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Marrakech, Morocco Feb 2018 - Ecocide in action (1 Viewer)

James Thomas

Well-known member
I did a lot of searching around the interweb before this holiday and found very few references to birding in Marrakech other than a few sightings whilst people were on their way elsewhere so I feel compelled to make it quite clear what it can be like. This is not a review of birding in Morocco nor can I claim it to be representative of Marrakech as a whole though I saw nothing to suggest it isn't.

For the last 20 years I have asked my wife to book holiday wherever she fancied and I would find the birds. That has worked in Portugal, Turkey, Tenerife, Tunisia, Cyprus and many parts of Spain. Invariably I spend a huge amount of time on derelict land, farms etc, it's unglamorous and I can't say it's produced a massive list of species but I've always seen plenty and I've always enjoyed myself. This time the wheels came off.

The hotel was located on the outskirts of Marrakech next to a river so should have been fairly productive. As usual, my expectations weren't too high and a few lifers would be nice. After six hours birding on the first day produced a very short list of species and low numbers I realised I had a problem. I should have written the list at the time but it was something like this; White wagtail 15 (early morning post roost group of 12 boosted the numbers), Little Owl 3, Maghreb magpie 5, Stonechat 4, Moussiers redstart 3, Brown Throated Martin 2, Barn Swallow 5, Great Grey Shrike 1, Crested/Thekla lark 25, Serin 5, Barbary Partridge 2, Hoopoe 5, Sardinian Warbler 1, Common Sandpiper 1, Green Sandpiper 2. It's worth pointing out that the Hoopoe were on the edge of a golf course and disappeared into there. The partridge were on the edge of a walled compound and did likewise.

The problem was clear, this area was alongside a river and there were still pools of water in the river bed. All the ground in the surrounding area was damp but there were very few trees. Some trees were behind walled enclosures and a few palm trees were left but they had clearly been removed from the area, either to landscape golf courses and hotel gardens, for use in construction, fuel or to produce carved camels for the souk.

I was aware of the depletion in the number of trees before we left but hadn't anticipated what had followed and it is that which has shocked me. In the absence of any trees to provide fuel the locals have removed the scrub vegetation. On a daily basis carts loaded with twigs can be seen being taken into Marrakech and in the city itself piles of twigs, thorn bushes etc are piled up outside industrial premises and are dragged inside to feed the fires. So this destruction is happning much further out than I could have seen.

Following the removal of all scrub vegetation, flocks of sheep and goats are driven over the area ensuring there is no chance of any revovery. In one small area there was evidence of palm trees being replanted but they too are given the sheep treatment.

Nature hasn't helped either and the lack of plant life has meant that rain cannot percolate into the ground. The run off has removed what little top soil was present and has deeply scoured channels as it runs towards the river.

I fould one area where there was significantly more scrub than anywhere else, it was not particularly mature and wasn't very dense but it held a few more birds than anywhere else. A quick look round and the reason was soon apparent, the fly tippers had made the area so inaccessible to anyone with a horse and cart that it had a stay of execution. I imagine that a bit more growth might make the area worth harvesting.

Over the week I put in a total of about 17 hours and numbers did not improve. I found a couple of areas where there were a couple of pairs of Sards or a small flock of Serin. The species list didn't improve much either, a few common bulbul, one ringed plover, one stone curlew, two black winged stilt, a couple of house martins, flyovers of White Stork, Black Kite, Cattle Egret and a grey heron.

Aside from the birds I saw one lizard (in the hotel compound) and one butterfly. I kept a keen eye out for insects and saw less than five insects of any size, two beetles and a grasshopper spring to mind.

The hotel compound additionally provided Spotless starling, Laughing Dove, Collared Dove a chiffchaff sp and House Bunting. Species list for a week's birding stands at below 30, total number of birds seen certainly no more than a few hundred. With very few exceptions all the birds I saw were extremely wary and scope views were essential.

I'll add some photos of what is or isn't there and a map that gives you some idea of the area I covered. I walked the perimeter of the area shown and saw nothing beyond through my ×10's so you'll get an idea how much devastation has been caused.

So, if you start looking at a holiday in this area be prepared to do your birding in the hotel grounds or book a guide to take you somewhere.

Tragic.
 

James Thomas

Well-known member
This shows the extent to which trees and bushes are removed, a whole line trees had been removed leaving just the holes. This scene was repeated over a large area.
 

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James Thomas

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This will hopefully give you an idea of the area I covered. The scale is in the bottom left corner
 

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James Thomas

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There's still water present, just no plants or wildlife to make the most of it.
 

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James Thomas

Well-known member
Most of these empty areas still have some kind of footprint of what was there before.
 

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James Thomas

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This is the area that has been replanted, still pretty much devoid of any life
 

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James Thomas

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One of the better areas owing to the fly tipping making it inaccessible
 

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James Thomas

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Scrub behind the fly tipping. Top habbo.
 

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James Thomas

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Behind me were three olive trees that had obviously been part of a grove. Behind them was a walled enclosure so the grove should have been in front of me.
 

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James Thomas

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Damage caused by rain run-off
 

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KenM

Well-known member
An interesting account Jim....a tragedy regarding "habitat attrition" and the resulting lack of cover!, hopefully other parts of the country are in a healthier state. The location certainly doesn't appear to lend itself to eco-tourism by any standards, hope things improve for you.

Cheers
 

pratincol

Well-known member
Not brilliant. That will explain why there aren't many bird reports from Marrakech.
It's a few years since we've been but it doesn't represent the habitats round Essouaria, Taroudant, and Ouarzazate and our trips up the Atlas mountains.
There's plenty of decent hotels and riads in those towns with some easy birdwatching, on foot, by bike, taxi, car hire or public transport[ less hassle than Marrakech too!].
The only places I saw some examples of tree and scrub removal and soil erosion was on a section of the road from Essouria to Agadir, and and some north of Taroudant.
 
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