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.

Rio Eo, Oscos y Terras de Burón biosphere reserve

  • Region: Asturias and Galicia (Lugo)
  • Declared a biosphere reserve: 2003
  • Surface area: Almost 160,000 hectares
  • Towns and villages: Ribadeo, Castropol, Trabada, Vegadeo, A Pontenova, San Tirso de Abres, Ribeira de Piquín, Taramundi, A Fonsagrada, Villanueva de Oscos, Baleira, San Martín de Oscos, Negueira de Muñíz, Santa Eulalia de Oscos.

Points of interest

The Río Eo, Oscos y Terras de Burón Biosphere Reserve is basically a land of fusion, a union of Asturian and Galician cultures and a water frontier where diverse forms of life coexist from the sea to the mountains. A landscape that allows you to descend from the silence of the mountains and valleys of the highlands to the light of the sea in just half an hour.

The area includes the entire basin of the Eo river from its source in Fonteo to its mouth in the nature reserve of the Ría de Ribadeo estuary and also the special protection areas for birds (ZEPA) Peñarronda-Barayo, the Ría de Ribadeo Ramsar Wetland and the Penarronda beach natural monument.

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Within the territory included in the reserve, four large landscape units can be recognized: the Western Cantabrian coast, the river channels, the estuary and the mountainous terrain. All of these areas are ideal for wildlife watching and the river estuary also an important are for migrant birdlife.

  • The Western Cantabrian Coast is a territory dominated by marine and coastal ecosystems that includes the coastal plain. This is one of the best preserved estuaries in Asturias, the Ría del Eo. Its main interest, in addition to its avifauna, lies in its marsh vegetation, adapted to life in the harsh conditions of the estuary, with periodic floods and a habitat with a very high salt content.
  • Inland, the river channels appear, where the Eo River constitutes the main river system of the Biosphere Reserve. They are valleys with fertile lands used since ancient times for agricultural, livestock and forestry use, as well as for the settlement of towns and villages.
  • The river Eo forms an estuary of great natural value. At its mouth, where the marsh systems and sandy plains are temporarily covered by the action of the tides this area can only be described as stunning.
  • The ranges and mountains leading up to the source of the river Eo progressively acquire a higher altitude as they move away from the coast and approach the Cantabrian mountains. They are covered by forests of oak, chestnut, birch and pine, heathlands and also numerous peat bogs.

The extensive forested area in the mountainous area of ​​the reserve is also home to a large range of species. Among the mammals, the wolf or the sporadic presence of the brown bear stands out. It also houses an important variety of forest birds, with species such as the black woodpecker.

Routes of the Camino de Santiago

There are two routes of the Camino de Santiago that pass through the Rio Eo, Oscos and Terras de Burón biosphere reserve: the Ruta de la Costa and the Camino Primitivo.

Information / visitor centres

Centro de Interpretación de la Ría del Eo – (Castropol).

The Interpretation Center of the Rio Eo, Oscos and Terras de Burón biosphere reserve is easy to find and located in the old factory of “Serrasa” in the town of Castropol. There are audiovisual exhibitions and information panels covering the fauna and flora of the area along with thematic exhibitions about human activity from past to present day.

Scattered across the area are many ethnographic museums, galleries and other sites of interest (Town location in brackets)
  • Conjunto Etnográfico de Os Teixóis y Museo de los Molinos de Mazonovo (Taramundi).
  • Museo Etnográfico de Esquíos (Taramundi).
  • Conjunto Etnográfico de Mazonovo (Santa Eulalia de Oscos).
  • Casa Natal del Marqués de Sargadelos (Santa Eulalia de Oscos).
  • Ecomuseo del Pan (Villanueva de Oscos).
  • Monasterio de Santa María de Villanueva (Villanueva de Oscos).

The official website for the Rio Eo, Oscos y Terras de Burón biosphere reserve is here: https://www.turismoasturias.es/en/descubre/naturaleza/reservas-de-la-biosfera/oscos-eo


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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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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!

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