Category Archives: Other protected areas

El Torcal protected area

  • Andalucia – Malaga province – Near Antequera

The dramatic and fascinating landscape of the El Torcal protected area is entrancing. Natural erosion has cut valleys and pathways through this enormous rock garden and created erratic sculptures in the process. Thin layers of rock stacked like pancakes are pinned down by massive blocks and this seemingly inhospitable terrain is host to many specialist rock loving plants.

This ‘Paraje Natural’ covers some 20 square kilometres of protected area and was first recognised for its singularity in 1929. The highest point in El Torcal is Camorro Alto at 1.378m above sea level.

Not too far away is the beautiful Cortijo Los Lobos – Rural mountain retreat in Villanueva del Trabuco with self catering holiday cottages, horseriding and stunning walking trails. Read more here: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/cortijo-los-lobos-rural-mountain-retreat/

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The Natura 2000 network in Spain

The Natura 2000 network in Spain has over 1500 protected sites (Mostly within existing natural and national park araes limits.) This makes it one of the largest national networks in the EU. These sites protect a wide range of habitats, including wetlands, coastal dunes, forests, grasslands, and mountain areas. Also, many species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and plants that are unique to the country or rare in Europe. The Spanish government is responsible for ensuring that these sites are effectively managed and protected, and for implementing measures to conserve the habitats and species found within them.

What is the Natura 2000 network?

The Natura 2000 network is a European network of protected areas established under the European Union’s Habitats Directive and Birds Directive. Its aim is to ensure the survival of Europe’s most important and threatened species and habitats. The network covers over 27,000 sites in all EU member states, and includes Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) designated under the Habitats Directive, and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated under the Birds Directive. The sites in the Natura 2000 network are selected for their unique or rare habitats and species, and are protected through conservation measures at both the national and European level. The goal of the Natura 2000 network is to ensure the long-term viability of these protected species and habitats.

The Natura 2000 network in Spain
The Natura 2000 network in Spain
Positive and negative results

The Natura 2000 network has had mixed success in Spain, with some positive results in terms of habitat and species conservation, but also challenges in terms of effective management and enforcement. On the positive side, the Natura 2000 network has provided a framework for protecting important habitats and species, and has helped to raise awareness about the need for conservation. In some cases, Natura 2000 sites have seen significant improvements in the populations of threatened species and the quality of habitats.

However, there are also challenges in terms of ensuring the effective management and enforcement of the Natura 2000 network in Spain. Some sites have faced pressures from development, agriculture, and other human activities, and there have been issues with illegal hunting and fishing. There have also been concerns about the adequacy of resources for effective management and monitoring, as well as the coordination of efforts between different levels of government and stakeholders.

Overall, while the Natura 2000 network has had some successes in Spain, there is still much work to be done to ensure its long-term success and to effectively protect the country’s important habitats and species. (See Science Direct link in further reading.)

Further reading

Official website: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/data/index_en.htm
With the assistance of the European Environment Agency, the European Commission has developed a public Natura 2000 viewer which makes it possible to explore Natura 2000 sites in every part of the EU at the press of a button. Built on state of the art GIS (Geographical Information System) technology, the public viewer is an interactive and user-friendly tool that allows the user to travel seamlessly through the Natura 2000 sites over different types of backgrounds (street maps, satellite imagery, bio-geographical regions, Corine Land Cover, etc.) and to quickly locate sites and related information on species and habitats of interest. https://natura2000.eea.europa.eu/

Wikipedia general article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natura_2000

Science Direct: Proposal of new Natura 2000 network boundaries in Spain based on the value of importance for biodiversity and connectivity analysis for its improvement: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1470160X21006890


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Everything you need to know before you visit Ronda “The city of dreams” in Andalucia. https://www.rondatoday.com/


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El Chorro Gorge and the Caminito del Rey

El Chorro Gorge and the Caminito del Rey, an impressive gorge formed by river erosion through the limestone mountain. In Spanish it is called El Desfiladero de los Gaitanes and is a well known natural attraction as the towering cliffs are around 200m high while only 10m wide at some points. The river below has been dammed, the Embalse Gaitanejo is one of the smaller reservoirs of five in this area. Alongside this reservoir sits the small village of El Chorro, built in the shadow of the mountain around the railway station.

Find a hotel in the El Chorro Gorge and the Caminito del Rey

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The area is probably most famous for ‘El Caminito del Rey’ or the ‘King’s Way’ which is a built, narrow path that clings to the cliffs 100m above the river Once hanging in ruins, the walkway has been repaired and is now listied among the top 10 tourist attractions of Andalucia.

This path was created between 1901 and 1905 as the service access for a canal. Its name came about as King Alfonso XIII walked the path in 1921 to view the dammed river at its inauguration. The walkway, created from a metal structure attached to the cliff supporting a concrete narrow path, had been gradually disintegrating to a point where large stretches were missing. It was closed to the public for years but was still popular forclimbers and adrenalin junkies.

Click here to find out more about the Caminito del Rey

The Desfiladero de Gaitanes is slightly separated from the Desfiladero de Gaitanejo by the more open area named La Hoya. As there are three rivers that feed into these gorges El Chorro would have been a frightening place to witness times of heavy rain and flooding as there would have been a tremendous pressure of water crashing through. These dams have not only calmed this natural phenomenon but also supply electricity, drinking and irrigation water to the more heavily populated areas to the south.

The railway line from Cordoba to Malaga which is still in use weaves its way through this gorge in an impressive feat of engineering, via 12 tunnels and 6 bridges. (Closed to walkers for obvious safety reasons).

These amazing, vertical cliffs are home to Griffon Vultures, Golden and Bonelli’s eagles, Peregrine falcon as well as Alpine swifts, Crag martins and Blue rock thrush.

Although, strictly speaking, the Natural Reserve only included the Gaitanejo River Dam, we would be unable to understand the dynamics and complexity of the open area without the river dams that surround it which are the Conde de Guadalhorce, Guadalteba, Guadalhorce y Tajo de La Encantada), that make up, as a whole, one of the most important hydraulic complexes in Andalucia.
Although, strictly speaking, the Natural Reserve only included the Gaitanejo River Dam, we would be unable to understand the dynamics and complexity of the open area without the river dams that surround it which are the Conde de Guadalhorce, Guadalteba, Guadalhorce y Tajo de La Encantada), that make up, as a whole, one of the most important hydraulic complexes in Andalucia.

The drive from the gorge northwards towards Ardales village and the Guadalhorce lakes takes you through contrasting, rounded sandstone terrain with Aleppo pine forest and Mediterranean scrub. A small diversion takes you up to another small reservoir, sign posted for Bobastro. This high reservoir is filled at night when electricity consumption is low, then released back down huge tubes to turbines so creating power at peak times.

Half way up the mountain is the unique Bobastro church carved out of a single rock and village that now lays derelict and abandoned. It was the fortified base of a major revolt by “Umar ibn Hafsun” against the Moors Caliph based in Cordoba. For the first and last time in history, Hafsun managed to assemble and unite an army of Moslems and Christians under his command. In the later part of his life Umar ibn Hafsun converted to Christianity and commissioned the amazing church.

Paying respect to followers of both faiths, Bobastro church was deliberately built facing Mecca, enabling all soldiers of his army to pray in the same place. After his death, his 30-year rebellion was finally put down by the Caliph of Cordoba and his body was dug up and hanged for his crimes against the Caliphate and conversion from Islam.

Read more about Bobastro and Umar Ibm Hafsun here.

Returning to the main road and continuing northwards leads you to the first of the three large reservoirs ‘Embalse del Conde del Guadalhorce’ which is very popular for beach side picnics, fishing and water sports.

Heading next towards the dams of the rivers Guadalhorce, Teba, and Turón takes you through more pine woods where the blueness of the water adds to the lushness of the setting.

You will pass by several bars and restaurants (and the car parks for the Caminito del Rey) close to the lakes before reaching the first dam.

The scrub birds include Sardinian warbler and Rock bunting while the woodland species include Crossbills, Short-toed tree creeper, Coal and Crested tit, Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Nuthatches.

The Mediterranean scrub plants include Lentisc (Pistacia lentiscus), Grey-leaved rock rose (Cistus albidus), Prickly juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus), Anthyllis cytisoides, the silver –leaved bugloss Echium albicans, culinary Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Dwarf fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) a selection of Thymes and the unusual climbing Andalusian birthwort (Aristolochia baetica).

Although, strictly speaking, the Natural Reserve only includes the Gaitanejo River Dam, we would be unable to understand the dynamics and complexity of the open area without the other river dams that surround it which are the Conde de Guadalhorce, Guadalteba, Guadalhorce y Tajo de La Encantada.) these make up, as a whole, one of the most important hydraulic complexes in Andalucia.


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