Justice at a snail’s pace

We can all sleep safely in our beds now. At least those of use who live in Spain can. Those boys in green, guardians of the brave who strike terror into the hearts of motorists, despite their silly little black hat that seems to be worn back to front, the Guardia Civil, have restored peace and tranquillity to the countryside of Castellon, by seizing 400 kilos of illegally picked snails and returning them to their natural environment.

The Guardia Civil have always had a reputation as being hard boys – you never looked them directly in the eye when they had you pinned against the car, and you never, ever, said no. As Franco’s private heavy boys during the dictatorship, they were feared for their brutality and uncompromising belief that what they said was law, and you’d really do best not to argue. Old memories die hard, and there’s still a shiver goes down the spine as they approach you in their knee-high leather boots and dark shades. But the fact is that the Guardia Civil has less powers than either the Policia Local or the Policia National. They are, more than anything else, traffic police, and also have a Department for the Protection of Nature (Seprona).

It was two stalwarts of Seprona who happened to be patrolling in the back-of-beyond, that saw a group of five people picking snails. The furtive actions of the pickers as they tried to hide the bags the snails were in caught the eye of the boys in green. The rogues, a group of Bulgarians, were accused of ‘violating the Law 42/2007 of December 13, Natural Heritage and Biodiversity which prohibits, inter alia, retention and live capture of wild species’. Not exactly up there with elephant tusk poaching, but what else can you do on a quiet Wednesday afternoon? The Guardia Civil explained that the ‘animals’ were destined for sale in shops and hotels in the province of Lleida, with consequent risks to public health, and without any sanitary control. The wee gastropods were returned to the wild.

As light-hearted as this might seem, last year there were more than 50 complaints by farmers about damage caused by collectors to stone walls that are torn down to get at the snails inside and to streams, plantations and drip irrigation systems.

By one of those curious little quirks of fate, I’d been driving near Vila-Real, the town where the pickers were arrested, a couple of weeks ago, and saw people sitting on the barren ground in the middle of high weeds under the burning sun. It took me a while to realise what they were doing, and I couldn’t help but think that it was one hell of an uncomfortable way to make few bob on the side.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered

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