Yesterday I sent off the manuscript for The Long Spring to Bloomsbury, bang on schedule. A year ago today I began the series of journeys that the book describes. I stood at 35° 54’N, on Monte del Renegado, looking south from the Spanish North African enclave of Ceuta, to the Rif mountains beyond Tétouan thirty miles away. I tried to imagine the whole continent of Africa before me, and two billion birds beginning their journeys to the lands to the north. The first sign of spring was a gathering of migrant hawker dragonflies preparing to cross the Strait of Gibraltar into Europe when the time was right, when wind direction and warmth allowed.
The next day I crossed the Mediterranean myself. From the ship I noticed a line of dark brown birds flying in parallel to us, effortless in their stiff-winged air-skiing, inches above the waves. Thirteen of the critically endangered Balearic shearwater. It is a species with a tiny breeding range and a small population, numbering around three thousand pairs and undergoing an extremely rapid decline. At their breeding colonies on islets off the main Balearic Islands, they are eaten by introduced mammals. At sea, they are killed as, to use a rather lame euphemism, fisheries by-catch.
Laurence Rose is a conservationist, writer and composer. He has worked for the RSPB since 1983.