Chestnut gathering is a fun activity that brings together families and friends in the autumn season. Although this activity has its tradition in our country, few people know that this practice is illegal for legal purposes and can be a minor crime of theft as long as the amount extracted is not more than 400 euros. This has been established in the Penal Code since 2015. However, theft can become a serious crime if the amount of 400 euros extracted is exceeded or three or more thefts are carried out.
However, illegality is not an obstacle for chestnut fans. The European chestnut is a species found throughout the Iberian Peninsula. From León to Zamora or Catalonia to Gerona, as well as Ávila or Cáceres. Of all these, Galicia would be the community that produces the most chestnuts , with 10,000 tons in 2019.
El Tiemblo de la Sierra, in Ávila , has its own platform called ‘Salvemos El Castañar’ created by residents of the town who fight to ensure that the fruit of the chestnut tree is respected in the place and that tourists do not take it without permission. In El Real de San Vicente, in Toledo , where there are numerous private estates, the losses due to thefts are estimated at almost 10,000 euros , according to Castilla-La Mancha Media .
The problem has a visible national dimension in the different associations in defense of the chestnut such as the Red Estatal del Castaño. In Spain, it is estimated that the national production was about 25,000 tons per year in 2019. 50% of the production is exported to places such as Italy, France or Portugal.
Andalusia has its chestnut production epicenter in the Sierra de Aracena Park , north of Huelva , with 5,000 hectares for chestnut cultivation.
“For a live chestnut tree” is a campaign that fights to raise awareness against the theft of chestnuts in the Sierra de Aracena
In this geographical area with paradisiacal landscapes and fairytale landscapes, there is an extensive community of chestnut growers who for years have taken on the legacy of their relatives and have carried out the chestnut business. Against all odds, they fight so that chestnut theft, as well as diseases, or the weather, disappear once and for all in the territory .
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This is stated by Antonio F. Tristancho, coordinator of the Association of Entrepreneurs, Merchants and Self-Employed of Galaroza , one of the municipalities that surround that mountain range. This association, belonging to the Union of Autonomous of Andalusia, has carried out awareness campaigns to save this autumn fruit.
His campaign “For a live chestnut tree” tries to raise awareness and promote new activities. Tristancho affirms this for 20 minutes ” with our campaign we want to support the chestnut trees by providing them with information on the distribution of new seedlings by the natural park. These new and young seedlings improve the aging problem of the grove , which causes hardly any good harvests. ”
Climate change and disease
Manuel Valle, a chestnut tree grower for 40 years , declares for 20 minutes that one of the main problems of the low productivity of the chestnut tree is the weather ” the dry climate causes the harvest to be of poor quality. The chestnut dries up in the heat and people stop buying it or the harvest becomes too cheap. Now the harvest comes earlier and is in worse condition. ”
If years ago the chestnut harvest was one million kilos, now only 600,000 kilos are collected
If years ago the collection of chestnuts accounted for up to a million kilos in season, now 600,000 kilos are collected, a percentage drop of more than 30% from a decade ago.
Manuel Valle highlights that chestnut species were introduced by Castilian repopulation in the 13th century. Therefore, the park “has a very aged grove .” Some diseases in these trees such as canker or fungi also damage the harvest significantly. Therefore, Manuel sees it important to adapt to the times and introduce varieties from other places that are immune to these fungi, so that the chestnut tree does not die.
The continuous robberies
Antonio F. Tristancho recognizes that he is proud that there are tourists in his municipality who are interested in the chestnut. He assures that “from the association we do not see badly that a tourist passes by a road and picks some chestnut” . However, he believes there is a difference between picking chestnuts and “organized tourist trips that specifically go to the mountains to steal them.”
Tristancho affirms that on the national highway that passes through the park there are cars parked in the gutters that “enter the farms breaking the barbed wire and causing extensive damage .” That is why they believe that the campaign “For a live chestnut grove” can help tourists realize the damage they do to the rural population.
In Los Marines, a chestnut tree man confronted one of the thieves, resulting in the death of one of the individuals
Tristancho also highlights the problem of organized gangs that enter the farms with vans , fix the chestnut and take it away. Tristancho affirms that these events have caused public disorders and conflicts in which the castañeros catch the gangs in flagrante delicto committing the events. Manuel Valle recalls that in the municipality of Los Marines ” one of the chestnut growers confronted one of the thieves , which caused the death of one and the other to go to jail.” Manuel Valle affirms that it is as if “they entered your house and robbed you.”
Valle believes that the problem is found mainly in the foreign population, since “15 or 20 years ago it was not necessary to have barbed wire .” The neighbors, however, help each other, with WhatsApp groups to warn each other if they see any theft or strange attitude.
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Tristancho affirms that the Civil Guard helps to prevent these robberies. However, he believes that “they should go a little further.” Last Friday, Andrés López, colonel of the Civil Guard , and the government sub-delegate in Huelva, Manuela Parralo, met with the aim of ending the thefts. Andrés López affirmed that the patrols and the service to the towns would be intensified, as well as that they have seized more than 6,100 kilograms .
Antonio Tristancho will meet this Tuesday with Manuela Parralo to present his demands. In the first place, they ask for support from the institutions, that “the competent authorities meet more times and not only at the beginning of the campaign” and prefer to do so because of dialogue since “they could go on strike or cut off the roads”.
They believe that if the mayors of the surrounding municipalities were to unite, since there are between 7 or 8 mayors, they could make much more force and achieve changes.
The chestnut, cultural claim
If the chestnut tree were to become extinct, the environmental, social and cultural consequences would be catastrophic. In the first place, if up to 5,000 hectares disappear, the acid rain in the city of Huelva would cause catastrophic consequences, due to the increase in pollution levels.
Antonio emphasizes that the chestnut tree work is essential for the fight against depopulation, since “it keeps the population in the territory .” On a tourist level it is also a spectacular claim, as well as on a cultural level. The number of dishes in which chestnut is the star ingredient are infinite. The chestnut soup, the chestnut cake or the chestnut flour.
The citizens, responsible for taking care of the ecosystem, are the ones who will decide over time whether a natural enclave like the Sierra de Aracena will continue to fill the Spanish population with gastronomy, cultural wealth and rural tourism.