island had been taken over, could now only be stood upon by these hooligans. It had been declared a National Nature Reserve. My daughter later became a marine scientist but it was no thanks to this kind of bureaucratic belligerence.


Inevitably there is reaction to this, an alienisation from an organisation whose charitable status needed public support. Ever since then I have been chary of supporting them. Nature conservation requires careful balance and it is perhaps different now. There are significant problems. Promotion leads to the intrusion of people who might otherwise have neither regard nor sympathy for the intentions, who would view this as tourist entertainment, much as performing dolphins. Not promoting it leaves a place open to mainly interested people for whom any response is perhaps deeper, more understanding? Making protective laws generates resistance. Perhaps. The main activity in less restrictive circumstances is frequently the continuation of traditional activities by local people, hunter-gatherers albeit modern ones. When large commercial interests perceive the possibility of big financial gains and muscle in really major problems arise. A precarious balance.


We are after all not aliens. Some may think we arrived from another planet; despite all the fantasies we don’t know. I doubt it. We are very much part of this ‘ecology’ equation whether one believes in ‘creationisms’ or ‘evolutionisms’. Teaching children to understand and behave responsibly is possibly one good answer for the future. The understanding is the difficult bit and it reaches only a small proportion of the population and is itself often fraught with misunderstandings. Bureaucratic controls prove futile when confronted by big commercial interests. They cave in where this different political rhetoric prevails.


One is tempted to recall the origins of ‘rhetoric’ in ancient Syracuse, its purpose there to pervert natural justice, for the most persuasive and eloquent rhetorician in a court of property was readily able to deprive a hereditary owner in favour of one who could perhaps pay more fees for his eloquent services, just a little more devious perhaps than armed force. Later, rhetoricians became lawyers whose skill with words and manipulations of logic, however convoluted, persuades others that a criminal is not a criminal. If that seems a diversion in my discourse one has only to refer to the numerous occasions where, through such services, a large, rich commercial interest has been able to turn legislation and events to lucrative advantage and destroy somewhere treasured by what they disparagingly term a ‘minority’ able to recognise its values. Once slighted in this way the place whose presence has been heralded by ‘protective’ legislation no longer has the values that earned its special designation. It is then to commercial advantage to take risks, pay whatever is necessary and continue for many years to enjoy the financial rewards when protection is removed. It’s an old argument! And the gymnastics dwarf those of crossing childhood gullies.


© Michael Selwood 2010

Above an image from an archive glass plate of one of my grandfather’s postcard photographs. Behind the cottage the bay and line of dunes; in the sea the dark rocks of Ynys Feirig. In the distance the mnemonic shape of Holyhead mountain
Left another image from the same source showing Avon Crugyll as it traversed the shore into its small estuary.
Neither of these places looks now as it did then in my childhood. The field in which here the cottage stands is now filled to the brim with a large housing estate of second homes, unbelievably repetitive and ugly. In the left image an hotel has since come and gone, last seen as a derelict relic of wartime opportunism. Despoliation here as elsewhere was a process of attrition in which perceived values changed and no protection was given.
Left below: the village as it was early ‘30’s, another of the glass plate images, with my grandfather’s studio prominent and a magnificent period car parked on the road. This photograph was made from the top of the water tower and shows in the background the reef that sheltered the small tidal ‘boat pool’. Bowling green and allotment gardens in the foreground and Williams’ garage, the 1914-18 memorial clock at the crossroad.

My grandfather, Stephen Feather, (not a comfortable man!) who made these plates, was an early press photographer and journalist, a founder member of the NUJ worked extensively in Lancashire and later in Anglesey and North Wales where he covered events like the raising of the sunken submarine Thetis off Moelfre, the first submarine disaster. He made many photographs for postcards, some for his own business in the village many more for major postcard publishers. Few plates remain in my possession because most were stolen from my aunt shortly after his death in 1956. by another photographer, who then set up a studio in my grandfather’s studio’s name,  Of such values is the world of journalism!

NOTE: My brother informs me that this village, Rhosneigr, is now a prominent watersports Mecca and in a recent Sunday paper I read that its beaches are listed in the top ten for ‘nature’. No surprises there!


Footnote: though now retired the author of these pages was a professional world heritage conservator.