Category Archives: Biospheres (MAB) in Spain

Spain has several biosphere reserves designated by the UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme (MAB). These are areas that aim to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with the sustainable use of natural resources and the involvement of local communities.

One example is the Doñana Biosphere Reserve. Located in southwestern Spain, which encompasses a mosaic of ecosystems, including marshlands, dunes, beaches, and forests. It is an important breeding site for many bird species, such as flamingos and herons, and serves as a crucial stopover for migratory birds. The reserve is also home to endangered species, such as the Iberian lynx and the Spanish imperial eagle.

Another example is the Sierra Nevada Biosphere Reserve, located in southern Spain, which includes a high-altitude mountain range and several ecosystems, from Mediterranean forests to alpine meadows. It is recognized for its biodiversity, with many endemic plant and animal species, and its cultural heritage, with the presence of traditional land use practices, such as transhumance.

Biospheres (MAB) in Spain are important areas for conservation, research, education, and sustainable development, contributing to the well-being of both nature and people.

Valle de Laciana biosphere reserve

  • Region: Castilla y Leon
  • Declared a biosphere reserve: 2003
  • Surface area: almost 23,000 hectares
  • Towns and villages: Villablino, Caboalles de Abajo, Villaseca, Caboalles de Arriba, Villager, Rioscuro, Sosas de Laciana, Robles de Laciana, Rabanal de Abajo, Rabanal de Arriba, Llamas, Orallo, Lumajo, El Villar de Santiago, Caboalles de Abajo, Villaseca de Laciana, Caboalles de Arriba, Rioscuro, Villager de Laciana.

Points of interest

The Valle de Laciana biosphere reserve is a very mountainous area, with altitudes ranging between 950 and 2188 m located in the northwest of the province of León, in the middle of the Cantabrian Mountains. It limits to the west and north with the Muniellos and Somiedo Biosphere Reserves (Asturias), to the east and south with those of Babia and Valle de Omaña y Luna (León) and to the southwest with Palacios del Sil (León). It is a geographically well-defined valley, traversed by the Sil River and small tributaries that divide the territory.

Although climatically it is within the Eurosiberian zone, it has a certain Mediterranean influence and the area contains mixed forests made up of oak (Quercus pirenaica and Quercus petraea), birch (Betula pendula), ash (Fraxinus angustifolia), elm (Ulmus glabra) and juniper. The iconic animal species are the endangered (almost extinct read more here) Western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), Iberian wolf (Canis lupus signatus) and the Cantabrian brown bear (Ursus arctos).

The evolution of the human population of the reserve has been highly dependent on its main economic activity during the last 90 years: coal mining. Until 1910, the Valley had less than 3,000 inhabitants, distributed among the 15 towns of the municipality and who lived from livestock and subsistence agriculture. Around the 20s of the last century, mining activities began on a larger scale with the construction of the railway that connects Villablino with Ponferrada, allowing the extraction of the mineral at a lower cost. Mining attracted a large working population, initially from nearby areas and later from other areas of the country and abroad. In recent times mining has ceased activities in the area due to pressure from various ecologist groups and the European member of parliament David Hammerstein.

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Cantabrian brown bear

The presence of the Cantabrian brown bear (Ursus arctos) in the area stands out. A species in danger of extinction and whose reproduction in the region has been frequently detected in recent decades, so the territory of the Laciana Valley biosphere reserve It is key in the conservation of the species at the national level.

More in depth information can be found at the dedicated information page for the Cantabrian brown bear here at Wildside Holidays: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/cantabrian-brown-bear-ursus-arctos-oso-pardo-cantabrico/

Leitariegos ski station

The Leitariegos Ski Resort is located 15 km from the town of Villablino, on the base of Cueto Arbás, the first peak that exceeds 2,000 meters of altitude in the Cantabrian mountains (from the West). The station’s maximum elevation is 1,830 meters, while the minimum elevation is 1,513 meters. The station has 10 slopes (5 red, 4 blue and 1 green) and 6 lifts (2 three-seater chairlifts, 1 two-seater chairlift, 1 ski lift and 1 telebaby), with a capacity of 5,160 passengers / hour.

Access to Leitariegos Station is from Caboalles de Abajo, continuing towards Cangas del Narcea. It can also be accessed from the Asturian side of the mountains. The website is only in Spanish: https://www.leitariegos.net/

Information / visitor centres

Centro de Interpretación del Espacio Natural Alto Sil (Centro del Urogallo)

This is the main information and interpretation centre for the Valle de Laciana biosphere reserve and is an obligatory visit if you want to find out about the fauna and flora of the area. It contains various audio visual displays and exhibitions detailing local wildlife with special emphasis on the Cantabrian brown bear and the Cantabrian grouse (Urogallo in Spanish). Information about the geology and history of the area is also available.

The Casa del Parque del Espacio Natural Ancares-Alto Sil is located in the town of Caboalles de Arriba near Villablino. The best way to get there is by taking the CL-626 at the Barrios de Luna reservoir, leaving the A-66, towards Villablino (about 7 km). It can also be accessed from Ponferrada on the the CL-631 and from León by the CL-626 to La Magdalena then the LE-493 towards Villablino.

Museo Etnográfico “Sierra Pambley”

Located on Avenida la Brañina, 13 in the town of Villablino, this ethnografic museum showcases a traditional wealthy (almost aristocratic) household of the area. An interesting look back in time as to how the richer families lived back in the days of the coal mines. The website (in Spanish) is here: https://www.sierrapambley.org/museo

The official website (in Spanish) for the Valle de Laciana biosphere reserve is: http://lacianareservadelabiosfera.com/


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Sierra del Rincón Biosphere Reserve

  • Region: Madrid
  • Declared a Biosphere Reserve: 2005
  • Protected area: 15,230.8 ha Includes the Hayedo de Montejo beech forest.
  • Towns and villages: Horcajuelo de la Sierra, Montejo de la Sierra, Prádena del Rincón, La Hiruela, Puebla de la Sierra.

Points of interest

Located less than a hundred kilometers from Madrid, the Sierra del Rincón Biosphere Reserve is a mountainous territory between the Ayllón and Somosierra massifs. It is known as one of the most beautiful and least discovered places in the Community of Madrid.

Historically, the low fertility of the land and the harsh climate were key to the emergence of a landscape dominated by forestry and livestock in a generally underpopulated area of Spain. Improvements in road and rail networks and the discovery/protection of the beech forest known as Hayedo de Montejo has generated a fair amount of rural tourism in the area.

Over the years, a coexistence between human activities and nature in this mountain environment has conserved a wide cultural and natural diversity difficult to contemplate so close to the capital city of Spain and here we find a spectacular landscape in which Mediterranean and Atlantic habitats range from 900 metre to 2000 metre peaks.

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The Sierra del Rincón Mountains are home to exceptional flora and fauna. Besides having a broad range of different habitats (forests of pine, oak, holm oak and beech, pastureland, rocky landscapes, etc.), this is also home to unique flora, with 833 species, 66 of which are rare, endemic or endangered. There is also a large variety of fauna: of the 194 species of vertebrates to be found, 140 are rare, endemic or endangered. Autochthonous breeds of livestock and traditional crops cultivated to this day also help to conserve the local environment.

Walking in the Sierra del Rincón Biosphere Reserve

There is a network of trails made up of around 20 routes marked with the name “Green Paths of Madrid” (Sendas Verdes de Madrid), in addition the area is crossed by the GR88 and the GR303 footpaths that are entirely within the limits of the reserve and pass through the 5 villages.

Information Centres

Each village in the area has information points, something of ethnographic interest and they are well worth visiting but the main information point to visit is the Centro de información de la reserva de la biosphera Sierra del Rincón where they also coordinate the entrance permits for the Hayedo beech forest.

A visit to the beech forest is free and is guided. Dogs are not allowed (unless they are registered for the blind or partially sighted).

There is a permanent exhibition covering an introduction to the Sierra del Rincón (its nature, landscapes, culture, customs and gastronomy). There are two large rooms with information, exhibition panels, videos and also a scale model of the area

Address: C/Real, 64. Montejo de la Sierra
Hours: Open every day 9.30 a 15.00
Tel: 91 869 70 58
Email: info.reservabiosfera@sierradelrincon.org

Reserving a visit to the Hayedo de Montejo beech forest

The best way to do this is ask your hotel or other accomodation as many have direct access to the reservation system. Alternatively you can reserve online at the official website or at the aforementioned information centre.

Reservationes here: http://www.sierradelrincon.org/reservas.html

The forest is closed to the general public on Mondays

Oficial website for the Sierra del Rincon Biosphere Reserve: https://www.sierradelrincon.org/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sierradelrincon/


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Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve

  • Region: País Vasco
  • Province: Bizkaia
  • Declared a Biosphere Reserve: 1984
  • Protected area: 21,775 hectares plus 269 hectares marine reserve
  • Towns and villages: Ajangiz, Arratzu, Arrieta, Bermeo, Busturia, Elantxobe, Ereño, Errigoiti, Foru, GautegizArteaga, Gernika-Lumo, Ibarrangelu, Kortezubi, Mendata, Morga, Mundaka, Munitibar, Murueta, Muxika, Nabarniz, Sukarrieta, Amorebieta-Etxano.

Points of interest

The Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve is located around the estuary of Urdaibai which is a natural area formed at the mouth of the river Oca. It is home to a wide range of different ecosystems and landscapes, the most important being the Cantabrian holm oak woods, the Atlantic countryside, the coastline and the marshes. The marshes are probably the most visited and constitute an important wetland in the Atlantic Basque Country, due to their size and their excellent state of conservation. They provide an essential resting ground for birds during the migratory and wintering periods.

The area contains various protected zones
  • One Special Bird Protection Zone (Zona de Especial Protección para las Aves (ZEPA)
  • One Conservation area (Zona de Espacial Conservación (ZEC)
  • Three RAMSAR Wetland Reserves (Zona Húmeda de Importancia Internacional (Convenio de Ramsar)

In the summer of 2021 the area became famous internationally via its osprey webcam project run by the Urdaibai Bird Center when it was noted that of the three eggs layed the first chick to hatch was an albino, totally white and with red eyes. (The first ever recorded.) After the other two chicks hatched it was clear that something was wrong and sadly the albino died a few days later. It seemed that the chick was blind or partially blind and could not compete with the two other siblings for food.

Later the two remaining chicks also died after a storm caused hipothermia with the parent not having enough experience to keep them warm enough overnight. (see the topic over at the Iberia Nature Forum – https://iberianatureforum.com/forums/topic/albino-osprey-in-urdaibai-biosphere-reserve/)

This is a popular area for birdwatching (Up to 250 bird species can be seen here throughout the year) as the estuary and surrounding wetlands are a very valuable habitat for birdlife being a resting area for migratory birds, as well as for nesting, sedentary, wintering or accidental birdlife (A visit to the Urdaibai Bird Center is obligatory – See below)

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Promotional video for the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve


Information and tourist offices

The Urdaibai Bird Center

If you are in the area then the best (obligatory) place to visit is the Urdaibai Bird Center which is a state of the art museum and observation point from which visitors can enjoy the world of birds and their migratory journeys. Once a fish canning factory, the center is located in the heart of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve and houses an audio-guided exhibition and an observation platform equipped with telescopes.

Located in the municipality of Gautegiz Arteaga, the Center is about 4.5 km away from Gernika-Lumo, and stands on the right bank of the river Oka, on the edge of the marshes. If you are driving from Gernika, take the road heading towards Lekeitio until you reach the Kortezubi roundabout. After about 700 m, turn left when you see the signpost directing you to the centre car park..

Find out a lot more on the website for the Urdaibai Bird Center here: http://www.birdcenter.org

The official website for the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve is here: https://turismo.euskadi.eus/es/top10/espacios-naturales/reserva-de-la-biosfera-de-urdaibai/aa30-12376/es/


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Struggling with identifying those bugs and beasties? Why not check out the Iberia nature Forum!

Discover the Iberia Nature Forum – Environment, geography, nature, landscape, climate, culture, history, rural tourism and travel.