For the last two years I have been observing the slow increase of the white mountain snail on my land. This is an endangered and protected species yet many a restaurant will pay a handsome price for them.
I have even eaten a few with rabbit stew, ignorant of their status.
However, that was then and now it is that I use no pesticides or herbicides on the finca in order to nurture and encourage these beautiful creatures. Apparently my new stonewalls are a perfect breeding ground, no one knows why, but perhaps it is because there are no predators or diseases in them.
Last year after an achingly hot 8 weeks, sometimes 40 in the shade, came weeks of intermittent rain, torrents of it, and afterwards I witnessed with great joy the masses of white snails sliding over the walls and gravel covered terraces, celebrating the wet by making love.
Sometimes 4 together in snail orgies.
It was Sunday. About 10 am. The sun was peeping through the dispersing clouds and steam mists rose atmospherically from the land. I heard the usual Sunday motorcyclists in the distance, zooming up to Vistabella and Penyagolosa beyond.
I heard voices, quite clearly. Oh, that must be my English neighbour across the vale, I told myself, contentedly sipping a cortado in bed while editing photos. 10 minutes passed. I heard voices again. Wait a minute! These voices were not from across the vale, but, could it be, behind the house?
I got up and looked out my window. I saw nothing. I heard the voices again and rushed to the back bedroom. Two men were walking on my upper terrace; one with an open umbrella, talking in loud voices as if it is perfectly natural to trespass on someone’s walled and gated land if and as they please.
Now I am not a calm even-tempered person and I am guilty of not thinking many of my actions through. So it was that in a fit of rage I opened the window and screamed at them to get off my land. The men looked up at me and one said calmly that he was going over there pointing to my casita as if it was some hostel for their trip. That is my land too, I screamed. “Va, va de mi finca! Va!”. They slowly ambled towards the casita, bulging plastic bags in their hands and turned left onto “tree walk”. Were they going to picnic on my land? “Va, va por la otra dirección, por el camino!” I shrieked repeatedly, my voice piercing the mountains, probably in dreadful Spanish to boot.
The men looked at me hostilely and conferred, perhaps considering what this mad woman might do, then changed direction, slowly, slowly, meandering nonchalantly down the drive.
I called my friend Miguel. “Ven, ven”, I pleaded, there are men on my land.
They will be looking for white snails, he said, I am coming.
Of course – the plastic bags! That is how it is here, there is little to know, but only a local can know it. I would have felt stupid if I had time to do so. Of course, what else would they be looking for in this weather?
Ever the idiot, I ran down the stairs, out of the house, the door open and down the drive, picking up an iron bar along the way. MY SNAILS! My precious, lovely, endangered snails! I caught up with the two men halfway down the drive, each clutching their booty and they were clearly looking out for more.
“Da me mi caracoles!” I demanded, waving the iron rod. The man with the umbrella came at me pointing its metal end at me like a dagger. “Don’t threaten us”, he growled.
“I am not threatening you,” I retorted in a rare moment of clarity” I have this to protect myself from you. Give me my snails! They are a protected species and you are on my land!”.
This is where the story become absurd. The man with the umbrella said I was lying and I should return to the house to fetch my deeds. I was lying? I told him he could go to the town hall and examine my deeds, but he had to return the snails for they were stolen property. I would call the police. Do, he said, we can go where we like and take whatever snails we like.”
It is my finca.
It is not.
At that moment I heard the voice of another man up at the house and I had left the door open! Shit. My camera. My computer. The two men called something indecipherable to him.
I ran back up the drive and luckily he was descending down through the mattoral, and had not seen the open door. I entered the house and called the police. The police never came, but Miguel did. He had seen the departing car and rushing upstairs I took a slew of photos but sadly it was too far away to identify the license plate.
The snail walls were bare. We searched and searched and eventually found one cowering in a crevice, the exact same shade as the stone. I was truly bereft. My little babies. Two years of nurturing.
The next day I went to the guardia civil (local police) in the village. To my surprise they found this a very serious crime. I felt as if I had been personally violated, but I really did not expect anyone else to understand, but they did.
Then the chief told me off. “Next time you take photos, we need the license plate number. Then you call us. The number is 062.”
I had called 112. Not much use.
“We will come immediately to catch them”, he stated,” and you do not approach them again. It is dangerous.”
It turned out that not far away 3 Romanians had been caught at the same game and had been given a prison sentence. The guardia civil told me that it was illegal to not only collect the white snail, but also any other species in the mountains. “Not even you on your land can take one”, he informed me”, they are not yours, they belong to the mountains”.
So they were not my snails after all, but at least I did try to help them propagate. I eat Bambi, Thumper and dare I admit it, I grew up on horse. But snails are over for me, forever.
For a list of protected snail species in Spain click here