History of Los Tilos forest
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Following the conquest and the island’s incorporation into the crown of Castile, Gran Canaria was settled by colonists from different parts of Europe. They built houses and ploughed up the land for agricultural purposes. From the 16th-20th centuries, the spectacular Doramas wilderness forest gradually dwindled to the rhythm of the chopping that took advantage of its wood and soil. At present, just a few isolated remnants of this forest are still standing, and chief among these is Los Tilos, which represents scarcely one per cent of that once famous woodland area.
Los Tilos lies in a very narrow section of the Moya Ravine, at approximately 600 metres above sea level (just under 2,000 ft). It was one of the enclaves of the Doramas forest that escaped the felling during the first centuries following the conquest. In the early part of the 20th century, progressive privatisation of these communal woods left Los Tilos intact as a surviving stronghold of Canary laurel forest.
Last twilight magic of the poet
Tomás Morales (the most representative poet of the Spanish Modernist school) both delights in and fears for the beauty of that same Doramas wilderness forest which he once knew in the Los Tilos redoubt, and the threat that had hung over it for hundreds of years:
Oh peace! Oh last twilight magic of the day!
Fragrance perfuming the air; dusk gathering,
and solar fire in lavish weaves
did burn in leafy glades, its plume aflame.
Singular scents came wafting through the woods;
Leaves stirred their age-old rhythms,
and way beneath, dreaming in its divine protection,
the musical freshness of the limpid brook
was transformed into a torrent by a rock’s swift leap.
Suddenly, amidst the silence, a fearful blow
pierces the abode of the forest in repose;
A cowardly sound, persistent and savage on the wind,
that fills the woods with terrors profound.
It is the axe! It is the blow of its violent office
which, heartbreaking and bloody, brusquely arrives
from the heart of the forest, where a shady til
rears colossus-like in all its sovereign magnitude…
(From his poem “Tarde en la selva” –Evening in the forest–, included in Las Rosas de Hércules)
The outbreak of the First World War sounded the death-knell for what remained in the surrounding areas, and there was even logging in the interior of Los Tilos. Wood was in demand for the charcoal that was sorely needed by ships in the port of La Luz, affected by isolation and the cut in supplies from the exterior. Parties of woodcutters feverishly felled trees, without sparing the roots and stumps.
The tree-covered core of Los Tilos, where water trickled, dripped and ran almost non-stop, became a small woodland gem. Over the course of the next decades, islanders flocked to visit the spot. As the local people recall, “Sundays were a fiesta”. Beneath the larger-sized tils, with their impressive 20-metre-high crowns (65 ft.), a clearing began to grow ever wider in response to the weekend festivities: indeed, it eventually became known as The Cathedral. Its cool shade formed the setting for excursions and parties. The revellers ate, sang and danced. This was particularly so on St. Anthony’s Day, a major festivity in the nearby village of Moya, celebrated there with a sancocho (soup/stew of fish or chicken, plantain and cassava) for all the townsfolk, made that much more enjoyable by the village band.
In and around the springs there arrived what somebody in the area described as “the fashion of the wells”. Water was needed to ensure that there would be regular farm irrigation without having to rely on the unpredictable seasonal rains, and so a dirt road forged a trail through Los Tilos. Along it there came well-drilling machinery, hauled by yoked teams of draught animals. At the same time, camping became a regular feature in the 1940s and 50s.
In 1971, Los Tilos was converted into public property after its purchase by the Island Council. Access roads and parking lots for cars and coaches improved; and inevitably there was the Sunday tripper who would park alongside a handy irrigation canal or ravine bed in which water was flowing, and proceed to make good use of the occasion to shampoo and wash his car until it gleamed. The mass influx of visitors continued to lead to the deterioration of this natural area until biologists raised the alarm.
As a protective measure, the Island Council officially closed Los Tilos in 1981. By way of an alternative, it acquired and opened the Santa Cristina estate for public use and recreation. For a minimum of 20 years, public entry was to be prohibited. A reafforestation plan, designed to restore the wooded remnants of this relict of Canary laurel forest and related fauna, was implemented, initially in collaboration with the National Nature Conservation Institute (Instituto Nacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza – ICONA) and subsequently with the Canary Regional Directorate-General for the Environment (Dirección General de Medio Ambiente del Gobierno de Canarias). After the space of only a few years, promising regeneration was to be seen in the once trampled clearings, which again started to be covered in leaf litter and mould.
Despite the bar on visitors and reafforestation work, the woodland ecosystem of this nature reserve was affected by lack of water. The drop in rainfall over the course of the preceding decades and the overexploitation of aquifers prevented the roots of the old til trees from reaching the water table. However, provided the conservation effort continues, the ecosystem itself is in no danger. The new repopulations are gradually replacing the old examples of Ocotea foetens, which will eventually die out, because their life cycle is linked to the fact that the last major logging episode took place in 1914-1918, and as a consequence their stumps date from this time and are superficial.