Sunday, July 22, 2012

Protected Landscapes in Spain

by Robert Bovington

Spain has a rich scenic diversity. Vast areas of the country remain wild, rugged and sparsely populated and large parts of the country are protected. Within Europe, Spain leads the way in the conservation of its heritage. There are many categories of protection including national parks, natural parks and biosphere reserves. There are two biosphere reserves close to my heart and close to where I live - the Cabo de Gata and the Sierra Nevada. The Cabo de Gata was designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1997, the Sierra Nevada in 1986. Both meet UNESCO's criteria in that they are ecologically diverse and demonstrate a balanced relationship between humans and the environment.

The World Network of Biosphere Reserves is the collection of all 531 biosphere reserves in 105 countries (2009). Spain has thirty-three which is a proportionately higher number compared with other European countries.

These include the spectacular Ordesa National Park in the Pyrenees, the lowland wilderness of the Doñana National Park in western Andalucía and the snow-capped heights of the Picos de Europa in Cantabria.

The Sierra Nevada also has National Park status but, then, it has quite a lot going for it - it contains the Iberian Peninsula's highest mountains, which are the spectacular backdrop to the magnificent city of Granada.

Sierra Nevada - view from Puerto de Ragua
photo: Robert Bovington

Spain was one of the first countries in Europe to establish national parks when, in 1918, the Montaña de Covadonga National Park was established. Today, this beautiful area is known as the Picos de Europa, situated in the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain. Incidentally, the Picos de Europa has also achieved UNESCO Biosphere status. Currently, there are 15 national parks in Spain.

There are also many hundreds of natural areas that have been afforded protection. National parks are afforded the highest level of protection followed by natural parks. There are also natural monuments, special protection areas, nature reserves, protected landscapes, biotopes, nature enclaves, wildlife reserves, marine reserves, rural parks, natural landscapes of national interest and sites of scientific interest and, of course, biosphere reserves.

Natural parks are pretty special but there are too many to list here. Every autonomous community has a number of protected areas with Catalonia, Andalucía and the Canaries being the most prolific with several hundreds between them.

In Andalucía there are around 150 protected areas including 23 natural parks. Three of my favourites are the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park, the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park and the Sierra de las Nieves. All three are biosphere reserves.

Sierra de Grazalema
photo: Robert Bovington

Sierra de las Nieves
photo: Robert Bovington

Extract from my Pinterest "Spain - natural spaces" pinboard

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