The Daimiel wetlands, known as Las Tablas de Daimiel, are at a critical juncture as they mark their 50th year as a national park. This natural wonder, a symbol of Castilla La Mancha Húmeda biosphere reserve, has been steadily deteriorating over the years due to poor water management, with overexploitation driven primarily by agricultural irrigation.
Over exploitation of water
The overexploitation of water for agricultural purposes has transformed the Tablas de Daimiel into one of Europe’s most threatened aquatic ecosystems. The modern agri-food model, which prioritizes high production rates, has placed immense pressure on our limited water resources, particularly in arid regions like Castilla-La Mancha. As a consequence, what was once a flourishing wetland teeming with biodiversity has become an arid expanse.
The Cabañeros National Park (in Spanish: Parque Nacional de Cabañeros) is located within the two provinces of Ciudad Real and Toledo. It is the best and largest surviving area of Iberian Mediterranean forest, with an enormous variety of plant species. It also includes sites of geological interest (Paleozoic sites known as Cámbrico y Ordovícico del Parque Nacional de Cabañeros). In addition, the territory has protection status within the framework of the Natura 2000 Network and is a Special Protection Area for Birds (ZEPA)
Nearby towns and villages: Daimiel and Torralba de Calatrava
Declared a National Park: 1973
Park surface area: 3,030 hectares
Points of interest
The Tablas de Daimiel National Park is one of the most visited in Spain with an average of almost 200,000 people registered each year. The wetland represents one of the last ecosystems of fluvial tables that are formed when rivers overflow onto areas of flat landscape.
Formed at the confluence of the Guadiana River and its tributary the Cigüela this is one of the most important aquatic ecosystems in the Iberian Peninsula and is home to a great variety of fauna and flora especially aquatic birds both resident and migratory.
Threats to the future of the Tablas de Daimiel National Park
This park has suffered greatly from both natural and human causes. The drought years of the first decade of 2000 coupled with illegal water extraction (from as early as the 1970s) caused the levels of the wetland to lower dramatically and this in turn dried out the underlying peat bogs which then caught fire. The peat bogs are an important part of the wetlands as they act as a sealant stopping the water from being absorbed into the ground. UNESCO were at the point of removing the biosphere reserve status from the area and the situation almost caused the first National park to be stripped of its title in Spain.
However, at the same time as the plan to redirect water from the river Tagus was implemeted, the drought broke, the rains came and the wetlands were saved. The expanding water extinquished the peat bog fires and the recovery of the ecosystem began.
The laws covering water extraction in the area are now more tightly regulated so hopefully the habitat will remain protected for many more years to come.
That said, in July 2022 the water covered area stands at less than 3 percent of the protected area which is below 50 hectares of the more than 3000 hectare national park. Guided visits have stopped and the information centre was closed when I visited. The drought and heat of the 2022 summer surely has some effect but I still maintain that mismanagement of the tablas de Daimiel national park over the last few decades is to blame.
The Tablas de Daimiel are formed by the waters of two rivers of different nature. The water of the Gigüela river that comes from the Cabrejas moors in the Cuenca mountain range provides brackish (salty) waters, while the Guadiana river provides fresh sweet water.
Find a hotel close to the Tablas de Daimiel National Park
The fresh water of the Guadiana favors the growth of reed marshes (Phragmites australis, Phragmites communis) while the brackish water of the Cigüela favors the growth of marsh vegetation, mainly the sedge swamp sawgrass (Cladium mariscus). In the shallower areas there are large groups of cattails (Typha sp), bulrush (Scirpus lacustris), saltmarsh bulrush (Scirpus maritimus ) and reeds (Juncus sp).
One of the most characteristic formations of the national park are the carophyte meadows which are made up of different species green algae (Chara hispida , Chara major , Chara canescens). The tamarix (Tamarix gallica) is the only tree species found within the wetland.
Also worth mentioning are marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus), common coot (Fulica atra), moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and kingfisher (Alcedo atthis).
Among the sedentary fauna it is worth mentioning the river crab (Austropotamobius pallipes). Once very abundant and an important source of food and income for the families of Daimiel it has been harvested almost to extintion in the area and is also predated on by the introduced pike (Esox lucius).
Native species such as barbel (Barbus barbus ) and the European chub (Squalius cephalus) are also endagered but present in the area.
A recent survey (2021) studying the impact of Iberian wild boar in the Tablas de Daimiel National Park has come to the conclusion that the population causes a serious threat to the ecosystem and threatens the reproductive success of aquatic birdlife in the area.
Tablas de Daimiel National Park interpretation centre
On the road from the village of Daimiel to the Tablas de Daimiel
This centre has plenty of information designed to help identify the birds and plants of the park, through photographic panels with information, aquariums, exhibition of animal and plant remains, etc. There is an audio visual room with a presentation of the area and the staff will help greatly.
The Center is advertised on the official website for the natural park as open every day of the year, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in winter and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in summer. (However, I visited this area in July of 2022 to find no staff, locked doors and empty carparks.)
The Molemocho Mill
The Molemocho Mill is located where the Guadiana River feeds into the wetland about 800 meters before reaching the main Visitor Center of the National Park (it is well signposted) and is well worth the visit!
This unique building is one of the oldest hydraulic flour mills in Castilla La Mancha. The exact date of its construction is unknown but Molemocho is mentioned in maps and registers as far back as 1575.
The fascinating exhibitions focus on the wetlands history and the human inhabitants of the area.
The Grazalema Guide
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