When the Winter in Britain is cold and long I often start thinking about travels overseas, and the past few weeks I have already started to think about returning to one of my favourite places on earth in the Spring. I’m certainly not the first naturalist to refer to the emerald Greek island of Corfu as paradise, in fact this is how the most vibrant island in Greece was described by a man who I have the great pleasure of helping to represent in Corfu in May: Gerald Durrell. For the third year in succession I am once again privileged to return to the island to lead aspects of the Gerald Durrell week specifically aimed at herpetology. Durrell was the most famous naturalist to spend time in Corfu, and this is the island where he explored as a child and first established his passion for the natural world. My greatest fascination when reading Durrell’s books that recount his years on Corfu is how the island must have looked in 1935. Considering the huge tourism boom on the island since the 1980s the island still has many untouched areas, but back in the 1930’s it was an island without roads and very few vehicles so much so that most people used to sail by boat to reach Corfu Town from other areas of the island.
My first visit to Corfu was in 2002, and since then I have returned nearly a dozen times, each time to delve further into my passion for the island’s native herpetofauna. Although my interest for field herpetology was sparked a few years earlier during my childhood explorations during family holidays to neighbouring Kefalonia, Corfu is the island to which I have returned year after year coinciding with visits to as many other parts of the country as I can to study the native amphibians and reptiles.
The Gerald Durrell week is a run by the Durrell School of Corfu and is a week that enables visitors to experience the island as Gerald Durrell did during his youth. This involves field trips to various untouched parts of the island, as well as cultural visits and lectures at the Durrell School in Corfu Town. The leaders of the week will consist of Lee Durrell MBE, Dr David Bellamy, Dr David Shimwell, David Ashcroft and myself. Last year I had a number of notable highlights during the week, and thanks to ideal weather conditions we were able to find a large variety of different species during our explorations. One of the favourites seemed to be when I caught a large Montpellier snake (Malpolon insignitus) to allow everyone a closer look after Dr Shimwell disturbed it basking on top of dry stone wall and had him leaping in the opposite direction!
Gerald Durrell week: May 2013:
The week is based in the north of the island, where participants will be able to experience aspects of the life Gerald led here, as described in his Corfu Trilogy. The magic of fire flies, the deafening chorus of the frogs; the nightly calling of the scops owls; the acres of olive groves and glittering turquoise waters and stunning views reaching out over the sea to the distant mountains of Albania.