El Aljibe Botanic Gardens in Alcalá de los Gazules

Part of a network of Botanic Gardens in Andalusia and aimed at preserving the local endemic flora, El Aljibe Botanic Gardens in Alcalá de los Gazules specialises in the plant-life within the Los Alcornocales Natural Park.

This is a small but very informative botanic garden covering about one hectare on the western edge of the Los Alcornocales oak forest easily accessed from the newly upgraded A381 dual carriageway. The gardens, which were begun in 2003 and inaugurated in July 2008, are well labelled with information not just about the plants but also the rock structures and terrain/habitat that support them.

These gardens are characterised by the sandstone terrain of their namesake, El Aljibe, which is the highest peak in the Los Alcornocales parkland. The vegetation is verdant due to the rainfall and fog created by its proximity to the Mediterranean sea and Atlantic ocean and by the mild winter temperatures.

Aljilbe botanic garden in Alcala de los Gazules
Informative maps in the Aljilbe botanic garden in Alcala de los Gazules

The layout of the gardens makes good use of a small area by curving the paths which are screened from each other by the trees. A water way dissects this to represent the steep v shaped ‘Canutos’ that these oak forests are famed for. The pathways of stone or wood are well laid and only gently sloped, allowing for an easy amble that demonstrates the different zones of the area.

Map boards explain the overall layout, with smaller signs giving more detailed information on particular vegetation types. (In Spanish)

Signs are very informative with scientific names allowing you to identify a plant then look it up later on Google :)
The yellow spot means that the plant is not endangered.

Most of the plants have signs which give scientific species name, inc sub-species, family, common Spanish name, its distribution and also if it is in endanger of extinction. The latter is shown in the form of a coloured spot, Red Yellow or Green.

The gardens collect plants or seeds from the local habitat concentrating on the emblematic and those most endangered to aid in their preservation.

The botanic gardens network aims to raise awareness in youngsters by holding educational fun days and also ‘introduction to botany’ days for adults.

El Aljibe’ contains around 185 trees and shrubs protected by law, some of which are included in the “Lista Roja de la Flora vascular de Andalucía”, Red list of endangered vascular plants of Andalusia. There are 300 different species of perennials and the range will continue to expand. Some of the plant species that are most noteworthy within this area are Cork Oak (Quercus suber), Pyrenean Oak (Quercus pyrenaica), Portuguese Oak (Quercus lusitanica), Canary Island Oak (Quercus canariensis), Alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus subsp baetica), Gorse species Stauracanthus boivinii, Whisk Fern (Psilotum nudum), a European Tree Fern Culcita macrocarpa and Diplazium caudatum.

Signs are very informative with scientific names allowing you to identify a plant then look it up later on Google :)
Signs are very informative with scientific names allowing you to identify a plant then look it up later on Google 🙂

The botanic gardens are fronted by the ‘Los Alcornocales visitors centre’ containing shop, restaurant and study rooms. Access is through the quadrangle behind the main building. (On my last visit the information centre, café etc were closed but I was still able to access the gardens)

Entrance Free is free

Getting to El Aljibe Botanic Gardens in Alcalá de los Gazules

Take the exit at kilometre 42 on the A-381 dual-carriageway (Jerez to Los Barrios) sign posted as Alcalá de los Gazules / Benalup-Casas Viejas.

El Aljibe Botanic Gardens inAlcalá de los Gazules is behind the natural Park information centre
El Aljibe Botanic Gardens inAlcalá de los Gazules is behind the natural Park information centre

Drive towards Benalup for 1km and the gardens are behind the “Centro de visitantes del Parque Natural de los Alcornocales” The visitors centre for the Los Alcornocales Natural Park.


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Western Three-toed Skink

  • Spanish: Eslizón tridáctilo
  • Scientific: Chalcides striatus
  • English: Western Three-toed Skink
  • French: Scinque à trois doigts
  • German: Westliche Erzschleiche
  • Italian: Luscengola striata
  • Portuguese: Cobra-de-pernas-tridáctila

Description

Notable in the Western Three-toed Skink is the elongated serpent like body, often reaching lengths around 30 cm in total (12 inches). An intact tail can be longer than the head-body in length. Colouration is yellowish to brown or more often grey, with a metallic sheen.

They have 9 or more narrow, dark longitudinal stripes. The limbs are very short and have only 3 digits. It is very agile and fast as it moves across the surface. Females normally exceed males in length.

chalcides striatus – eslizón tridáctilo – western three-toed skink
chalcides striatus – eslizón tridáctilo – western three-toed skink – Tiny legs with just three toes

On the hottest days they restrict their movement to early in the morning or late evening remaining hidden during the main heat of the day and so regulating their body temperature. They prefer damp meadows and cool hillsides including seasonally flooded areas, abandoned fields, hedges and land with abundant herbaceous vegetation.

The Western Three-toed Skink feeds mainly on insects – crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars and spiders and worms etc.

Between March and June the breeding season begins. Between two and three months after mating, females give birth to 1 – 12 fully formed young. They are ovoviviparous (able to incubate the eggs inside the female)

  • Conservation Status: LC. Least Concern – The IUCN has listed the western three-toed skink as being of “Least Concern” because of its wide range and the fact that it is very common in some parts of its range. It is nevertheless threatened by changes in agricultural practices resulting in degradation of its habitat. In some areas it is persecuted because it is mistakenly thought to be venomous.
  • Distribution: Portugal, Spain, the Mediterranean coast of France, NW Italy.

Similar species: Bedriagai’s Skink (Chalcides bedriagai)


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Bedriaga’s skink

  • Spanish: Eslizón Ibérico
  • Scientific: Chalcides bedriagai
  • English: Bedriagas Skink
  • French: Scinque iberique
  • German: Iberische Walzenskink
  • Italian: Lo scinco di bedriaga
  • Portuguese: Cobra-de-pernas-pentadáctila

Description

Bedriaga’s skink, a small reptile with four visible limbs, although very short (almost atrophied) with 5 digits to each. To move quickly, it holds its limbs against its body and moves like a snake. It is covered with smooth, shiny scales of variable tones: from copper to greyish brown or olive green, dotted with small black spots with pale centres and faintly marked stripes. Adults can reach up to 14 cm (5½ inches) in total length.

chalcides bedriagai – eslizón Ibérico – bedriagas skink
chalcides bedriagai – eslizón Ibérico – bedriagas skink

Most active during the day and twilight. They hide under rocks, decaying wood in undergrowth and underground as they can excavate loose soil easily. They live in scrubland, woodland clearings and stony areas.

The Bedriaga’s skink feeds mainly on small invertebrates, isopods and arachnids.

The mating period occurs between the months of March and June. They are ovoviviparous (able to incubate the eggs inside the female). They only give birth once a year. About 78 days after fertilization, during July or August, the females have 1 – 6 live young.

  • Conservation Status: T Threatened
  • Distribution: An Endemic Species. Distributed throughout the Iberian Peninsula, except the extreme north. Prefers a Mediterranean climate.

Similar species: Western Three-toed Skink (Chalcides striatus)


The Grazalema Guide

The best way to see all our web projects in one place is over at the Grazalema Guide.

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Doñana National and Natural Parks

  • Region: Andalucia
  • Provinces: Sevilla, Huelva, Cadiz
  • Declared a Natural Park: 1969 reclassified in 1978
  • In1963 WWF and the Council of Scientific Research bought land (6,794ha) and set up a research station
  • In 1994 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site  
  • Natural Park surface area: 54,200
  • National Park surface area: 50,720 hectares – Total area: 77,260ha:
  • World Heritage and Special Bird Protection Areas: 50,720ha.
  • National Park and Ramsar site; buffer zone 26,540ha.

Towns and Villages

  • Huelva: Almonte, Hinojos, Bollullos Par del Condado, Rociana del Condado, Bonanes y Lucena del Puerto, Palos de la Frontera, Moguer, La Puebla del Río and the Isla Mayor
  • Sevilla: Aznalcázar, Pilas y Villamanrique de la Condesa.
  • Cádiz: Sanlúcar de Barrameda

Points of interest

The Doñana National and Natural Parks occupy the northern area of the Guadalquivir river where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. Six thousand years ago it would have been a wide estuary, but this has mostly been closed off by a long, natural sand bar. This in turn created a large saline lake which gradually collected silt leaving a huge wetland area with lagoons, marshlands and semi-permanent sand dunes.

Some lake areas are saline and others are supplied by freshwater streams. Pine and oak woodland plus scrub or maquis further enhance the diversity of one of the most important habitats in Europe. This accumulation of varied ecosystems is capable of sustaining an incredible assortment of wildlife.

Used as hunting grounds for royalty from the 14th century, it was made a reserve in 1963 and a national park in 1969, and it remains the largest protected area in Europe.

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Flora

A diverse collection of around 750 species of plants exist through the different habitats. There are four main types of vegetation: marshland/aquatic, salt-tolerant, open forest and heathland.

  • Marsh land types; Glasswort (Salicornia ramosissima), Seablite (Suaeda sp) and Perennial glasswort (Arthrocnemum perenne).
  • Brackish lagoon types; Reeds (Juncus maritimus) and Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora)
  • Dunes type; European beachgrass (Ammophila Arenaria), Portuguese crowberry (Corema album), Buckthorn (Rhamnus) and Juniper (Juniperus macrocarpa).
  • Inland dunes; Wild olive (Olea europea subsp oleaster) and Ash trees (Fraxinus angustifolia).
  • Forest; introduced stone pine (Pinus pinea) and Eucalyptus sp.
  • Heath lands; Tree heather (Erica scoparia), Heather (Erica ciliaris) Strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo) Thyme (Thymus tomentosa), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and Lavender (Lavandula stoechas).

Four national endemics occur, each a protected species, Linaria tursica and grasses, Micropyropsis tuberosa, Gaudinia hispanica and Vulpia fontquerana.

Fauna

Mammals include the highly endangered Iberian Lynx (the closest to extinction of all the big cat species) Wild boar, Red deer, Fallow deer, Egyptian mongoose and European badger.

Reptiles, which are found especially in the dunes, include Spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca), Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon), Lataste’s viper (Vipera latasti) and Spiny-footed lizard (Acanthodactylus erythrurus).

Common fish are carp (Cyprinus carpio) and Eel (Anguilla anguilla) plus a threatened species, the Iberian toothcarp (Aphanius iberus).

The Doñana National and Natural Parks are on the main migration routes between Europe and Africa making it a favorite with ornithologists with as many as 250 species found in the reserve each year.

This huge list includes resident Greater flamingos, Spoonbills and summer breeding Little bittern, Purple heron with wintering Black stork and Osprey to name only a few. The park is also home to one of the world’s largest colonies of the Spanish Imperial Eagle.

The best times for birdwatchers are considered to be

  • Spring; to see the influx of migrating birds arriving to breed, or rest before continuing their journey.
  • Autumn; to see the selection of migrating birds that collect to rest and feed before their crossing into Africa.
  • Winter; when the reserve is topped up by rain water and vast flocks of wildfowl – geese and ducks arrive in Doñana.
  • The summer months see the wetlands begin to dry and many of the spring visitors depart with temperatures hitting 40 degrees Celsius leaving only the summer residents. Amongst the numerous species are Griffon Vultures, Booted eagles, Red-necked nightjars, Bee-eaters and Hoopoe. Spanish Imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti), Marbled Teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris), White-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala) and Red-knobbed coot (Fulica cristata) are some of the rarities to look out for.

As well as the National Park of Doñana there is also a buffer zone (or pre-park area) around it, which is a designated Natural Park of Doñana (known in Spanish as Entorno de Doñana).

The National Park is under very tight protection, with public access restricted to its official visitor centres and some marked footpaths around them.

The Natural Park is less strictly protected with more open access but being a natural continuation of the National Park it is also of great importance for migratory and breeding birds, wildlife in general and tourism for the area

Research in the Park is of international scientific importance. Ornithological research has been carried out since the 1950s and studies have since been carried out on vertebrate zoology, botany, ecology, plant ecology, entomology, limnology, geography, ethnology, pesticides and diseases.

Also in the area of Doñana National and Natural Parks

Wood gathering, charcoal production, cattle-grazing, beekeeping and fish farming are traditional practices that occur within the park.

Market gardening forms a part of the agricultural land uses in the surrounding area. Rice farming covers over 38,000 hectares of former salt marsh areas with water from the Guadalquivir used for irrigation.

Intensive fruit farming (Strawberries) and illegal wells have caused issues over the years creating clashes between local farmers and ecologists

El Rocio is a small, sleepy lake side village of wide sandy streets whose focal point is the “Santuario de Nuestra Señora de el Rocio” Church. There is a religious festival at El Rocio each year coinciding with Whitsunday which brings approximately a million pilgrims from every part of Spain. There is an explosion of music, dance, traditional dress and flower adorned wagons, drawn by mule or oxen.

For the rest of the year the village remains virtually unihabited in comparison.

Information/Visitors Centers

Remember that the Doñana area is huge and has quite a few “official” interpretation centres. Most towns and villages also have their own municipal information centres. Your first resource for guides and leaflets for the area would also be your hotel reception.

La Rocina (Information Centre, walks and hides)

In the village of El Rocio, this visitor centre has a nice and accessible, easy hike with a few observation points overlooking the marshes. The path also takes you through some other ecosystems such as the scrubland.

El Acebuche (Information centre, café, walk-ways and hides)

Close to El Rocio on the road to Matalascañas this Center (OBLIGATORY VISIT IF YOU ARE IN THE AREA) offers an excellent information service to visitors. There is normally a live TV feed showing the current captive breeding area of the Iberian lynx. There is also an audiovisual room and well marked footpaths to hides and areas of marsh and scrubland.

El Acebuche is also the start point for guided visits to the National Park of Doñana in all-terrain vehicles, accompanied by guide-driver, on a route of around 70 kms. This guided route takes you through the different ecosystems of the National Park.

Palacio del Acebrón

(On the A-483 take the turning for La Rocina and El Acebrón. Once you have passed the La Rocina visitor centre continue for 6 kilomtres on the H-9021)

Once a private hunting estate the an ethnological museum inside in very interesting with lots of detail and is free to enter

José Antonio Valverde (water side café/hide and great information)

Road access not well marked and from Villamanrique de la Condesa, Puebla del Río and Isla Mayor it is about 25 km. Access is through unpaved tracks. Ask in your hotel or other visitor centre to double check opening times before you make the trip!

This Visitor Centre is located on a small hill known as Cerro del Palo, from which there is a great view of the Laguna de la Fuente de Piedra. (Not to be confused with Fuente de Piedra in the province of Malaga.) Inside there is a fantastic view from the large windows that looks out onto the lagoon. There is also an excellent exhibition of photographs of the lagoons and other wetlands of Andalusia.

Ask about guided tours for wildlife watching.

The center was named after Jose Antonio Valverde. A biologist and ecologist born in 1926 in Valladolid who was one of the pioneers of the conservation of wetlands in Andalusia. He died in Seville
In 2003.

Fábrica de hielo (Ice Factory).

At the southern point of the Guadalquivir estuary. (Av. Bajo de Guía, S/N, 11540 Sanlúcar de Barrameda)

This interpretation centre offers an overview of the area from the flora and fauna that make up the landscape to the richness of the marine ecosystem associated with the mouth of the Guadalquivir.

Dehesa Boyal near Villamanrique de la Condesa. Camino del Bujeo in front of the sports ground.

The excellent Dehesa Boyal visitors centre is in the village of Villamanrique de la Condesa. It offers visitors general information about the Natural Park of Doñana and the fauna and flora of the area and an exhibition detailing traditional uses and exploits of nearby populations such as coal production, pineapple harvesting, beekeeping, cork mining and cotton are also part of the sample.

This centre also arranges guided visits, hiking, horseriding and is a popular destination for schools for education courses. (See the website here.)


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Bahía de Cádiz

  • Region: Andalucia
  • Province: Cádiz
  • Declared a Natural Park: 1989
  • Park surface area: 10,522 hectares
  • Towns and Villages: San Fernando, Chiclana de la Frontera, Puerto Real, Puerto de Santa María and Cádiz

Points of interest

This 5km bay area (Bahía de Cádiz) is a wintering ground and summer breeding area to 200 different aquatic bird species.

This Atlantic tidal area consists of sandy beaches, river estuary, marshlands, salt pans, dunes and rocky inlets.

Extensive pine groves once covered a large part of this area.

The tidal marsh of Sancti Petri, which is situated in Chiclana de la Frontera, to the south of the Bay of Cádiz and which forms a part of this natural park, is an area of high scenic value, given that is one of the few marshes that has not been altered by its use as a salt mine. In addition, the condition of the island and the existence of a large stone pine forest (Pinar del Coto de la Isleta) at higher grounds clearly contributes to an image of what the natural landscape of the Bay of Cádiz must have been like many years ago.

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Flora

Flora in the Bahía de Cádiz is made up of plants that have adapted to living in sand with saline atmospheres and tidal flow. Cord grass, glasswort or maritime purslane, among others, have an important presence, whilst in the transition of the marshland into dry land there are grasses such as rostraria and barren brome.

On the intertidal plains, rich in nutrients, there are submerged meadows of gracilaria and algae, such as ulva linza and the sea lettuce. These seafloors, rich in food, half way between The Strait and the Doñana marshes, play an important role in the migratory movements of birds, enabling many birds to winter on the coast

In the area and endemic to Andalucia are Armeria gaditana, Taraxacum gaditanum and Hymenostemma pseudoanthemis, the latter two are recorded as vulnerable on the list of endangered plants.

Enclaves of Stone pine, (Pinus pinea) including a woodland of 6 hectares at Sancti Petri. Edible pine nuts are collected from this species. These forests are a sanctuary for birds such as blackbirds, robins, owls and kestrels, as well as for chameleons, amphibians and mammals like the European hedgehog and the dormouse.

Fauna

There are a great amount of aquatic birds like grebes, cormorants, gulls and gannets. White stork, herons and avocets nest here. Flamingo and osprey can also be observed. Invertebrates such as shrimps, crabs, clams, cockles along with the fish sole, sea bream, grey mullet and sea bass are abundant. It is an important breeding ground for many commercial species of fish and crustaceans.

Also in the area

Phoenician and Roman remains. Numerous galleons sunk off the coasts.

The site is surrounded by urban centres of around 400,000 inhabitants and the Cádiz port. This of course creates urban, tourism and leisure environmental pressures on the protected area.

Information/Visitors Centers

Parque Natural Bahía de Cádiz visitor centre. (Calle Buen Pastor, carretera de Campo Soto (opposite camposoto beach))

The Visitor Centre of the Bay of Cadiz Nature Reserve is in San Fernando (Cádiz). The recently built facilities, a model with regards to sustainability, are located at the Salina of La Leocadia, opposite the camposoto beach. The ideal place for a visit to this Nature Reserve, as its facilities offer you diverse information on the area and the activities possible there.


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La Breña y Marismas de Barbate

  • Region: Andalucia
  • Province: Cadiz
  • Declared a Natural Park: 1989
  • Park surface area: 5.077 hectares (3.925 land plus 1.152 marine.)
  • Declared a Zone of Special Protection for Birds: 2002
  • Towns and Villages: Barbate, Vejer de La Frontera

Points of interest

Halfway between The Bay of Cadiz and El Estrecho between Mediterranean and Atlantic waters is the La Breña y Marismas de Barbate Natural Park.

Although one of the smaller parks in Andalucia it has 28km of marked pathways and covers both land and marine areas. 100 metre cliffs drop vertically into the powerful Atlantic ocean. Above the cliffs is a dense woodland of Stone pines (Pinus pinea) which create a naturally rounded canopy of shade. As well as the pine woods and marine zone there are moving dunes and wetland where the Barbate river reaches the Shore.

Freshwater cascades fall from the cliffs and when the tide is out you can walk across the sand to see the caverns and waterfalls. (Be careful and always check tide times! )

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Flora

Rosemary, European dwarf fan palm, Buckthorn (Rhamnus lycioides) and Phoenician junipers can be found as well as Stone pine and some Aleppo pines. At the cliff edge plants have formed dense cushions to cope with the Atlantic wind and salt spray. Seablite (Suaeda sp) and perennial glasswort (Arthrocnemum perenne) are plants that have adapted to survive these harsh conditions.

Also found here are European beachgrass, Sea Daffodil and Maritime Juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus ssp. Macrocarpa), the latter is in danger of extinction.

Marine environment

Seagrass beds are important nursery areas for juvenile fish and the plants help to stabilize the sediment. The offshore Kelp forests harbor many species of flora and fauna that find shelter, food and surfaces for attachment on the kelp and the surrounding rocky sea bed.

Fauna

Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis), Little egret (Egretta garzetta), Audouin’s gull (Larus audouinii) Herring gull (Larus argentatus), Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus).

Many small birds live in the pine trees including Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Woodlark, Dartford Sardinian, Orphean Warblers, Hoopoe and Serin. Spoonbills, Night heron and Osprey may be seen at the marsh areas. Jackdaws and common starlings form colonies in the walls of the ancient watch tower and in cracks and ledges in the cliff.

This is one of the few remaining habitats for the Chameleon.

The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is making a home for itself here. It is a large colourful butterfly that is a well documented migratory species through America. (They have also been recorded in Los Alcornocales and Marbella areas.)

Marine life includes, Cockles and Fine Clams also fish such as Sole, Eels, Mullet, Bass and Gilthead Bream.

Also in the area of La Breña y Marismas de Barbate

The Phoenicians caught their fish, salted the catch and exported them from this coastline. There are two watch towers, Torre del Tajo which looks out over the highest cliff and the second is close to Caños de Meca. These were built in the 17th and 16th century respectively.

Information/Visitors Centers

In the town of Barbate. ( Avenida del Mar. Puerto de la Albufera, dársena deportiva, s/n)

At the Parque Natural De la Breña y Marismas del Barbate information center you will find an exhibition with a large selection of articles relating to the natural environment: maps, books, souvenirs, etc.

In addition to this, the information centre organises all kinds of activities involving ecotourism: hiking, horse riding, guided tours to the manufacturers of preserved fish, birdwatching routes, yoga sessions and lots of other activities of interest.


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