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Without a doubt, agriculture is the sector with the greatest power to transform the environment of the territory that surrounds us on a large scale. For this reason, the European Union launches a program that intend to monitor biodiversity in agro-ecosystems: it is the EMBAL program.

 

raditional agro-ecosystem in the Sierra de María (Almería), a very Spanish image… although in this image the trees are pines!

EMBAL, European Monitoring of Biodiversity in Agricultural Landscapes, was started as a pilot program around 2015 and has been developed since then by the German environmental consultancy EFTAS. In 2022, they launch a large-scale campaign, covering the entire European Union, with a forecast of more than 3,000 locations.

The ‘Azueljo’, Low cornflower (Centaurea depressa) is a mesicolous plant typical of the highlands of Granada.

I have participated as a field worker in this 2022 season with the monitoring of the ES12 zone, with 23 plots distributed in the provinces of Jaén, Granada and Almería.

A plot, square of 500 meters on each side of the EMBAL program. A statement reviews each plot in an APP loaded on the mobile phone.

Sampling consists of inspecting land use in each of the parcels of the plot, and carrying out four vegetation transects to evaluate the quality of the vegetation cover and the diversity of flowering plants. The statements are filled out in the field with an APP. At the end of May, farmers plow up the olive groves and almond fields, and the herbaceous vegetation is already withered in SE Iberia. After an intensive campaign, there is plenty of time left in the office to update the layers with QGIS.

What has caught my attention the most in this sampling campaign in Andalusia has been the very strong advance of almond tree crops, either by clearing lands with  steep slope (with all the erosion that this implies), or by planting fruit trees on land traditionnaly dedicated to cereals (which serve as shelter for steppe birds).

These lands are hard to cultivate and have historically been linked to many hardships. We understand that the countryside should provide a living with dignity, allowing its inhabitants to find ways to manage their businesses. But this evolution is still very worrying. The impact of clearing is especially worrying. And it never ceases to amaze you to see how almond trees can grow in the total absence of soil.

The Iberian Southeast is becoming an immense olive grove and almond field in the interior, while greenhouses continue to advance on the coast. In short, less and less nature and non-intensified areas.

I had the opportunity to generate observations of interest in areas rarely visited by naturalists and also participate in the Great Biodiversity Week 2022 (Gran Semana de la Biodiversidad 2022).

Granévalo milkvetch (Astragalus clusianus).

A pair of Icterine owlflies (Libelloides ictericus).

I have had the opportunity to continue participating in the EMBAL program during the fall, visiting Central European countries, an excellent opportunity to discover the rural world of former Eastern Europe, normally little visited and far from tourist centers.

A true “road trip” of more than a month, crossing the whole Czech Republic and continuing in the southern part of Romania (Wallachia, Transylvania… two almost mythical regions for a famous historical figure turned legend. Who will it be? ). Not everything has been beautiful mountain landscapes… although there were some. The normal thing has been to visit crop fields in the middle of intensive farm plains.

The story of these little adventures would be too long… although there were many moments of difficulties and satisfaction. Oh, what a good movie they could make from these pieces of life itself. A road movie with encounters on the road, comic misfortunes that are difficult to invent, a lot of the most varied landscape, of course the Danube, passing through absolutely forgotten corners where people move by wheelbarrow, regions with houses from communist times with their touch unique… And everything that can happen when you drive thousands of kilometers on secondary roads and do not speak the national language.