The region of Extremadura is about the same size as Switzerland and is made up of two large, sparsely-populated provinces – Cáceres and Badajoz. Passing through Extremadura you may well encounter areas containing splendid oak trees. They appear at first glance to be a natural landscape with majestic trees scattered over rolling hills, but in fact they are carefully cultivated and managed. This is the dehesa of Extremadura.
“Dehesa” is the name given to these expansive areas of farmland consisting of groves of low density, mature oak trees. The spaces between the trees are used to cultivate cereals and as pasture for grazing livestock.
Around 50% of the land of Extremadura, a region to the west of Spain bordering with Portugal, is taken up by these dehesas. This system of farming is unique to Iberia although similar in landscape to the savannahs of Africa.
The Tajo International natural park is a relatively recently registered park in Extremadura which was initially partly covered by an area of special protection for birds ZEPA in 2000.
The area is predominantly waterways with steep banks and therefore a haven for wildlife. Two birds in particular that need this tranquility are the Black vulture and Black stork, both of which are endangered species in Spain.
Mediterranean woodland covers the hills with rich vegetation along the water courses.
ZEPA (Zona Especial Protección para las Aves) (1979)
Points of interest
The Natural Park of Cornalvo and Sierra Bermeja is situated close to Mérida, the capital of Extremadura.
It consists mainly of oak dehesas, (open oak woodland rotated with pasture and cereal crops) on rolling hills with the small mountain ranges of the Sierra del Moro and Sierra Bermeja on the western flank. The highest point is “Pico Terrero” at 546 m above sea level.
The ground is littered with large granite boulders, a stone which was put to great use in the time that the Romans occupied this area.
At the south of the park is a small reservoir whose dam was constructed by the Romans in the 1st century with the intention of holding water for use in Emérita Augusta (now called Mérida)
This town was founded in 25BC by the Emperor Augustus to protect a pass and a bridge over the Guadiana river. The water was moved by means of an aqueduct some 15km in length. The dam, which still retains water, is 200m in length, 18m in height, built using granite blocks with concrete, it was declared a National Monument in 1912 and is well worth a visit.