Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Bearded vultures, also known as lammergeiers, could once again become a familiar sight in Andalucia.

“Of all the great birds of prey there is none which appeals more to the popular imagination than does the bearded vulture or, to give it the imposing title which it still bears in mid-Europe, the lammergeyer.”

Those are the words of Willoughby Verner, a British colonel who served in the Boer War and spent several years posted in Gibraltar. It was during his time in the British enclave that the keen naturalist had the opportunity to indulge his passion for wildlife, in the sierras of Andalucia. Verner’s subsequent adventures are documented in his book, My Life Among The Wild Birds in Spain, which was published in 1909.

Besides writing, the author enjoyed the unusual distinction of having a compass named after him after being credited with its design. He was also recognised for his role in the discovery of ancient rock art at Cueva de la Pileta, near Ronda. But it was his detailed observations of the bearded vulture’s nesting locations that could arguably become his most enduring legacy.

More than 100 years after Verner first laid eyes on them, a Spanish researcher has used the Englishman’s sketches to trace the exact location of the nest sites. The findings could provide valuable information that leads to the reintroduction of the species to one of its old territories.

The bearded vulture is one of Europe’s rarest birds of prey and, with a wingspan of up to 2.8m, it’s also among the biggest. So named for the distinctive black bristles on its chin, it is famed for its habit of breaking bones by dropping them from a great height before eating the marrow. The vultures are typically found in remote, mountainous areas and it was in such a region - the sierras of Cadiz - that Verner observed them.

Verner photo
The amateur ornithologist was so enraptured by his subject that he dedicated two chapters of his book to his encounters with the huge birds. The descriptions focus mainly on the logistics of accessing the nests. This seems to have involved spending an unhealthy amount of time dangling on the end of a rope, hundreds of feet above the ground.

The explorer even takes time to lament the lack of nerve and skill of his ‘rope man’, who was stationed at the top of the cliff.

Willoughby Verner was a keen naturalist who dedicated his free time to studying
Andalucia's wildlife.
PHOTO: Wiki Commons

While also revealing his habit of stuffing heather branches in his hat to protect against falling rocks.

But it’s his description of the nests themselves that give the most fascinating insight into the life of these enigmatic creatures. “The nest was a huge affair, built of big boughs, filling up the whole cavern, with a cup-shaped depression 24 inches across, lined with great lumps of black sheepswool, brown goat’s hair and fresh green mosses,” Verner says.

But despite the detailed descriptions of the nest itself and skilled sketches of the surrounding rock face, clues as to the general location of the site are scarce. There is a brief mention of “the gleaming waters of the Atlantic near Cape Trafalgar over 50 miles distant.” And Verner also alludes to “a small Moorish village” somewhere below the valley, but there is little else to go on.

His elusiveness may have been a deliberate ploy to conceal the exact location in an effort to stop rival egg collectors from raiding the nests. Now, Verner has finally met his match in Jose Manuel Amarillo Vargas, a natural history enthusiast who has successfully identified the anonymous valley.

After considering several possible locations, the breakthrough came when the researcher recognised a distinctive rock formation in one of Verner’s sketches. After cross-referencing the drawing against the clues given in the written description, Amarillo concluded that the valley lay above the village of Benaocaz, in Cadiz’s Sierra de Grazalema. The next step was to attempt to identify the limestone escarpment upon which the nests had been built using the sketches and grainy photographs in the book.

The results were as conclusive as Amarillo could have hoped for, even down to the two holm oak trees, the only living witnesses to Verner’s visits. The ecstatic Spaniard promptly dubbed the valley ‘El Tajo de Verner’ in place of its official name, Sierra del Caillo. “When we reached 1,150m we stopped to look up and after a few seconds of silence we all said, ‘This is the place!’”, Amarillo explained at a recent event in Seville. “We walked back down the mountain feeling happy and excited with our 'discovery'.”

El tajo de Verner photo and recent photo
One of the nest sites in 'El Tajo de Verner' photographed in 1906 and 2015.
PHOTO MONTAGE: Jose Manuel Amarillo Vargas

At the time of Verner’s exploits lammergeier - to use the species’ alternative name - were a common sight in the mountains of southern Spain. But the impact of hunting and poison had such a dramatic impact on the population that the species had been wiped out in Cadiz by the mid-20th century. In 1986, it was declared extinct in Andalucia.

However, in recent years an EU-funded reintroduction programme has seen the magnificent creatures return to parts of the region. The initiative centres around two former strongholds of the lammergeyer, the Sierra de Cazorla and the Sierra Nevada. Coordinated by the Junta de Andalucia and conservation group Fundacion Gypaetus (FG) the project began in 1996, followed by the first birds being released into the wild in 2006.

Since then 36 bearded vultures have been released as part of the programme, 22 of which are still alive, according to the FG. Only a small number of the fatalities have been from natural causes, with poisoning, poaching and collisions with electric power lines among the biggest killers. But the discovery of the nest sites in the Sierra de Grazalema is a significant step towards giving the species a new opportunity to thrive.

Besides providing evidence that the bearded vulture once lived in the area, the find gives some key indicators as to the region’s viability to support a restored population. By examining historical nest sites it is possible to gain clues as to the birds’ diet, the presence of contaminants and estimates of how long the nests were used for.

It also provides a clearer picture of what type of sites are favoured by the vulture, which in turn allows researchers to make informed decisions about the choice of new release points. They may have lived a century apart but Verner and Amarillo’s shared love of one of Spain’s most emblematic species could finally lead to the return of the bone breaker.

Tajo de Verner - sketch and recent photo
Researchers located the nest site using a detailed sketch of a limestone escarpment in Verner's book. 
PHOTO: Jose Manuel Amarillo Vargas


The bull is killed at this year's Toro de la Vega tournament. Capture via PACMA

This month I took the intercity train from Barcelona to the rural town of Tordesillas to report on the residents’ annual tradition — stabbing a bull to death with 8-foot-long steel-tipped spears.

I tried hard not to pass judgement on the Toro de la Vega tournament straight away. Coming from the Cotswolds — home to the World Shin-kicking Championships — I understand how a centuries-old tradition that seems entirely bizarre to an outsider can bring a community together.

It’s hard to make further comparisons of course — one is an endearing sport in which farmers kick seven shades out of one another’s shins, the other involves the mutilation of a creature that feels pain.

On this point, I’ve heard supporters of bullfighting — or “aficionados” — make the case that these bulls live better lives than animals subjected to the horrors of industrial farms. That they spend years frolicking happily through sunny Spanish paddocks, before enduring a comparatively brief period of confusion and agony. The difference, I would posit, is that a dairy cow doesn’t draw spectators who will on her ill-treatment.

Silvia Barquero, president of Spain’s animal welfare party PACMA, puts it more strongly: “It’s evil to think just because someone lives a happy life that they should die like that.”

That morning, I stood on the south bank of the River Duero and watched several men stretch and sprint down the bridge, preparing for the running of the bull. Thousands had now gathered to witness the spectacle, as well as hundreds of screaming protesters. For the last decade, animal rights activists have come to Tordesillas to condemn Toro de la Vega. This year heavy security including police helicopters were in force, charged with preventing a repeat of the violence in 2014 that saw several protesters and journalists hospitalized.

A local pensioner, Alejandro, told me he was bewildered when the activists first started turning up.

“We have been doing this for centuries,” he told me. “And now they want to stop this. They kill bulls in the arena, so why can’t we have our fun?” 

Photo by Sam Edwards
Photo by Sam Edwards

Horsemen armed with spears filed across the bridge and passed the protesters, now in a frenzy, yelling “murderer” and “national disgrace.” Taunting locals brandished Spanish flags and told them to go home — one man simulated the sounds of a dying bull and two more wandered through the crowd dressed in novelty cow costumes.

The sound of a fire cracker signalled the bull’s release. Its name Rompesuelas or “Sole-breaker” made reference to the pounding footwear took as residents chased it through the streets, some daring to run just yards in front of its horns. Rompesuelas thundered across the bridge and into the “Field of Honor,” where armed men on foot and horseback thrust spear into its flanks.

Protesters clamored around one activist who had bolted himself by the neck to a sign post with a U-lock, just yards from where the bull had cut its path. A horseman returned from the field and aggressively cleared a path through the crowd as firemen freed the protester with bolt cutters.

Despite a lack of support from the majority of the nation’s public, annual campaigning by animal rights activists — and derision from within the wider bullfighting community — the 500-year-old Toro de la Vega tournament refuses to die. Perhaps banning Toro de la Vega on animal welfare grounds would set a dangerous precedent in a country where bullfighting is inextricably linked to national cultural identity.

As with the proportion of Americans who believe there should be stricter gun laws in the United States, the number of Spaniards who do not support bullfighting hold the majority. When it comes to legislating against tauromachia, Spanish politicians find themselves treading on similarly sacred ground.

"It’s unthinkable,” Carlos Nuñez, President of Spain’s bull breeding union, said of a ban on bullfighting. “The symbol of Spain both at home and abroad is the bull and without bullfights, it would not exist."

Bullfighting has endured condemnation from powerful sources. By pain of excommunication, Pope Pius V prohibited the practice with a 1567 papal bull entitled “Super prohibitione agitationis Taurorum & Ferarum (An injunction forbidding bullfights and similar sports with wild animals).”

Known for the burning of heretics and the excommunication of Queen Elizabeth I, Pope Pius V was not an early animal rights advocate — the bull was created for the “welfare of the Lord’s flock.”

According to Raffael Nicolas Fasel, a PhD in Law candidate at the University of Cambridge who studied the document while attending Yale Law School, the papal bull may still be valid, as sources indicate that later popes removed the excommunication sanction.

“Regardless of whether or not the bull is still legally valid today, I think that invoking the bull can be quite powerful — at least morally and rhetorically,” he told me. “It shows that already in the Middle Ages, bullfighting and similar events with wild animals were considered to be brutal and ignoble.”

Following the withdrawal of public funds for events involving bulls in some municipalities in Spain earlier this year, some international media questioned if the slow death of bullfighting had begun. However, both history and the continued existence of Toro de la Vega show us how resilient this national tradition is. In the face of an overwhelming lack of support from most Spaniards — and disdain from activists and “aficionados” alike — a doomed bull is likely to run the gauntlet in Tordesillas next September.

Spain needs to listen to Catalonia if it is to avoid political crisis

Por: | 29 de septiembre de 2015

Together for Yes leaders celebrate winning a majority of seats in September regional elections billed as a de-facto referendum on independence / DAVID RAMOS (GETTY)

Only 48 hours before Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum, and facing the strong possibility of a victory for separatists that would have ended more than 300 years of political union, the leaders of the United Kingdom’s three main political parties pledged to devolve extensive powers to Scotland if it stayed. On Sept. 18, the Scottish people narrowly voted against independence, and the United Kingdom remained intact.

In Spain, Catalonia’s growing push for greater autonomy has often resembled a person shouting into a void. Through a combination of ingrained unionist political thinking, cynical calculation ahead of general elections in December and political pigheadedness, the Spanish government has doggedly refused to offer any real alternative, instead trusting that a barrage of threats would help swing the vote their way. They were wrong.

Catalans turned out in record numbers in Sunday elections that will usher an openly secessionist government into power in the region with 16 percent of the population and the highest gross domestic product in Spain — accounting for almost a fifth of national GDP.

As a result of their miscalculation and failure to engage the problem over five years, Spain now faces a serious political crisis that could threaten its tentative economic recovery.

On Sunday evening, pro-independence parties heralded their absolute majority in seats — but not votes — as a mandate for proceeding with their 18-month roadmap toward a break with Spain.

“We have done this in the context of a hostile, negative campaign racked with lies. But despite all of this people have voted without fear because this was a historic opportunity,” said Raül Romeva, leader of the Together for Yes pro-independence bloc, in front of a euphoric crowd as the results trickled in on Sunday night. “No we will all build this country together. The dam has broken and there is no alternative.”

There are important differences between the UK and Spain: Catalonia’s vote is a regional election that became a quasi-referendum after pro-independence parties put aside differences to focus on the question of secession. Any break up of Spain is also considered illegal under the country’s 1978 constitution. But there is little getting away from the fact that Spain has not only sat back and watched as more than half of the Catalan electorate turned against it, it has, from the outset, actively exacerbated tensions.

Perhaps the best example of the Spanish government’s remorselessly negative, bullish stance was the final few days of the campaign leading up to this historic vote. With polls almost unanimous in predicting a victory for separatists, unionists forwent any last minute olive branch as in the U.K., preferring instead to unleash a volley of warnings for the Catalan people.

Spain’s central bank governor and ECB board member Luis Linde suggested that an independent Catalonia would be left outside of the eurozone and that it might even suffer a Greece-style run on banks as a result — only to clarify that a banking crisis was “highly improbable” two days later.

Primer Minister Mariano Rajoy, speaking in a radio interview on Onda Cero, warned Catalans that they would lose their Spanish and European citizenship if the region were to become independent — he was promptly corrected by the presenter citing an article of the Spanish constitution ensuring no Spaniard could be deprived of their citizenship should they wish to maintain it. Earlier in the campaign, he referred indirectly to the independence movement as a “virus.”

There are reasons for the national parties’ intransigence. Catalan independence is unpopular in Spain — 73 percent said it would be bad for the country in a July poll — and general elections are due by the end of the year. National unity has long obsessed Spain’s political elite, and any capitulation to the Catalan cause risks opening the door to other independence movements.

On the day of the Catalan elections, president of the Basque regional parliament Iñigo Urkullu said Spain should follow the United Kingdom’s example of allowing an mutually agreed and legal consultation on sovereignty. “Spain has a problem in Catalonia,” he told supporters in Vitoria. “And it has a problem in the Basque Country.”

Despite the resounding separatist parliamentary victory, the new Catalan government has many hurdles to jump before it’s aspirations for secession cease to be a mere hypothetical. Its efforts to establish state apparatus and hold an official referendum will certainly be deemed illegal by Spain’s constitutional court, and unionists will continue to challenge the legitimacy of the separatists’ mandate.

Madrid must act prudently if it is to avoid escalating tensions with Catalonia. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s right-wing government is currently rushing through legislation that will give the constitutional court the power to sanction elected officials with fines of up to 33,000 US dollars and suspension. For the time being, the government has ruled out an option floated over the summer of using the constitution to wrest control from the Catalan parliament.

But the government’s unwillingness to talk will only send the message that any change to the status quo is impossible while Catalonia remains within Spain and further polarize the debate.

The Together for Yes pro-independence bloc won 62 seats, six short of an absolute majority in parliament. This means the leftist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party will be able to play kingmaker. The first casualty of which may be acting president of the Catalan regional parliament and international face of the Catalan movement, Artur Mas. The CUP have suggested they will oppose Mas’ investiture as premier on the grounds of their opposition to his center-right party’s pro-austerity politics.

According to Nick Greenwood, political analyst at Madrid-based Financial consultancy AFI, even if Mas is able to remain president he would likely be a “prisoner to the hard left” and be restricted in his ability to negotiate a compromise with the government. A hypothetical forced exit is a huge risk for all involved — indeed, Mas went so far as to say it would amount to a “joint suicide” in the runup to elections. If, in this scenario, a hostile Spanish government made good on its threats, Catalonia would be left isolated internationally and stymied economically, while an acrimonious breakup could see the region forego its share of the national debt — estimated at one third of the total — and leave Spain struggling to pay its creditors.

There is next to no chance of meaningful dialogue before the elections. Despite what Rajoy seems to believe, reconciliation will not and never can begin with bringing charges against those responsible for holding last year’s ultimately symbolic referendum.

As the dust settles on these historic elections, unionist parties have been unanimous in calling the pro-independence faction’s attempt at an unofficial referendum on independence a failure for falling just shy of 50 percent of the vote. But this is selective reading of results and follows in the footsteps of years of ignoring the problem in Catalonia and hoping it will go away, when the opposite is happening.

The most revealing statistic of these watershed elections is not that the “Yes” vote failed to win 50 percent, it’s that 60 percent of the electorate wants a referendum, at the very least — and it’s time for the Spanish government to pay attention.

As the Together for Yes candidates left the stage on Sunday, euphoric independence supporters waved flags, danced, sang and celebrated what they considered a historic step towards leaving Spain. There is still a long way to go, but separatists have the initiative for the moment and, if the campaign’s choice of walk-off music is anything to go by — Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” — Madrid will be forced to listen soon.

Bike-celona and the cycle tour jam

Por: | 10 de septiembre de 2015


As I write this it is approaching 12pm and I can see an annoyingly bright light out of the corner of my eye. 

It comes not from divine inspiration - more’s the pity - but from the street outside, where a cycle hire shop has recently opened, peddling fixed gear bikes and longboards to Barcelona’s more fashion conscious tourists.

There’s nothing so remarkable about that, you might think. And yet this shop, its sign ever aflame like an understated oil rig, is one of four cycle hire shops within a 200m radius of our house to have opened in the last three months.

Such radical inflation in cycle hire is unlikely to last in the long term, however much the four shops may work their respective niches. But as anyone who has been forced to run fleeing from a line of wobbly, weaving tourist bikes down one of Barcelona’s tiny side streets will tell you, the last few years have seen these bike tours bounce from minority concern to holiday staple.

It looks like fun, tootling on a bike around the gentle streets of the Catalan capital. But, as their numbers visibly grow, tourists on bikes have become one of the chief points of complaints among Barcelona residents, who are generally piqued by the ever-increasing number of tourists visiting the city. 

Much of this has to do with the cyclists’ visibility. It’s pretty hard to miss a line of 20 gigantic Americans thundering down the street on oversized orange bikes. That makes them an obvious point for local ire. More generally, a lot of people - for whatever frustrated reasons - simple don’t like cyclists.

Then there are a number of specific complaints I’ve heard angled at cycle tourists: it’s not safe; they ride on the streets; they take up too much space etc etc etc.

In many ways, the complainers have a point: I’ve lived in Barcelona for four years and still feel pretty anxious cycling round the streets, even with abundance of cycle lanes and personal practice. For someone with no experience, the combination of angry Catalan motorists, frantic motorbike riders and - for British and Australian - riding on the “wrong” side of the road could be perilous indeed.

As for the streets, this seems to be something of an area of confusion. As far as I know, cyclists are allowed to ride on the Barcelona pavement, as long as it is five metres or wider (something that rather surprised me, as a cycling Brit). 

But, frankly, who measures the width of the pavement? More importantly, within Ciutat Vella, Barcelona’s old city centre, it can sometimes be hard to tell exactly what is pavement and what is road, the two fading into each other like chewing gum melting in the summer sun. When you add into the mix some pretty narrow streets, this creates confusion and often ill feeling, as pedestrians and cyclists face off over who has priority.

Despite all this, Barcelona remains a very pleasant city to cycle in and you can see the logic behind the sudden expansion in cycle tours. Not only is Barcelona flat - the dual hills of Tibidabo and Montjuic can wait for another day -  it is relatively small and sunny. (There’s a reason cycle tours aren’t very popular in London). Then there’s the 200-odd kilometres of bike lanes, which prove very useful indeed, if a little prone to cutting suddenly off in a petulant dead end.

So why do I think that Barcelona cycle tours may be heading for a crash? There’s the simple economics, for a start: no city can sustain such an extreme oversupply of cycle shops as is evident in my neighbourhood. A lot of these bike shops are set to crash and burn, with the cost of hiring a bike for the day, or going out on a two-wheel guided tour, likely to fall in the meanwhile, harming even the more established operators.

I can’t help feeling, too, that the more cyclists head out on Barcelona cycle tours, the more these tours risk becoming hopelessly unfashionable. Some of the appeal, surely, of a cycle tour - as opposed to being whipped around by bus - lies in tackling the city like a local. And if tourists on bikes only see other tourists on bikes then the sheen of local knowledge evaporates.

More seriously, there is the backlash from locals to contend with. As the recent documentary Bye Bye Barcelona so eloquently demonstrated, Barcelona residents are getting pretty sick of the booming tourist trade, which has seen the number of visitors to the city more than quadruple, from 1.7m in 1990 to 7.5m in 2013. Cycle tours are a very visible symptom of this and it would be little surprise to see some local action taken against the two-wheeled hordes.

This could fall to new Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, who has set out her intention to do something about mass tourism in the city. Admittedly, it is hard to see how she could legislate against bike tours without targeting cyclists in general. But legislation of this kind could prove a cheap political win.

In a way it would be a shame: I’ve grown quite fond of the grinning cyclists that hover around my local streets. But if it stops that bloody light from shining all night long, then it might not be too bad.


Refugees board a train in Budapest / LASZLO BALOGH

Residents in Barcelona are offering to house asylum seekers as part of a new initiative spearheaded by social activist turned mayor, Ada Colau. Authorities hope to facilitate volunteers who wish to open up their house in a scheme similar to the Berlin-based Refugees Welcome scheme being dubbed the “Airbnb for refugees.”

The proposal follows international increasing outrage at the deaths and mistreatment of migrants attempting to start a new life in Europe. Last week, Colau criticized the government’s “pathetic” response to the European migrant crisis. The post went viral and received more than 68,000 shares on Facebook.  

On Monday, Colau announced the plan following a meeting with local migrant charities and, in a post on Facebook the same day, said that “large numbers” of families had already offered to house refugees or provide other forms of support. New left-wing mayors in Madrid, Valencia and several other cities have also pledged their support.

“I want to thank all those who have got in touch with us because their solidarity is an honor and a credit to our city,” Colau wrote on Monday. “We call on [Prime Minister Mariano] Rajoy’s government to change its policies and use the funds it receives from [the European Union] to this end. We must stop haggling over what pathetic number of refugees we can take in and take action to raise that number.”

Eliane Van Branteghem, 35, from Vigo, Galicia, is among the citizens on social media offering to take in refugees. She said the idea to offer a room in the house she shares with her mother came in response to the sadness they felt watching news of regular migrant tragedies.

“We have spent the last few days watching the devastating footage of mothers, children and desperate people searching for a better future and many of them either perishing along the way or being rejected on arrival,” she said.

“Seeing what Ada Colau proposed we asked ourselves how we could do our bit. We live in a house with several rooms and we we thought we could be that light of hope they are searching for,” she continued. “[We could] be a springboard to help them to integrate into a new country, a new world. We are all equal and our rights are the same, why shouldn’t we share what we have just because we happen to be ‘the lucky ones’”?

For María Lluisa Varela Fuertes, 59, from Spain’s northern León region, it was her experience growing up in Venezuela as one of many Spanish immigrant families that inspired her to want to help others.

“I’ve also lived through difficult periods in my life and I am grateful that others were there to help me,” she said, adding that the Madrid government’s tough stance on immigration echoed its painful anti-austerity policies. “The government doesn’t just turn its back to the hardships of the Spanish people but also to the plight [of migrants].”

Barcelona City Council also announced plans to double the budget for the agency responsible for migrants and refugees. The city has received around 700 applications for asylum this year, with a further 300 expected by the end of 2015. However, responsibility for accepting asylum seekers and negotiating Spain’s share of European Union migrants lies with Madrid.

Rajoy’s governing conservative Popular Party (PP) branded Colau’s initiative “irresponsible” and called on her to clarify how many refugees the city proposed to take in. The PP has taken a hard line on illegal immigration and last month warned four regional governments that they faced strong measures for violating a 2012 decree by giving undocumented migrants access to the public healthcare system within their jurisdictions.

Following a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday, Rajoy announced that Spain would accept 2,739 asylum seekers — less than half what the European Commission suggested. Spain refused to participate in a Europe-wide quota system when it was announced earlier this year, but Rajoy recently promised to play a “very constructive” role in EU migrant talks set for Sept. 14.

For Colau, though, Spain needs to do more to support the international effort.

“Turkey, Greece and Lebanon are taking in millions of refugees. Spain, despite having far greater resources, will receive barely 2,000,” Colau wrote. “These are not ‘quotas,’ they are human lives.”

Barcelona Deputy Mayor Gerardo Pisarello said Spain received considerable funding from the European Union to deal with migration but spent most of it on border security.

In recent years, Spain has constructed giant perimeter fences around the tiny North African enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta to prevent migrants entering the country illegally. On Monday one Guinea man’s attempts to elude immigration controls made headlines after he was found hidden behind a car engine.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has detected 350,000 migrants entering Europe since January, though the real figure could be considerably higher. Of these, approximately 230,000 arrived via Greece, nearly 115,000 through Italy and around 2,000 via Spain. European leaders will meet on Sept. 14 in Brussels to discuss the EU’s response to the crisis.

Germany has accepted more refugees than any other European country and expects to accept around 800,000 asylum seekers by the end of 2015.

Last week United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, called on Europe to meet its obligations to the “unprecedented” refugee crisis.

He said almost 300,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year — around 2,500 died during the crossing. Guterres called on Europe as a whole to meet this demand and not to leave responsibility to a handful of countries.

“It is clear that Europe has the capacities and the size needed to meet the challenges, assuming that it shows unity and jointly assume this responsibility,” Guterres said during a press conference in Geneva.

Frustration with the EU’s sluggish response to the crisis has sparked numerous protests and citizen initiatives across Europe. The Berlin-based Refugees Welcome campaign matches people willing to share their homes with refugees. Organizers say the scheme has met with huge success and plans are underway to begin to introduce the idea in other countries.

Volunteers pledged to help in Barcelona, and later in half a dozen other municipalities, after an earlier call to action by Colau went viral last week with more than 68,000 shares.

“Europe, Europeans: Let’s open our eyes. There will never be enough walls or enough fences to stop this,” Colau wrote on Facebook. “If we don’t tackle this human drama through our capacity for compassion that makes us human, we will end up being dehumanized by it. And there will be more deaths. Many more deaths.”

She also made reference to the many Spaniards forced to flee the country during and after the Spanish Civil War.

“It could be our children, our sisters or our mothers. It could be us; many of our grandparents were once exiled.”

By Sam Edwards


Spanish rural idyll not such a paradise for dogs

Por: | 27 de julio de 2015

Andalusian rural heaven

Selling up and moving to a little finca in the Spanish hills is a dream for many Brits. Whole shelves in bookshops are dedicated to hilarious tales of navigating a first olive harvest or chasing after an errant donkey. Once installed life is undoubtedly tough and challenging, but a common thread running through the experience of many is coming face-to-face with the harsh conditions experienced by the animals living on neighbouring farms.

It’s not unusual in Spain for farms or small holdings to remain generally unoccupied at night by their owners, as many prefer to live in nearby villages. So in order to make sure that no-one runs off with the prized blackfooted pigs, most will keep a number of dogs onsite as a security measure. Certainly in the Andalusian hills, Spanish Mastiffs are the dog of choice for guarding larger livestock, plus a few small mongrels to nip at the heels of any unwanted intruders. Many of the dogs will be kept on a chain, if they’re lucky with some shelter, food and water. Sadly such basic care doesn’t stretch to all who are effectively abandoned save for an occasional offering of some stale bread.

I remember the first time I came across such a sight in the mountains between Granada and Motril. Five minutes from where we were staying lay an empty house, empty of humans that is, but filled with chickens inhabiting the ground floor. Out the back there were a few pigs and in the garden the ubiquitous chained dog. Next to the dog was an Alsation puppy, no relation to its friend and all of about eight weeks old. On seeing me it came scurrying up the bank that separated the house from the road and proceeded to follow me home. Full of fleas and too tiny to be left alone, it was all I could do not to take it back to Seville, but knowing my landlords at the time would have had a fit if I’d arrived back with an Alsation pup, I gave the little fella and his tethered friend some jamon, and sadly left them where they were.

image from
Paloma in chains. Photo c/o ACTIN

Occasionally chained dogs get lucky and are rescued. ACTIN (Animal Care Treatment International Network) is an animal welfare association based near Murcia whose main focus is ‘to make changes in the laws against cruelty, neglect and abandonment’, but they inevitably become involved in facilitating the rescue of ill-treated or abandoned animals. One such case involved Paloma, a four-year-old Spanish Mastiff bitch found chained up in a goat shed, who had lost all power in her back legs having been chained up since a puppy. At the time of rescue she weighed only 33 kilos, half the suggested amount for an adult of her breed and now at 68 kilos she is living out her days as an honorary, permanent occupant in some nearby kennels.

Paloma now
Paloma enjoying her freedom

But chaining up animals is just part of the story. In Spain, particularly in the countryside, there is a huge resistance towards neutering animals. For those not familiar with the canine reproductive cycle, a female will come on heat every six months for three weeks. During this period there is a key time when if unsupervised, she will more than willingingly accept the amorous advances of not just one, but many dogs and a litter of puppies is a fairly safe bet. Little dogs have small litters and large breeds like mastiffs can have up to 12 puppies. Not terribly convenient if they’re supposed to be guarding livestock. So the standard procedure in the campo is to kill or dump most of the puppies, leaving one or two with the mother and six months later, the whole needless process starts again.

A friend finding 7 dead mastiff puppies by the side of a country road incensed Cordoba based Writer Alan Parks so much he wrote an open letter on his blog denouncing the endless cycle of pregnancies and puppy killing in a bid to draw further attention to the matter.

He writes, ‘I have spoken to Spanish farmers who have told me, in no uncertain terms “If you don’t want a dog, throw it in the lake. No more problem!” I have also spoken to Spaniards who have told me that they do not like to castrate male dogs because it upsets the dog emotionally to have its testicles removed. Well, what about the poor mother dog, who gave birth to the puppies I just buried? She had cleaned them up, bonded with them and probably even started feeding them, before they were ripped away from her, killed, and then thrown out of the window of a car like a discarded cigarette packet’.   

Dead puppies
Dead mastiff puppies. Photo c/o Alan Parks

Another Brit Clair Spettigue living near Malaga offered to pay for her neighbours’ bitches to be spayed, but was told in no uncertain terms that ‘that was not how things are done in these parts’. ‘You have to be careful’ she goes on, ‘as soon as it gets out that you making a fuss about abandoned animals, people start dumping them on your door step and it starts to get out of hand’.

It’s a delicate balance for many outsiders, foreign or otherwise who set themselves up in the countryside alongside locals whose customs haven’t changed for generations. Friends of mine living alongside a farm with a couple of mastiffs and a mongrel do their bit giving food and even names to the dogs who were all known collectively as ‘perro’. But in the 9 months that they’ve lived there they’ve had seen 3 pregnancies and the subsequent mysterious disappearance soon after birth of the puppies. That’s pretty standard, some people say something, others turn a blind eye. It’s a tough call in the country which is inpenetrable to outsiders at the best of times.

This isn’t just a Spanish issue. There has always been a brutal edge to the countryside - I grew up on a farm so I speak from first hand experience. It’s just that in countries like the UK or indeed Ireland, such harshness was common forty or fifty years ago. In Spain however, the idea that country ways are sacred, even if they are utterly cruel and neglectful, continues today.

Alan Parks admits he doesn’t know the answer. ‘Almost every ex-pat family I know has multiple rescued dogs living with them and I know we personally can’t take any more. Maybe veterinary universities could come up with a programme for students to go out to farms and perform cheap castrations, as a way of them getting the practice they need and the farmers getting some veterinary care at a reduced price’.

Animal association ACTIN tries to encourage people to report incidences of cruelty or neglect. ‘Cases are incredibly hard to prove and have to be watertight with photographs that link the cruelty to the owner. No one seems to know what the law really is, including the police who very rarely take these things seriously,’ says a spokesperson. 

Nevertheless, ACTIN believes the more complaints are made, the more authorities will eventually be forced to follow them up. ‘If it’s simply a matter of a lack of shelter, water or food, try approaching the owner of the animal to ask that they provide them. If this does not prove fruitful, then it’s time to try the official route’. Their website lays out the steps you would need to take in such eventualities.

But the fact remains that without an attitudinal shift regarding animal welfare amongst those using dogs to guard livestock and by the Spanish authorities at large, all this falls on deaf ears. Right now too many dogs are little more than a means to an end. Whether they are happy, cared for and loved is not a major consideration and in fact if they’re hungry and scared, they probably do their job better. For many the final escape only comes when they eventually die or unable to perform their job, are killed or dumped. And sadly there´s always another unlucky dog to fill its place.

To find out more work about the work of Actin

Support for Catalan independence is at a four-year low as alternative parties shift the focus to the economy and social issues / ANDREU DALMAU (EFE)

 In two months Catalonia will vote in what everyone agrees are crucial elections — but ask anyone exactly what is at stake and you will get a different answer. Last year’s symbolic vote fit nicely into an easily-understood, if admittedly simplistic, Spain vs Catalonia narrative that international media could run with. However, it is this year’s mongrel, rushed election that really matters.

On paper, at least, Catalonia’s upcoming regional elections should be a milestone for nationalist ambitions: an unprecedented pact of major secessionist parties has formed, promising to declare independence within 18 months should it win on Sept. 27. Such a move is still complicated, though. Madrid has maintained its hard-nosed approach, recently suggesting the central government could temporarily wrest control from the Catalan Parliament in the event of the independence faction winning and trying to make good on their promise. This tactic has failed before, only serving to harden the position of the Catalan nationalists, but now the movement faces a greater threat.

Nationalist infighting and the increasingly-powerful alternative parties across the political spectrum have taken their toll on support for the established parties and old divisions are becoming more apparent than ever, despite calls for unity.

The pro-independence joint candidacy brings together the conservative Convergence (CDC) party and the left-wing Republican Democrat Left (ERC) under the “Junts pel Si” (Together for Yes) pact, which calls for the establishment of a Catalan state within the European Union. At their head are three independent candidates — foremost among them Raül Romeva, former EMP for the Initiative for Catalonia Greens (ICV) — whose prominence is intended encourage voters to put aside political differences and unite to secure independence, but there is little doubt that if the pact were to win it would be CDC leader and incumbent President Artur Mas who would lead the Catalan Parliament.

This has angered Romeva’s former party which branded Junts pel Si as the pact of “continuity.” On Sunday ICV, United and Alternative Left (EUiA) and Podem (Podemos en Cataonia) launched an alternative coalition dubbed “Catalunya Si Que Es Pot” (roughly, Yes Catalonia Can). Backing the right to vote on Catalonia’s status as a nation at a later date but stopping short of the Junts Pel Si pact’s threat to declare independence unilaterally, Catalunya Si Que Es Pot’s manifesto calls for action to lessen the hardships caused by the protracted economic crisis, branding itself an alternative to the traditional parties.

“In Catalonia there are two models of country currently in play: one Catalonia belonging to those up high, represented by Mas and where austerity politics and corruption rule, and our model of a racially integrated, working-class, society of hope that believes we can govern in another way,” Gemma Ubasart, secretary general of Podem, told press on Sunday.

Surveys suggest voters are largely disillusioned with the established parties and will prioritize the economy come the elections. A July poll by Center of Opinion Studies (CEO) found that the majority of Catalans did not share Mas’s vision to convert the elections into a plebiscite. Of those surveyed, 58.1 percent said they would base their vote on the response to the financial crisis put forward by each party, while 21.1 percent said they would do so on the basis of Catalonia’s relationship with Spain. The remaining 14.6 percent said both factors would weigh on their voting decision.

The same survey found support for outright independence down to 37.6 percent, the lowest it has been since the CEO began canvassing the issue in 2011 and way down from its 2012 peak of 57 percent, although pollsters say last month’s breakup of the Convergence and Union (CiU) coalition is likely to have skewed the results somewhat. The decrease in support for independence was mirrored by Catalan voters increasingly focusing on other issues. Asked what their principal concerns were, a majority chose “unemployment,” followed by “dissolution with politics,” and the “economy.”

May’s municipal elections have reflected these shifting concerns on a national level as Podemos-affiliated leftist blocs and the centrist Citizens (C’s) made large gains across the country. Both positioned themselves as alternatives to the establishment, promising to end the steady stream of corruption scandals that have tarnished the mainstream parties.

Referendum or not, then, Catalonia’s regional elections will be closely fought. Sept. 27 will not only be a momentous vote for the Catalan people, but also a telling preliminary battle for Europe’s next showdown between traditional parties and anti-austerity upstarts.


The Street Angels back on the beat

Por: | 06 de julio de 2015

It's more or less a year since I went out on patrol with the Mallorca Street Angels overnight in Magaluf so this week I caught up with the group's leader Cameron Springthorpe and a new girl on the block, Jud Sweeney.

Punta Ballena (Photo Credit Vicki McLeod)

Vicki McLeod: So, your season has started now for 2015. How are you getting on so far?

Cameron Springthorpe: It's very interesting and heartening to see so many different groups getting involved and helping. This year we know about a group from the Norwegian Church who are helping visitors from Scandinavia; we know that the Vinyard Church, an Evangelical group based in Palma, came out to see what it was like, I believe with the intention to see if they could run a similar group in Palma, and we know about the Gospel Tribe who are a German Bible School who are patrolling in s'Arenal and have also been over to Magaluf as well.

VM: Wow! So you've got company!

SC: Yes, it's good news.

VM: How have you found Magaluf this year so far ?

SC: We haven't seen people in such a bad state as we did last year. I would say of last year's experiences we were finding about 50% or 60% of the people unconscious or semiconscious at the outset. It has not been as bad this year. The people are more responsive and they are waking up easier than previously. We are seeing less drinking on the streets, and less broken bottles as a result.

VM: Is it still the case that the majority of the people you are finding are either too inebriated to find their way home, or are simply lost and disorientated and don't know where they are staying?

SC: Yes, that is the case.

Jud Sweeney: We helped a guy recently who couldn't remember where he was staying so we were looking on his Facebook to try to find his friends who may be on holiday with him. In the end we rang up his mum in the UK to ask her if she knew the name of his hotel. But she didn't so she had to go down the road and ask one of his friends if they knew! Eventually we got him home.

VM: This is your first year in Mallorca Jud, how are you finding it?

JS: I really like it. I'm part of a group called 247 Ibiza  which has been operating in Ibiza for the past twelve years and I wanted to come over to Mallorca to see how it worked here. We would have tended to go out earlier in the evening in Ibiza than the Street Angels do here because we want to try to have conversations with people before they get so drunk that they can't have a chat anymore. We look for people who may want to talk. We want to share some kindness and love with them. There are always people who are not having the best time, and they might want to have a chat and we offer them the opportunity to pray with us as well. We would get asked "Why do you want to be here? It's awful!" so we know that some holiday makers don't really like where they are either. We also would talk to the workers and the PRs as they have a tough time in Ibiza or here. We try to help: cleaning up someone who’s vomiting, helping vulnerable people – drunk, drugged, injured or alone - to a safe place, listening to someone’s story or frustrations of the day, celebrating good news and happy times with people. taking someone who’s been injured to a medical centre, sharing our faith and stories of God with those who are keen to hear, seeking to bring calm to agitated people and stressful situations and asking God to lead us to specific people he wants us to talk to and to give us the words he wants them to hear.

What makes you want to come out here and spend your summers doing this? 

JS: I'm a teacher back home, and I am active in my local church group.  I get a lot of support both from the parents and my church. Members of churches come out to help for a week or so at a time and join the team which gives us an energy boost as well. Parents  that I know have said that they would want their children to have someone to look after them if they were in trouble away from home. When I was younger I had a wild spell and I could have easily ended up in a lot of trouble, luckily I was able to change my path so I know that some people just want to party for the sake of having a party, and for other people it is hiding more fundamental issues. Now I want to give back and help other people who might need me.

A team walking down punta ballena - the strip re
I know when I went out with the Street Angels I really enjoyed it, I know that sounds a bit perverse, but I truly did! I liked the feeling of being able to do something practical and helping people. It's important to not be judgmental isn't it, because that's not helping at all.

JS: Yes, absolutely, you cannot judge someone or tell them they've done something wrong. When you are helping them get home or whatever it is they need from you you've got to focus entirely on that.

VM: How many people might you help on average night?

SC: Between 10 and 15 people normally.

VM: Last year when we met you told me that you were looking for a golf buggy or something you could use for transportation. Did you manage to get your wish?

Some of the team, Jud and Cameron on the left re
Not exactly, but we have got a car that we are able to use. Ideally though what we would like is a Kangoo type of van where the doors slide back, it would make it much easier to help people in and out of the vehicle. We've taken people home, and even taken them to Son Espases for treatment. 

VM: So if any of the readers wanted to donate a Kangoo then they should get in touch! Is it still the case that the Street Angels are looking for volunteers?

SC: Yes we are, we are always open to more people joining us and being on patrol. You don't have to be a Christian, but you do have to be in agreement with our principals or it won't work. We've currently got a team of nineteen people working this year. Between Street Angels and the other Christian based groups working Magaluf there is some sort of presence there every night which is great progress and we know we are helping to make a difference to these young people on holiday.

You can contact Cameron on 629056193. You can see more on and


Eugeni Rodríguez at the FAGC offices in Barcelona. Photo by Elisa Centurion Arriola

Spain marked 10 years of gay marriage this week, while last weekend the LGBT community took over many of the country’s city centers with Pride celebrations. The march in Barcelona — attended by the city’s mayor for the first time ever — was heaving with tourists. The city is among the top destinations for the LGBT community in Europe, while Madrid is among the continent’s unofficial gay capitals.

Outside of guaranteed sunshine and beaches, a contributor to this phenomenon is Spain’s reputation as a frontrunner for progressive LGBT legislation. After the Netherlands and Belgium, the country was the third on Earth to make gay marriage legal back in 2005, and Spain recently took first place in a poll that studied acceptance of homosexuals in 39 countries.

Modern Spain would be unrecognizable to a young Eugeni Rodríguez. Now spokesperson for Catalonia’s oldest gay rights group FAGC and President of L'Observatori Contra l'Homofòbia (OCH), Rodríguez was born in 1965 in the Franco years when homosexuality was illegal. Raised in L’Hospitalet by an impoverished family with a “very anti-gay component,” Rodríguez suffered beatings and discrimination on the streets of his working class neighborhood. He left the “entirely hostile environment” of that city at the age of 18.

While reading Foucault on an intercity train and struggling to come to terms with a traumatic adolescence, Rodríguez began formulating a personal philosophy that would lay the groundwork for a lifetime of activism.

“I promised myself I would not let anyone else be discriminated against and assaulted, I promised to defend the issue to the death,” Rodríguez tells me from FAGC’s modest offices in Gràcia, Barcelona.

Rodríguez and fellow activists were moved to set up what would later become the OCH following the murder of Sònia Rescalvo Zafra, a transgender woman who was beaten to death by neo-Nazis in Barcelona 1991. The OCH began as a FAGC initiative and later became an independent entity in 2008, chaired by Rodríguez. The organization is recognized as the driving force behind the controversial and pioneering anti-homophobia law — which enforces large fines and places the burden of proof on the defendant — that passed the Catalan Parliament last year.

Despite such efforts, LGBT related attacks are on the rise in Catalonia and Spain as a whole, suggesting a dissonance between legal, administrative and social progress with regard to LGBT rights.

Photo by Elisa Centurion Arriola

Referencing nationwide statistics for 2013, the Interior Ministry says the LGBT community is the minority most targeted by perpetrators of hate crimes. Forty percent of all hate crimes reported in 2013 were motivated by sexual orientation, whereas 37 percent that year were due to racial hatred. Contrast this with figures from England and Wales for 2013, where 84 percent of hate crimes were motivated by race and 10 percent sexual orientation, and numbers from the U.S. that same year where race and sexual orientation were the prime motivators in 49 percent and 20 percent respectively.

To be clear, there are no winners here (how would you like your country, more racist or more homophobic?), and comparisons between these countries must be heeded with a warning, as different criteria and definitions are employed in all three cases. Rodríguez himself has doubts over the official figures, as the OCH does not count certain victims and crimes — including exhibitionism and various sex crimes — used by the Interior Ministry in its own studies of LGBT related hate crimes.

While Rodríguez celebrates the passage of the anti-homophobia law as historic, he stresses that it runs the risk of being all but symbolic if there is not what he calls an “adequate diffusion” of its implementation on several levels. He says that many victims do not know that crimes committed against them fall under the protection of this law. Knowledge of laws, support networks and procedures appear essential to this issue. A survey of the LGBT community in Spain conducted in 2013 found that almost half of respondents had suffered some kind of homophobic abuse at one time, though only 18 percent had felt moved to report the event, with a third saying they thought such a report would prove useless.

A further concern for Rodríguez is that many departments and civil servants are unaware of the responsibilities the law requires of them.

“The law states that any public official in Catalonia has a duty to intervene in any case of discrimination and communicate it to the government,” Rodríguez said. “But what happens is that not everyone is aware of this law so it cannot be fully implemented.”

Rodríguez believes the law must be championed by an independent authority, to handle cases and get the word out there, an idea the government rejected.                              

He references a case in Girona, where a boy was told he ran “like a fag” by his gym teacher. During the ensuing investigation, it became apparent the school had not been informed that Catalonia had passed an anti-homophobia law. Rodríguez is certain this lack of communication between state-run institutions is the norm.

Rodríguez says that changing perspectives in the classroom is not as simple as slotting in a course on diversity into the curriculum.

“On school forms you had to fill out the name of your mother and father, there was no other option,” he explains. “Everything is spoken about in a certain language to reinforce this idea, in maths, science, all subjects — even a plug and socket are called ‘male and female.’”

For Rodríguez, living in a region where the legal framework is increasingly supportive of the LGBT community is a great source of pride. He has no plans to rein in the fight, however, while the standard model of binary gender identity remains deeply ingrained in Spanish society.

Additional reporting and photos by Elisa Centurion Arriola

A Lesson in Manners

Por: | 22 de junio de 2015

Pavements are pretty narrow in Seville, particularly in the cobbled, quaint parts of town. Sometimes I think it’s rather an insult calling them a pavement at all for the lot of good they do. It’s an everyday occurrence to find someone coming at you in the opposite direction, desperately clinging to the same precarious, concrete edge. And it’s at this point I find myself with the dizzying conundrum: step off or be stepped on.


So more often than not it’s me who leaps off into oncoming traffic, waits to let people pass, steps into a doorway or shimmies up a lamp post. It’s my choice obviously and one that’s based on that innate British horror at offending or inconveniencing the other. So here I am looking expectantly into the eyes of the fellow human being I’ve stood aside to let past and 80% of the time it´s a big fat nothing in return. Okay, if I’m honest, it’s not entirely nothing; eye contact is indeed made, but instead of a warm acknowledgement of my efforts, I'm met with a cold, hard stare that enters my hopeful heart like a burning hot arrow.


For the first year or so in Seville, I took it all very badly. Such pavement encounters were met with audible, narked off sighs (on my behalf) and an occasional 'both hands on hip in utter disbelief' stance. But then an English Reading Comprehension exercise entitled ‘Watching the English’ changed my perspective. Taken from the book of the same name by anthropologist Kate Fox, she studies the quirks and foibles of the English character, where fair play or the lack of it gets us extremely riled and sorry is every other word. After the first few paragraphs I soon began to realise that my expectations and concept of politeness were purely cultural and far from definitive.

So with a new ‘I know it’s not personal’ bravado I thought I’d use my observations of Seville etiquette and see what would entail. Which was, by the way, a complete disaster. A late night encounter on my bike with a street cleaner who very politely stopped to let me through, went completely unacknowledged by my new 'Sevillanoed' self, much should I say to his palpable disdain. Here was a perfectly nice man just being kind to a passing 'guiri' and all he got as thanks was a Paddington Bear stare and a gust of wind as I cycled past at break neck speed. I felt like throwing down my bike and pleading for his forgiveness, but instead I just kept on cycling cursing all the while at the utter failure of my attempt to fit in.

I would like to point out at this point that this is not a personal slight on people from Seville, Andalusia or Spain in general. But I just want to know what to do. Please someone tell me. All I’ve ever wanted to do is fit in, as much as I can being a 5ft 9 blond with freckles and pale skin, but at least if I know when to say please and thank you that will be a start. So, this is a kind of shout out to any Spanish or Andalusian social etiquette experts: Please teach me some manners.

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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