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HUNTING

How to stay safe during this year’s hunting season in rural Spain

The hunting season is underway in Spain so this is recommended reading for anyone who likes to take a walk in rural areas.

Although falling in popularity overall, hunting still forms part of traditional Spanish life. Photo: AFP
Although falling in popularity overall, hunting still forms part of traditional Spanish life. Photo: AFP

You may have heard of Spain’s most notorious hunter – emeritus King Juan Carlos I – whose now infamous 2012 elephant hunting trip to Botswana caused a scandal and tipped public opinion against him, but don’t let that persuade you that hunting is a pursuit of the elite only.

The reality is that la caza (hunting) is still a somewhat popular, relatively speaking, and an accepted activity in Spain.

Around 80 percent of Spanish land is home to hunting areas, with almost a million Spaniards hunting annually; they are European leaders – surpassed only by American hunters internationally.

While the popularity of hunting in Spain has decreased officially over the last three decades (down by over 60 percent in 25 years) it is estimated that the 800,000 remaining licence holders are at least matched by illegal poachers and non-licence holding hunters. 

The practice is hugely unpopular with animal rights groups and those who care about the plight of the thousands of hunting dogs that are mistreated, abandoned, or killed each season.


Photo: AFP

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Hunting activists also make economic justifications for the sport. Hunting, it is believed, provides 120,000 jobs across Spain if one includes the auxiliary sectors of taxidermy, customs companies, weapons and cartridges manufacturers, dog handlers, insurance companies, the leasing of reserves, management or maintenance of hunting reserves, and the hotel, restaurant and transport sectors. 

With the Spanish tourism sector decimated by COVID-19 travel restrictions (recording a staggering 97 percent drop in visitors this year, according to the National Statistics Institute) and needing cash injections, hunting could provide a source of domestic tourism sorely needed in Spain’s economic recovery. 

Similarly, the hunting lobby has long justified the sport as an essential element of population control, limiting numbers of species like deer, wild boar, mountain goats and rabbits. Without any hunting for months due to COVID, many hunters now argue that these populations need even greater control and the autumnal season is expected to be a busy one. 

Know the hunting calendar


Archive photo of a wild boar. Photo: Juan Carlos Calvo Barrios/Flickr

Spain has two different hunting seasons: one in the spring, and another in autumn. The spring season runs from April through to July, with the most popular months being April, May and the beginning of June.

During this period, Spaniards hunt Ibex and Wild Boar, Pyrenean and Cantabrian Chamois, Roe Deer, and even Mouflon Sheep in some areas. 

The autumn/winter hunting season lasts from September through to mid-February, when Red and Fallow Deer hunts are most popular big game.

Licences are also issued for a huge variety of birds from pheasants, grouse and partridge to thrush, starlings and certain species of water birds. 

The exact dates of the hunting seasons are set by authorities in each of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions. You can check the dates for your region HERE

How can you keep yourself safe during hunting season?

Taking a hike or bike ride accompanied by the rhythmic popping of gunfire from nearby hunters is something normal to many rural Spaniards.

As hunting lands cover so much of Spain, during peak season they can intrude on other outdoor activities such as hiking, horse riding, cycling, mushroom picking, beekeeping, ecotourism excursions, photography and environmental education courses, and present a risk to both the hunters themselves and other citizens.

In the last decade alone, over three hundred hunters have died while hunting. According to Federcaza and calculations published in the portal agentsforestales.net, the yearly average fluctuates between 44 and 54.5 deaths, and the number of people injured, hunters or not, per year is somewhere between 2,585 and 5,282. 

Hunting endangers not only the animals or hunters themselves, but also other users of Spain’s fields and mountains. One way to stay safe when planning an outdoor excursion is to contact the local ayuntamiento, or local hunting or hiking groups, to check for areas to avoid. 

Stay on marked pathways (and avoid venturing into unmarked areas)

Similarly, it is advisable to stay to official, marked paths where hunters expect to see hikers or cyclists.

Many hunts are signposted, and it is advised to avoid areas where hunting is going on altogether. Try everything you can to make yourself known to local hunters, and be aware that not all hunts are officially sanctioned or signposted.

Wear bright clothing 

If you are out walking the dog then make it easier for the hunters to spot you by wearing a high visibility vest and even hat. And get one for your mutt too.

This is what hunters wear themselves so they are used to looking out for it. Ramblers associations also recommend avoiding white and neutral colours because they can be easily confused with the natural colouring of the animals that are being hunted.

What to do if you hear a gun being fired?


Photo: AFP

If you realise there is a hunt going on around you and hear gunshots, try to make your presence known to the hunters as efficiently as possible (without shouting).

Ramblers associations say one of the ways you can do this is by moving to a clearing. Avoid hiding at all costs because your movements could look like an animal darting for cover. 

Some people say to avoid shouting in this situation as this may disturb the hunt and irritate the hunters however others say to sing, shout and do whatever you need to do to be noticed. 

Keep dogs on leads


Photo: Fiona Govan/The Local

You don’t want your pet to be mistaken for a target or to come across hunting dogs which may trained to be aggressive. If you find yourself in an area where people are hunting then immediately put your dog on the lead and head away from the shooting and to a safe area.

How has coronavirus crisis affecting hunting this year?

Like many other sports, hunting is reemerging post-COVID lockdown. The Spanish hunting season is back underway, although it is unclear if new COVID-19 conditions will allow Spaniards to equal their yearly average of 30 million dead animals.

Both the activities of hunting and fishing were reintroduced as part of Spain’s Phase 1 of lockdown deescalation over the summer, although groups were capped at 20 people and only if proper social distancing could be enforced. 

In a letter published by the Real Federación Española de Caza (RFEC), officials suggest that hunting is set to go ahead as normal, or as normally as possible in COVID conditions, this season:

“The hunting activities planned and authorised by the authorities for 2020 – 2021 in Spain include summer hunting, and the hunting season from September to October, as set out in the orders of the various regions. With the work already begun by hunting organisations, federations and administrations to make the next season in Spain successful, it only remains to follow the recommendations by the Ministry of Health so that all activities can be carried out safely.”

After so many months trapped in the house, denied access to Spain’s swathes of wonderful mountain ranges and hiking routes, many Spaniards – both hunters and hikers – will be keen to get back out in the wild and enjoy the Spanish countryside.

With hunters concerned about species overpopulation and plummeting tourism income, the autumnal hunting season is expected to be a busy one, so make sure to follow all precautions and enjoy Spain’s natural surroundings in the safest way possible. 

By Conor Faulkner

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

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Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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