On occasion of the creation of a botanic garden at the premises of the Biological Station of Torretes, we believe this is the perfect time to republish a translated adaptation of the article that Inés Eléxpuru, our Communication Director, wrote about the Station a year ago for the Spanish daily El País:
On parakeets and other animals (original title: De cotorras y otros bichos)
INES ELEXPURU, 4 JUNE 2011
The biological station of Torretes-Font Roja is undoubtedly much more than that, as one can see on a tour around their facilities. It is located in the heart of the mountains of Ibi, a town 20 minutes away from Alicante, the city which gives its name to the entire province in the eastern side of Spain.
Part of the University of Alicante, and specifically of its Ibero-American Centre of Biodiversity (CIBIO), this station is open upon request from any interested person. It has devoted its efforts for eight years to recover, acclimatize and research on plants and their use in medicine, pharmacopoeia, cooking and cosmetics, always from a perspective of respect for the environment and sustainability. The aromas of resin, fungus and thymes fill up the air: “No chemistry sets a foot into our premises with the exception of the degree of some of the experts!, exclaims Segundo Ríos, the managing director.
The biological station encompasses 50 hectares of terrain up the mountain which was given by Ibi’s Town Council in what used to be a farmhouse and a near-by limestone quarry packed with Aleppo pines, holm oaks and little birds such as blue tits and warblers, in addition to a dizzying view over the sea. Furthermore, it lies on the southern slopes of the Menejador mountain range and borders with the Font Roja Nature Reserve.
“We really need to make up for the lack of means with enthusiasm”, says Ríos, who is also a botanist at CIBIO. This dedication and passion for their work is visible in every trail and every intervention such as in the square wooden jardinières containing dozens of endangered wheat varieties, ancient roses as well as sages and narcissus, and whose active principles are being researched for medical purposes at the station in collaboration with the University of Barcelona: the galantamine is an active ingredient found in the narcissus used in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, and the same with the essential oils contained in sage.
In addition to being a useful instrument for science the station has an entertaining and educational dimension. The bead-tree (Melia azedarach) native to Asia is very useful as a shade tree, while the willow fulfils the same function in the Mediterranean and the lime tree among the Norsemen and Celts. In the edible plants corner we learned that costmary (Tanacetum balsamita) which is barely cultivated at present, has been traditionally been used to treat for worms in the intestine. It has a penetrating smell of mint gum (and not simply mint!). In the area dedicated for medicinal plants it is pleasantly surprising to find the large collection of oregano and aromatic species intended for the manufacture of herb liqueurs, being known in Spanish the ones coming from this region as “herberos”.
Apart from the station, the teachers at CIBIO created in Ibi a Museum of Biodiversity which is mostly dedicated to Mediterranean ecosystems. It is presented in a didactic and fun manner for children. Eduardo Galante, entomologist and director of the Museum, had the bright idea to contact SEPRONA (the Nature Protection Service of the Spanish Civil Guard) and Customs so that they provided the Museum with the confiscated animals and natural products resulted from the illegal trafficking.
The small Museum, which is located in an old toy factory with carved wooden ceilings and uneven clay floor, is today being enlarged. Visitors are amazed at the stuffed animals and the prohibited animal products such as the tortoiseshell, the ivory or the crocodile skin. It is likewise surprising to contemplate the small but striking display of exotic insects and butterflies.
The objective is to raise awareness, mostly among children, about the great ecological diversity existing on the planet, especially in the Mediterranean area. To achieve this, several panels and interactive games explain through a simple and didactic manner that around 1.7 million of organisms have been discovered and named to date, even though the scientific community speculates on the total existing number of species, most of them to be discovered yet, estimated at 10 to 80 million species! Moreover, the Museum explains that during the approximately 4 million years age of the Earth, there have been different species extinctions due to environmental changes. The most well-known one among the five extinctions (we live the sixth one at the present time) is undoubtedly the disappearance of the dinosaurs.
Children also learn about the blunders related to animal and material trafficking and the act of introducing exotic species that are potentially invasives and might displace the indigenous ones. There are good examples of this, like the red swamp crayfish, the monk parakeet and certain species of ornamental plants such as the fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) that colonizes the rest of vegetation by means of an aggressive growth. According to the Museum, the smuggling of endangered animal and vegetable species generates every year around 20 billion euro. As a result of it, 700 species are on the rink of extinction.
It is easy to find entire classrooms walking around the halls of the ancient factory accompanied by the skilled instructors. They watch astonished the careful vegetal staging. When the tour around ends, the kids are specially impressed by a photo depicting dead and tuskless elephants under the hunter’s boot. “How horrible!” We already know that sometimes a picture is worth…
Furthermore, the Museum organizes periodically so called “mycology days” as well as activities on topics as thrilling as the armours of some animals, their disguise tactics or tracing their tracks. Now they are been kept busy with the travelling exhibition entitled “We take for you the museum to the school”, which has a waiting list of months. Very good sign.
» Tourism of Alicante (www.alicanteturismo.com).
» Ayuntamiento de Ibi (www.ibivirtual.com).
» Visits to the Station. Upon request (965 52 83 06; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.cibio.org). From Monday to Friday, 9.00 till 14.00 and 15.00 till 17.00; Saturday and Sunday, 10.00 till 14.00.
» Biodiversity Museum. Glorieta de Nicolás Payá Jover, 1. Ibi, Alicante (966 55 31 68). Opening hours: from Tuesday to Saturday, 10.00 till 13.00 and 16.00 till 19.00; Sundays and public holidays, 11.00 till 14.00.