Our Journey Through the Cork Oaks – Signed Copy

SKU: RAG0742
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This is our celebration of an amazing, somewhat undiscovered, wild corner of Europe where the cork oaks and holm oaks grow and give savanna character to an arid landscape that looks hard and difficult, but which glows with soft colours, azure-winged birds, and can turn into carpets of rich colours in spring.  The place reverberates with big exciting wildlife – Iberian Lynx, Wild Boar, thousands of Cranes in winter, and gigantic Bustards, along with innumerable big soaring eagles and vultures.  It looks wild, it acts wild and yet it is a man-made landscape:  the wondrous growth forms of the trees are to a large degree pruned that way to maximise a harvest of rich acorns which fall to feed the black Iberian pigs and produce the tastiest Jamón in the land;  the ground in between the trees is ploughed, planted and left fallow and cut back again in a gentle four year cycle of crops, flowers, grasses and shrubs leading to some of the richest plant diversities within each small area of land.  And the beautiful thick, spongey, lichen-coloured bark on the Cork Oaks (which holds back the spread of fire from harming this vegetation and is playing an increasingly important role with climate change) is carefully protected and harvested every nine years when the rich red sangria-coloured trunks are laid bare and then darken to deep burgundy again over the years.  Removing the bark does not kill these trees.  It supports the huge cork industries of Portugal (Montados) and Spain (Dehesas).  In this world where wildlife and agriculture are continually colliding we just found the harmony of people and wildlife and the inspiring paintable landscapes that we experienced across Alentejo and Extremadura a total tonic!  Couple this with a trip with friends through some of the best wine regions and rural cultures and communities, tracing back many thousands of years, and you have a recipe for a great holiday.

This harmony was very nearly lost in the mid 1970s when bulldozers were moved in to destroy thousands of acres of pristine Mediterranean forest to be replaced by cash-crop, alien plantations to line the pockets of many who were in charge at the time, but these wishes were defied by a single campaigner, Jesus Garzón, who took out an emergency lease on the land to save it and dedicated much of his life to establishing the extraordinary and emblematic Monfrague National Park.  Today this park alone homes double the previous world population of Eurasian Black Vultures.

In September 2023, we made a journey to discover these Cork Oak savannas of Portugal and Spain. This short book contains a catalogue of the paintings, photographs and memories we made along an epic 30 day and 4000 mile journey in our trusty van, Myfanwy!  We had some wonderful encounters along the way, witnessing our very first Spanish Imperial Eagle descending from the heavens to capture its prey on the grassy plain.  These habitats are proving vital for eagles and vultures.  We logged as many as 931 Griffon Vultures on the trip.  We need to keep these precious habitats intact as strongholds for these vulnerable populations so we have pledged to donate 10% of the proceeds of sales of the book and the paintings to the Vulture Conservation Foundation who are active in the region and will be creating fifty more artificial feeding stations (known as muladres) on livestock farms across the Portuguese / Spanish border.

Additional information

Dimensions18.75 × 22.86 × 0.3 cm

Rob Davies

Rob studied art at school to A level and has kept the interest in painting going alongside a career in biology and conservation.  Although he prefers to sketch and paint from life in the field, Rob has been commissioned to do exact bird illustrations for various publications including journals, a monograph on the Black Eagle and a field guide to African birds of prey.

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