As a nature lover and traveller we believe you should stand up and be noticed. But just make sure it’s for the right reasons…
Be sensible with water use, spare it when possible.
Accept advice and guidelines on how to minimize your carbon footprint when travelling.
Accept that some things are done differently in other places, and try to enjoy the difference.
Remember that a smile can go a long way, with very little energy expenditure!
Think about how your acts could disturb wildlife, and if and how that disturbance can be avoided.
Although not an Encyclopaedia your local guide should be a good source of information about local nature, geography, traditions, etc.
Sharing detailed information about sites and species on forums etc. is a free choice, but one which could have negative consequences – the guide’s livelihood, the wildlife and habitat and, in the end, the value of the experience for other people could all suffer.
Small rural or family run hotels will notice your passing and usually be grateful for it. City hotels and hotel chains will probably not. If you go where you make a difference and the local people know you go there for nature that in itself will help to create positive attitudes towards the protection of nature.
Be aware that not everybody speaks English! Sometimes a few words or phrases in the local language can go a very long way, and the will to communicate even further.
Trust in your guide’s judgement about how close to get to wildlife, and what techniques should or shouldn’t be used to enhance your observation experience. One major difference between a guide and a one-time visitor is that the guide expects to return to a site.
If possible, look into the possibilities of public transport (bus, train, underground) before jumping into a taxi or going for a rental car.
Do not obstruct the daily activities or circulation of local people, or access to fields, homes, etc.
What’s the better souvenir, artisan foods or produce bought in a village or town shop where they are produced, or something whipped up at the airport Duty Free?
Try to make a difference to conservation. Contribute to a local cause, patronize information centre shops and cafés, stay close to the places you have come to visit.
What we mean in point 1 here is that we believe nature conservation will reap more benefits if the right people and reasons come under the spotlight of local people’s and regional stakeholders’ gazes. Responsible tourism can sow and reap part of its own harvest, by contributing to the continued existence of what travellers are there to see or to experience.
Responsible tourists and nature travellers can influence their public profile by their own behaviour and choices, which in turn influences the general public’s perception of them and their influence. In most developed countries it is almost impossible for responsible tourism and nature travel to compete on economic impact terms with mass tourism (beach holidays, skiing, etc) but it has many good possibilities to outdo mass tourism on the grounds of perceived costs and benefits to the local inhabitants and small-scale tourist infrastructures.
So for example a respectful foreigner carrying binoculars or a camera who enters a bar to drink a coffee, or a shop to buy some groceries, or who passes through reception at a small rural hotel is someone who stands out from the crowd. And that can be turned to the benefit of nature conservation. They are there to see the birds, to enjoy the natural landscapes, etc. and their presence makes a difference, no matter how small a difference. Perhaps their stay coincides with the tourist low season (as the period immediately after Easter usually is in Spain), perhaps local café owners can boast of the people of different nationalities who stop for a drink or a snack in their café; perhaps a farmer can be made to feel proud that his land holds populations of birds which are considered internationally important or attractive. That’s what we mean by being noticed for the right reasons.
Office based Initiatives
We apply the following measures in our office to avoid wasteful practices:
We save used paper and use both sides for personal and office use.
We turn off computer terminal standbys when not in use.
We make minimal commercial use of paper by: very selective mailing of our catalogue, no paper mailing of greetings, newsletters, etc.
We use quality recycled paper for most of our correspondence.
All discarded paper is destined for recycling.
We maximize the use of natural lighting in the office.
We use low energy lighting.
Some different advice for the reduction of water use
Travellers! What about….
Reusing towels as much as possible – could they be hung out to dry rather than washed again by the hotel?
Reducing your luggage usually means approaching the optimal use of clothing. Do those items really need to be washed or can they be worn again?
Please be aware that when clean, unused water goes down the drain it is not just a waste of water, but also energy (to transport it and make it suitable for human use) and that large-scale water storage is achieved by transforming the natural landscape. So please use it, but don’t abuse it!
Apart from visiting National and Natural Parks around different parts of Spain we also incorporate into our itineraries visits to park and information centres such as those at Monfragüe, Gallocanta, Doñana and the Ebro Delta, among others. The visitors can see exhibitions about the places they are visiting, purchase locally made souvenirs whenever available, and their visit is usually registered by the park authorities. In this way we the presence of nature-motivated visitors is also reflected in regional and national government statistics. Furthermore, we endeavour to stay at suitable accommodation as near as possible to such destinations, so that local populations can see and perhaps share in some of the benefits of having these attractive natural areas on their doorstep.
We also regularly organize personalized guided visits to some historical buildings (monasteries, for example), local wine cellars, and small nature reserves run by non-governmental organizations.
Mas del Rei environmental awareness project
We have worked closely with one of the rural hotels which we regularly visit with clients near els Ports massif - Mas del Rei. Our aim was to establish a nature trail audio guide guiding the visitor around the extensive hotel grounds. The proprietors Jordi and Helena spent much time and money renovating an old farmhouse estate, and turned it into a delightful rural hotel. Walking around the grounds is a relaxing and pleasant experience, and on our first walk we were struck by the variety of birds and birdsong we encountered.
Later we approached Jordi and Helena with the idea of making a commented walk around the grounds, with the focus on an introduction to the birdlife through birdsong and other features. It was important though that the audio guide and the experience should be suitable for all of their able-bodied guests, and not just experienced birdwatchers! They listened to our explanations and before long were as excited as we were about the whole idea!
We think of the clients and invited guests of Mas del Rei following the indications on the audio guide (which is available as a recorded commentary downloaded from the hotel website) and learning about the birdlife, trees and nature of the area, walking and breathing fresh air, and even learning how to calculate the height of a standing tree using just a stick!
We are eagerly awaiting further developments in this field.
Helping the Bonelli’s Eagle in Catalonia
An important part of our activity is centred around bird photography, mostly from our own hides, for which we have formed a local partnership with a small travel agent based in Montsonís, Catalonia, and a local but renowned wildlife photographer.
Here is a little story we tell about our relationship with a very special bird, the Bonelli’s Eagle.
The Montsonís Bonelli's Eagle Story
Montsonís is a tiny village that clings to a hillside on the edge of the rocky Montsec range in Lleida province, Catalonia. For many years now I have been guiding birders there to enjoy thrilling views of the resident Bonelli’s Eagles*, and with great success.
There are only 5 pairs of Bonelli’s Eagles inhabiting the province of Lleida, and this magnificent bird is a rare and declining species over all of its European range. So I count my blessings to be able to bank on the presence of these birds year after year. Another joy of this particular site is that after enjoying views of the eagles we can then all saunter along to Montsonís itself, and have refreshments, a cup of tea or coffee perhaps, while admiring the village’s cobbled streets and the distinguished castle.
However, I started to get a little concerned that something might happen to the Montsonís eagles, my eagles. Firstly, I didn’t want to have to mount a difficult search for another Bonelli’s Eagle site which would offer me the same degree of success and service. Secondly, I’m a conservationist, and I don’t want the eagles to disappear, full-stop.
After a few years of escorting keen birders and beginners alike to watch the eagles it occurred to me that our birds had showed very few signs of having bred successfully in all that time. In 2010 things came to a head one day when Frank, a Dutch bird photographer, and I stood and saw how the eagles had just abandoned one long-standing nest in early spring and had started building another nearby, which in turn was also abandoned. What had happened? Perhaps it had been nothing unusual, as we eventually found out that the Montsonís Bonelli’s Eagles hadn’t reared a chick successfully since 2005.
With that knowledge I felt that it was in our hands to do something. So we recruited Ramon. Ramon is a local travel agent and tourism entrepreneur who lives at Montsonís, and was the first one among us who confessed to be in need of some exercise, so he was the obvious candidate. With his regular walks from Montsonís up to the hillside close to the eagles’ territory we set in motion a supplementary feeding programme to provide food for the hungry eagles trying to raise a chick. We also drew up a polite informative letter addressed to the local population requesting their co-operation in our task of ensuring that that year would be a good one for the eagles. The main way we could all achieve that was to avoid frightening the eagles by not making loud noises with fireworks and music, which were commonplace at Easter and wedding celebrations.
Our efforts bore their fruits. The local people responded well and let off their fireworks elsewhere, Ramon lost a few pounds, and above all the local pair of Bonelli’s Eagles raised a healthy chick for the first time in 6 years!
But no, the story continues…The Montsonís Bonelli’s Eagles have now bred successfully in 2 of the last 3 years, while they hadn’t done so at all in the period 2005-2010. The Bonelli’s Eagle is of high conservation concern in the European Union, is an Annex I species on the Birds Directive, and is the target of many special protection schemes, including European Union LIFE programmes and funding.
Another, indirect, result of our commercial hide business with the Bonelli’s Eagle as one of the star attractions has been the establishment of fluid relationships with the Catalan department of the environment and the Bonelli’s Eagle study working group of the University of Barcelona:
We have been able to provide both of these entities with useful information stemming from our activities and observations and even from some of the photographs that our clients have taken from the hide. We have also applied some measures within our power to minimize disturbance at the nest site, such as purchasing hunting rights around the eagles’ territory, and communicating with local stakeholders and agents to underline the importance of controlling certain leisure activities for the same reason. We are happy with the public’s response and so too, it seems, are the eagles!
Other protected species our activities have benefited
We have made direct economic contributions to some farmers and landowners where our hides are placed, which are made possible by the activity generated by photographers coming to photograph the species in question.
Conrado, a local landowner and retired farmer, happily received a modest payment from us one summer, more than enough for him to pay for the painting of his farmhouse. That’s because he kindly allowed us to locate a platform with a hide overlooking a small Lesser Kestrel colony which was located on the roof of his farmhouse.
At a different site the following year part of the income generated by photographers using our hides was used to replace broken nesting tiles of the Lesser Kestrel colony, a species largely dependent on these man-made structures for the maintenance of their breeding populations in the region.
Similarly to the above, part of the income generated from our activity at our raptor hide (frequently visited by Goshawks, Buzzards and Red Kites), allowed us to pay the landowner. This was a small but very welcome additional contribution to his personal funds in difficult times. Furthermore, it helps to spread the idea that birds of prey are not competitors with local people’s interests, but rather a complement to them.
We have recently reached an agreement with an international Lammergeier study group to help finance their research through sharing some of the benefits of our commercial activity. The mechanism is through the maintenance of a Lammergeier-specific feeding station, largely financed through the visits of our clients keen to get photographs of Lammergeiers in high mountain scenery.
When there are no photographers the site is still kept active in order to provide important supplementary feeding for the local Lammergeier population, as well as an important research and study site, where researchers can observe the behaviour an movements of the Lammergeiers, and now and then trap and mark the occasional bird so its movements can be followed.
We have made and located a total of 6 nest boxes for Little Owls in appropriate areas on the drylands of Noguera, where we regularly escort photographers to photograph this species.
We have created a small drinking pool for songbirds regularly topped with water to maintain a place where songbirds of many species can drink and bathe, even in the hot, dry summer months. Amphibians have also recently colonized this pool, and we hope their presence will be sustained over the years.
Many bird photographers are encouraged to spend an hour or two in the hide we have built overlooking this pool, and so far more than 35 species have been photographed here.
Now you’ve come this far we’d like you to meet some people who our tourism enterprise has brought positive benefits.
Meet Pep: His is one example of our employment of local people. The people who attend arrivals, transfer visitors, clean their rooms, cook their food, wait on them at tables, install, maintain and repair any hides they may use. Then there are others who benefit to some degree by souvenirs and local produce, suppliers, administrative staff, etc.
Meet Vasyl: He is responsible for the maintenance of our drinking pool and the maintenance of our hides at Montsonís, as well as backup for supplementary feeding when required. Vasyl is a conscientious worker and thanks to his great workmanship we have been able to construct hides and create new bird habitat: the drinking pool hide at Montsonís for one thing provides a locally important source of water for many songbirds in the often hot and dry spring and summer.
Vasyl repairs the broken and torn hides too. And is usually the muscle and craftsmanship behind the construction of nest boxes which we have put up for species such as Roller, Little Owl, and Kestrel.
One of our own ways of reducing our carbon footprint
Our single day guiding fees do not include fuel costs and this is communicated directly to the potential client. Fuel is counted as a separate item and is a direct transfer of fuel costs to the visitor. This is intentional as it passes the emphasis to the client to be aware of how many kilometres are covered and how much fuel is consumed by their activities.
We drive a low fuel consumption vehicle and employ a fuel-saving driving style, which usually means that the average fuel consumption is no more than 6 litres per 100 kilometres.
We also encourage the use of the highly efficient Spanish network of trains to reach tour starting points if these are not at either Barcelona or Madrid. We are gratified that this suggestion is often acted upon by many of our private tour participants.
Conservation, attitudes and local knowledge
Our clients are always served by well-informed local guides. For the most part they are conservationists who have actively contributed to conservation, awareness-raising, environmental education and recruitment, campaigning, etc. They are familiar with local traditions, history, and landscape because they form a very real part of it!
In general terms for us responsible tourism means understanding that there are limits; identifying these limits; and respecting and promoting respect for them.
We have been actively involved in awareness-raising to promote conservation and environmental protection for many years. Some examples of how we have done this are: designing and imparting bird identification courses for official environmental protection agents, local authorities and schools and colleges; the creation, edition and distribution of a raptors didactic and fun card game providing images and information about all the raptors of the Iberian Peninsula; authorship of two books based on birds and birdwatching in Spain; the publication of leaflets, booklets etc for tourism, and free birding itineraries on our website; the organization of family days out to perform easily-defined tasks to benefit birds and their habitats; and the organization of a bird and nature photography exhibition by local bird club members.
Raptor conservation and ecotourism event
To be held in March 2015. Raptor conservation research experts from Spain and other European countries, along with ecotourism tour operators and local and regional stakeholders are coming together at Montsonís, Catalonia, in March this year. There is a multi-fold purpose to this meeting and conference, much of it centred around the dissemination of the importance of the conservation and projection of local natural values and assets, in this case birds of prey.
We actively seek out and select family run rural guest houses and small hotels where our passing will be noticed and acknowledged.
We take great care to maintain a good working and personal relationship with the proprietors because we know we’ll be going back, we’ll be recommending others to go there, and we also share respect and appreciation for the task that these people are carrying out.
Furthermore, we believe that the rural setting of these establishments means that our patronage there will result in a higher profile for nature conservation among the local rural surroundings. News travels fast in small communities! Another thing to bear in mind is that these establishments are often significant consumers of fresh local produce, including local wines, olive oil, fruit, etc. and therefore are excellent advocates of a km 0 policy.
Most establishments we stay at already have some degree of environmental awareness, and wherever possible we often advise and attempt to exert some slight influence on their policies and practices.
In some cases we have been instrumental in creating a significant increase in the number of nature-aware and motivated clients using a particular local establishment, through promotion on our website and personal recommendation and use. This in turn has at times led to a shift in the management’s perceptions of nature and nature tourism, and the concessions and accommodation of the special needs of such tourists that they are prepared to make.
Once again, thanks for your excellent & expert guiding on 16th/17th April, thoroughly enjoyed by all of us. The highlights for me at least were Dupont’s Lark, Bonellis Eagle, the Penduline tits & the Black winged Kite....
Dave and Ann White,
Trip Date: April 2015
A good time was had by all - thanks for a successful inaugural tour of Spain’s natural areas. From my perspective it was just the right mix of birds, nature, and culture....
Trip Date: June 2014
Just wanted to drop you a line to thank you for an excellent trip. We both had a great time and the birding was excellent. Your choice of hotels was excellent and we would be happy to use them again....
Andrew and Maureen Day,
Trip Date: Oct 2015
Steve was excellent - very knowledgeable and quite an exceptional 'ear'for bird calls - if he were a Shearwater, would have no problem finding his nest in the dark!!...
Trip Date: April 2014
Did not have much time at the airport when leaving, but I thought thanks would be in order for a great little trip, excellent hotel good food wonderful wine (which we have sourced in UK and have placed a large order for). Hope to use you again in the futu...
Trip Date: Feb 2013
Great birds, beautiful countryside, fabulous food, and a very knowledgeable guide....
Trip Date: May 2013
Thanks again for a great birding adventure and for sharing your knowledge. I particularly enjoyed the first day and the beautiful landscape in which the birds live ... Reading your book prior to the trip was a nice introduction to your area and the birds...
Trip Date: Sep 2015
The 3 days in the bird hides were the highlight of my European trip and I'll treasure the memories. You organised everything brilliantly and I enjoyed meeting you and spending time with you. ...
Trip Date: Oct 2014
Just to let you know we had a great time last week. I have rather a lot of shots to go through, Rollers stole the show for us this time, so we will have to come back for some Bee Eaters! Thanks for everything, roll on next time....
Trip Date: June 2015
Thank you very much indeed for arranging an outstanding birding trip in northeast Spain. We were exposed to wonderful birds, culture and scenery which went way beyond our expectations. Accommodation and food were also highlights and at some point we would...
Doug and Ulai Kirwin,
Trip Date: June 2012
Just a quick email to thank you again for the 3 birding days. I am still reliving everything I saw, and I think I shall be doing so for a long time. I shall most definitely recommend your services to others and I hope to see you again in the future....
Trip Date: August 2013
I still have warm memories of a great birding experience with you. I enjoyed very much your book. Should you ever give up birding, I see writing as a follow-on profession for you!...
Trip Date: Oct 2013
We really did have a great time and appreciated all your hard work on our behalf - the hotel was great and the area stunning, we are still boasting to anyone who will listen about the variety and number of different birds we saw!...
Lyn and David Gillie,
Trip Date: Nov 2014
Thanks again for such a great trip! We both thoroughly enjoyed the birding, the scenic wonders and, as ever, your company. ...Hope it's not too long before we see you again....
Garry and Wendy Philpott,
Trip Date: Feb 2015
Steve is an amazing birder!! And great company. ...
Barbara and Dave Horn,
Trip Date: March 2012
Hi Steve, great trip. Really loved Spain as well as the birds. Have told all my friends best way to see Spain is to do a birding trip with you…thanks for your great company sense of humour and of course, the birds. Glad you liked the books. Cheers. Kare...
Trip Date: May 2015
Just a note to say "thank you" for 3 great days birding. Updating my lists I am pleased to tell you that I saw over 20 new birds!!! How good is that?...
Mary and Clive Davis,
Trip Date: Mar 2013
Steve - thank you for your wonderful work in showing me all of my target species while in Aragon. Your knowledge of the area and the bird species, as well as your knowledge of Spanish history and Spain's birds in general are tremendous. I really appreci...
Trip Date: May 2014
We really enjoyed our time with you and appreciated your bird finding skills. Now I am enjoying your book. ...
Ann and Bruce McGregor AUS,
Trip Date: Sep 2012
We wanted to tell you again what a great experience it was birding with you while we were in Spain a couple of weeks ago. It was certainly one of the highlights of our family vacation. ...
Allan and Linda Kellar,
Trip Date: Aug 2015
Thank you ever so much for your wonderful guiding which practically completed my entire wish-list! My trip was so successful and significant birdwise that I decided to write a report. I look forward to further birding adventures with you.,
Book: I read ...
Trip Date: May 2014
Thank you for showing me the country you love - Spain. I’ve enjoyed the birds (of course), steppes, Pyrenees, historical and cultural sites, food, Hotels, etc. Most of all you have been a joy to know - you are truly an excellent guide. May we meet you a...
Trip Date: April 2009
On behalf of a group of Aussies I would say that we thoroughly enjoyed the diverse landscapes and birds of Spain in the excellent company of Steve West. Steve combined film star looks [see Ben Kingsley in the ‘Birder’s Guide to Everything’], a grea...
Trip Date: May 2015
Thank you so much for taking us out, it was such a lovely day- We appreciate it....
Trip Date: Jan 2015
Huge thanks for your kindness and expertise especially in our journey in Lleida’s habitats and its fine and also endemic bird species, just what we had dreamed before in Finland. Fantastic....
Ulla and Leimo Kangas,
Trip Date: April 2014
I will recommend Spain and especially birding with you to anyone that will listen or are thinking about going. ...
Nick and Janeke Buys,
Trip Date: Oct 2013
Hello Steve and thank you so much for taking us it seemed to me over half of Spain on only a half day tour. I am amazed of your birding skills. I am so glad you took the time with us! Expert-sites and very smooth for us to have you as our guide. My husban...
Trip Date: June 2012
I have arranged 2 group trips with Steve, his patience in the planning stage and helpful suggestions, have made for 2 very successful and enjoyable trips. He worked very hard to find all our target birds on both trips, from Wallcreeper to Lammergeier in t...
Trip Date: April 2015
After doing my usual early beach walk I have spent a part of the morning sitting on the balcony reading your book. So far I give it ten out of ten. Your recollections have great structure, the imagery is brilliant and your use of vocabulary commendable....