Heavy showers are a typical feature of Spanish springtime. And as soon as the downpours stop, it is traditional for sharp-eyed villagers to rush out, saucepans in hand, to sweep up any snails emerging from under rocks or damp hollows of earth – as molluscs tend to do after rainfall – and use them for a cheap lunch.
But in one Catalan village, Castellnou de Seana – which tourist guides recommend on the grounds of a culinary speciality, cargols a la llauna (roast snails) – this centuries-old practice has recently become banned on pain of a €750 fine, thanks, indirectly, to Spain’s recent recession.
The problem is there has been a big increase in marauding gangs of snail thieves plundering the stock of the tasty molluscs.
The “snail raiders”, Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia reports, are mainly unemployed non-residents for whom, in these hard times, selling the creatures provides a much-needed source of income.
“It’s one thing looking for snails in fields like we’ve all done all our lives,” objects the village mayor Jordi Llanes, “another looking under rocks and damaging crops.”
The solution? “Prohibited activity” signs, featuring silhouettes of considerably larger-than-life snails sliding tantalisingly from left to right behind a forbidding diagonal red line, have sprung up in and around the village.
Since when, Mr Llanes happily reports, “far fewer people are wandering around our countryside”.
Presumably the snails aren’t complaining, either.