A Rocha is a Christian organisation dedicated to environmental conservation. It was originally founded here in Portugal in 1983 by Peter and Miranda Harris but has now grown into a ‘global family’ of organisations operating in more than 20 countries around the world.
They are all dedicated to studying, educating people about, and conserving, well... quoting Cecil Frances Alexander’s famous hymn seems appropriate here: ‘All things bright and beautiful’, ‘all creatures great and small’ and, of course, ‘all things wise and wonderful’.
No Room for Zoom (or plastic)
I first heard about them last year when I attended a Zoom call to raise awareness about plastic pollution and wrote a story doing my best to convince you to take part in what they call ‘Plastic Free February’. Now, I’ll admit that this was a little tricky. As amazing as technology is, it's hard to get a real sense of who and what people are without actually meeting them. So I was very pleased when I was recently invited to their ‘Visitors Morning’ that they hold every Thursday (weather permitting) at their Study and Environmental Interpretation Centre located around the Ria de Alvor.
Getting back on track
Just outside of Mexilhoeira Grande I turned off the 125, crossed the train track and made my way, rather cautiously, up a dirt road, past a group of Portuguese hikers who confirmed I was on the right track, and a short time later I arrived at ‘Cruzinha’.
I walked up the drive into the courtyard of this large country house. There was a nice group of French and Dutch people already gathered and the hikers I passed by on the road soon arrived behind me.
We were all greeted warmly by Marcial and Jasper. Marcial has been involved in A Rocha since the centre opened in 1987 and took over as CEO in 2000. Jasper is from Oregon and came here with his wife Taylor two years ago. This young couple have taken over the day to day running of the centre which gives Marcial more time to concentrate on the various environmental projects.
Of course, the world became a very strange place shortly after Jasper and Taylor arrived and that severely limited what they’ve been able to do. But they are now pleased to say that they are back on track and are starting to get back to normal again.
Keeping up with The Durrells
I could tell that Jasper and Taylor had their hands full as I spotted several rogue teenagers running about the place. A Rocha relies on volunteers and regularly receives students who come to stay at Cruzinha for a while and help contribute to the various projects as part of their studies.
After talking to a few, they all seem to be busy on their own little missions, including things like visiting various beaches to monitor the levels of microplastics in the ocean, to the ‘night owls’ that go out in the evenings to figure out whose hooting and why?
I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the TV series ‘The Durrells’ (or indeed, read the books it's based on), but the charming chaotic family atmosphere at the house very much reminded me of, what it would have been like at least, if Gerald Durrell (the author, and naturalist of the family) had been allowed to set the agenda.
Every birds ring tells a story
We were all invited to sit down and were taught about bird ringing by the resident experts Filipa and Guillaume.
Ringing means identifying individual birds by placing a small ring around one of their legs. It's like an identity card. All their details are uploaded onto a database and this allows them to keep track of them.
They explained a little about the birds they were ringing and how they tell things like how old they are and their sex. One of the things I was amused to discover, is that in some species it's easy to tell the boys from the girls as they have a completely different colour head and that in others it's almost impossible.
Meeting with cake’s always a good idea
We had a brief pause for coffee and (homemade) cake. Something I was told regularly serves as a great excuse for like minded people with similar interests to meet and chat.
Night time Butterflies
We then headed back to watch another presentation, this time on moths.
Called ‘traças’ or ‘borboletas nocturnas’ in Portuguese, I found out that moths really should be given a lot more credit. They get a bad rap as people think they eat your clothes but apparently it's less than 1 percent of moths that do this. Indeed, there are actually far more moth species than there are butterflies and they perform vital functions in the ecosystem.
A Rocha has made a collection of all the moth species found in the area (since when they catch one it's at the end of its life cycle and would die very soon anyway) and peering into this ‘treasure box’ I could see that they really are just as spectacular and beautiful as their daytime counterparts.
Learn more & get involved
A Rocha is involved in all kinds of projects. Being so close to the train station lots of schools regularly come on class trips to the centre and they even take people out on bird watching tours all across the Algarve. If you are interested in finding out more then please visit www.arocha.pt/en/.
If you don’t know where to start, then I highly recommend you attend this ‘Visitors Morning’ for yourself. Just make sure to book on the 'Get Involved' section of their website so that they know you're coming - and can make the right amount of coffee and cake.