Experiencing a Healthy Ecosystem in the Spanish Altiplano

roggebotstaete pizza
Great events matter a lot
October 25, 2017
Camp Altiplano Volunteer Experience
December 14, 2017

Experiencing a Healthy Ecosystem in the Spanish Altiplano

I have been in the remote area of the Murcian Altiplano for two months. It has been a life changing experience, living in an area so degraded. Every day the sheep walk past our bedroom window, followed closely by a huge cloud of dust that used to be fertile soil. You notice the dryness everywhere. My skin, hair, throat, everything feels parched, desperate for moisture. And the reasons for this dryness are everywhere too. Huge ploughs litter the farm, and it is a regular sight to see tractors, pulling these ploughs in the fields, also surrounded by huge clouds of dust.

 All the life in the soil died long ago. Going for a walk around these parts is a surreal experience. It is often deafeningly quiet, it almost doesn’t seem real.

However, there are still small patches of land that have not been ploughed or over grazed. They are mini oases, where rivers flow, birds sing, butterflies flutter by, and wild boar roam. These patches give me a sense of what the damaged land could become, and motivate me to get up in the morning and continue with this mission.


Last weekend, we decided to venture into one of the largest patches of in-tact land in the area, a small mountain which the locals call ‘El Gato’ (the cat). We left the house just after dawn, and travelled as the sun rose to the foot of the mountain.

To get there, we had to walk across ploughed fields, with soil as pale and fine as sand. However, once we got to the foot of the mountain, Spanish Oak trees, surrounding by wild juniper, rosemary, thyme and a host of other plants were happily growing, giving homes to birds, insects, wild boar, squirrels, partridges, and more.

 The differences in the soil in the natural areas in comparison to the ploughed, farmed fields was stark. The farmed soil was very pale, a sign that there is barely any carbon or organic matter left in it. The soil from the natural area was much darker, a sign that it is healthier. This inspired me to want to multiply the amount of space with healthy soil exponentially, something that the camps have set out to achieve. We saw a wide variety of plants that we could use to create products to sell and raise money for the camps. Wild sage infused soaps, rosemary shampoos, juniper tonics, acorn oils. All this abundance could provide endless opportunities for the camps to create regenerative businesses.

As we climbed, I realised how much more relaxed and content I felt. Existing in a land where you cannot sit comfortably on the ground in fear of the dusk and the spiky plants that have adapted to such harsh conditions has a subtle effect on ones’ mood and psyche. We climbed to the top of the mountain with joy and ease, despite its steepness.

At the top, we could see the other side of the mountain, which had been heavily grazed by sheep. It was almost completely bare, in comparison to the rich diversity of plants growing on the side that we had just climbed.

Coming back down, my mind and my heart was full. I felt inspired to see that even in this dry, arid place, healthy abundant ecosystems can still thrive. I felt saddened to see the dusty pale dirt that had been ploughed into oblivion as far as the eye could see, and I feel determined to be part of the solution to regenerate as much of it as possible, so that every day can be one of joy, calm and contentment, for both humans, and all the other creatures looking for a place to call their home.



  • Justin R-Söndergaard says:

    Hi Ashleigh. Thank you for this insightful and explanatory article of your own experiences. Inspiration is a driving force for those, I believe, who understand the power of Nature and Nature´s natural systems. Here in Portugal, we suffer from much the same consequences associated with poor land management and inappropriate (poorly-suited) land uses. The last few months have been devastating for many, mostly small-scale landowners, as wildfires (linked to poor land management and poor land use) destroy their very livelihoods, and in many instances taking lives as well. For me, land degradation is a social problem. However, it needs a broad and systems based approach to finding solutions. I wonder though whether our social (including economic) and political systems have the will to deal with land degradation as a `wicked problem´. My thoughts, Justin.

  • Martin Gisser says:

    Thanks for sharing your impressions! I can very much feel with you. Looking forward to join, I’ve walked and flown over the area virtually with google. From above you can see rock bottom. It is amazing how they still can farm this land.

  • Wim Guyt says:

    I lived in Fuente Alamo, Murcia for some time and traveled this area.
    The land resembles a desert and mostly barren mountains.
    I guess this is why the Clint Eastwood early movies were filmed in Tabernas desert.


    It is heartening to know that the earth can be healed even when it is as damaged as this

Leave a Reply to Justin R-Söndergaard Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.