We are extremely fortunate in our area to have several nature reserves such as the Clot, the El Hondo wetlands, and the salinas at Santa Pola and La Mata. These areas provide a safe haven for many species of birds and animals, and a base from which they can visit nearby farmlands and scrub to feed and breed.

My picture shows a typical farmland bird, the Northern Lapwing – a distinctive bird with an attractive sheen on its back when seen at close quarters and in good light. In our area, it is mainly a winter visitor, and it can be found in large flocks in fields with low-growing crops where it hunts for grubs and insects, thus performing a useful service to farmers to keep parasites and other unwanted visitors at bay. They will be moving northwards to their breeding grounds later this month, and they share their pest control duties with several other species such as Golden Plover, the scarce Dotterel and other types of traditional farmland birds.

This is all well and good, but there has been an extremely depressing development in the use of modern farming methods in areas next to our nature reserves. Anyone who has been out in the countryside recently will have seen the acres of plastic sheeting being laid down on open fields to encourage the quicker growth of crops. As a short-term measure it gives the farmers a better return, but from an ecological point of view it is a disaster.

Myself and a couple of my local birding chums often visit the steppes of Yecla, about an hour’s drive inland from Alicante where they have been using plastic sheeting over the crops for several years, and in some areas it is an utter disgrace. Not only does the plastic disintegrate over time due to the effects of sun and wind, leaving a landscape strewn with plastic detritus which is extremely unsightly, but the plastic also wears down into microparticles which will get into the soil, and eventually into the food we eat. This affects a multitude of species in the area, and as observers of nature we can see the results on the numbers of species we see.

In addition to this, there is the run-off of pesticides and fertilisers into the local water courses, which eventually find their way into the protected zones, adversely affecting the habitats set aside for wildlife. Fortunately, this over-exploitation of the land has not gone unnoticed by the authorities, and the Elche City Council in association with local environmental groups have begun action to control the proliferation of these objectionable farming practices.

It is to be hoped that they can succeed, and we will still be able to view flocks of birds occupying naturally farmed land, helping the farmers produce foodstuffs in an environmentally acceptable manner.

You can find more photographs of birds and other animals from our area by visiting www.marketheridge.smugmug.com
See you next month.