Friday, October 27, 2023
Although sometimes forgotten, Spain was a pioneer in supporting the conservation of unique natural areas. This was thanks to an initiative imported in 1916 by Pedro Pidal from the United States. In 1872, Yellowstone was the first national park established on the planet. Pidal emulated this idea.
The first two national parks in Spain were the Montaña de Covadonga (now Picos de Europa) and Ordesa, in 1918, regulated by the National Parks Law of 1916, the three articles of which included the aesthetic and landscape concept of a national park.
Since then, the list has grown to include more and more unique spaces in Spain. At present, 16 parks comprise the Network of National Parks, which in 2022 covered 405,000 hectares (0.8% of Spain's territory). Eleven are in the Iberian Peninsula, four in the Canary Islands, and one in the Balearic Islands.
These natural areas have special protection because of their vast biological richness. They are also critical for conservation, since the "national park" category entails minimal alteration of the landscape and limited human presence. This makes it possible to preserve these sites' ecological, cultural, and aesthetic features.
Their uniqueness results in this special classification, protected by Law 30/2014 on National Parks. Measures such as the prohibition of sport and recreational fishing, sport and commercial hunting, logging for commercial purposes and the general prohibition of urban development (except in the already existing nuclei in Monfragüe and Picos de Europa) ensure the highest level of protection.
This specific legislation does not overlook the inhabitants of these environments and encourages the development of activities connected with their visit and enjoyment, which generate wealth in the area.
National Parks of Spain, a brand to conserve natural heritage
The "National Parks of Spain" brand aims to conserve the natural value of these unique areas, enable the public to enjoy them, and give the scientific community the opportunity to learn more about them.
National parks make it possible to conserve landscapes, ecosystems, and species that would otherwise not exist. In fact, many native and endemic species have survived thanks to these protected areas which have prevented them from declining or becoming extinct.
For example, Garajonay Park, one of the last remnants of the subtropical forests that populated the Mediterranean area millions of years ago, is essential for the conservation of the Bolle's pigeon and laurel pigeons. El Teide is for the conservation of the blue chaffinch, the plain swift, and the goldcrest. The Cantabrian brown bear and the Eurasian wood grouse have their refuge in the Picos de Europa; while the Pyrenean newt, the bearded vulture, and the white-winged snowfinch live in Ordesa and Monte Perdido, which is also a Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cabrera is home to several subspecies of Balearic lizards endemic to the archipelago and is an essential point on the migratory routes of some 150 birds. Endemic flora and fauna also live in Caldera de Taburiente.
Timanfaya is home to reptiles such as the East Canary gecko and the Atlantic lizard and interesting birdlife. Endangered species such as the Spanish imperial eagle and the Iberian lynx depend to a large extent on the protection provided by Doñana, which is also a collage of landscapes, ecosystems, marshes, dunes, and forests.
For its part, the richness of the Atlantic Islands marine-terrestrial park lies in the outstanding diversity of marine ecosystems. On its surface, the dune complex, cliffs, and beaches are of note. At the other end of the map, the Sierra Nevada is home to animals and insects unique to the area and more than 2,000 plant species, 66 of which are native to the area. Daimiel is a unique wetland, the last representation of the ecosystem called "fluvial flats," which guarantees life for birds and plants. While Monfragüe is a reference for ornithological tourism.
Sometimes, becoming protected areas saves these ecosystems from activities that would be detrimental to their biodiversity. Cabañeros was going to be a 16,000 hectare military firing range in 1987, but the public and environmental movement succeeded in turning it into a Natural Park a year later. It was declared a National Park in 1995, when conservation was extended to more than 40,000 hectares.
Today is not August 24, International National Parks Day, but it is a good day to celebrate these natural treasures, which aim to conserve landscapes, ecosystems, and species.
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