by Robert Bovington
My article on National Parks highlighted the fact that Spain has a great variety of landscapes and that it is good at protecting its natural spaces – so much so, that it was one of the first countries to establish national parks.
At present, Spain has 15 national parks but there are 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.
There are also biosphere reserves. UNESCO award biosphere reserve status to those areas with great biodiversity and which demonstrate a balanced relationship between the ecosystem and the people living and working there. Not all national parks have biosphere status yet some natural parks do. At the time of writing, there are thirty-three biosphere reserves in Spain, yet only five natural parks have that status – Picos, Ordesa, Sierra Nevada, Doñana and the Timanfaya National Park in Lanzarote.
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.
The Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park is located a few miles east of Almería. It is an area of unspoilt beaches with secluded coves and is Andalucía’s largest protected coastal area.
Monsul beach in the Cabo de Gata
The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park is a vast area of rugged limestone mountains. It is located in Cádiz province, a few miles west of Ronda. Grazalema is the rainiest place in Spain that, undoubtedly, accounts for the verdant vegetation there. The griffon vulture is one of the species of wildlife that lives in the park.
The Sierra de las Nieves is located between Marbella and Ronda. It is a spectacular landscape of limestone mountains where mountain goat, roe deer, wildcat and fox roam and where eagle, vulture and falcon soar. Flora includes pine, chestnut, holm oak, cork oak and the native Spanish fir (pinsapo).
Sierra de las Nieves