David’s travels in the Cevennes

Slender-leaved Flax in the Cevennes.
Slender-leaved Flax in the Cevennes.

Following Roger Manning’s excellent ‘Highlights of 2015’ at the SWT April AGM we were treated to two more presentations.

Firstly David Long described a recent holiday in the Cevennes near Montpellier in the south of France. He and his wife Siobhan planned to do three walks inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Travels with a donkey in the Cevennes”.

In his book RLS described the countryside as being like a Scottish landscape. David found a more rolling landscape than he anticipated with more trees and remains of former farms and cultivation terraces. He sensed that the population had declined since the book was written and the land was rapidly reverting to scrub and forest. Much is now a National Park. Dolmens and standing stones denote ancient connections.

In the last century Mulberry trees were cultivated for silk worms and the Sweet Chestnuts were an important resource but nowadays tourism is the main industry. David saw evidence of chestnuts infected with galls caused by an Asian Gall Wasp.

Footpaths were well signed and they found several interesting parasitic plants including Broomrape, Birds Nest Orchid and Yellow Bird’s Nest. Limestone peaks were separated by dry oak forest and junipers on the south side whilst the north would be a wet mossy forest.

They saw evidence of wild boar damage and discovered a hunting hide but luckily did not encounter any boars.

Their objective, Grotte d’Anjeau, had been excavated to reveal ancient human bones and had been used as recently as the late 18th century for sanctuary, during religious conflicts.

Our last speaker, Andrew Mossop, introduced us to another country, Morocco, which he visited recently. We saw views of Marrakech and the magnificent Atlas Mountains. Andrew is particularly interested in birds and he showed slides of a Desert Sparrow building its nest in a palm tree and a precarious stork nest on top of a radio aerial. He was surprised to find snow near the summit of the mountains although the wadis were exceptionally dry. From the top of the pass he could see as far as Agadir on the coast.

To his delight he discovered a gathering of the rare Bald Ibis with their distinctive black plumage and reddish bills. Unfortunately these birds are under threat as a tidal event in 2004 had contaminated their freshwater feeding area with sea water.

These iconic birds are guarded by wardens but Andrew discovered that the men had not been paid for this service for a few months.

After the talks chairman Ron McBeath drew our attention to the next field outing on May 15 when there will be a walk in the Barns Ness area starting at 2pm.

Other summer walks are yet to be announced. For details consult the website: www.swt.org.uk or ring Ron on 01289 308515.