The Alto Tajo Natural Park is famous for its canyons and gorges formed by the river Tagus and its tributaries

The Iberian highlands rewilding project

Rewilding is the process of restoring and protecting natural ecosystems by allowing them to develop and function without human intervention. This can include reintroducing native species to an area, removing invasive species, and protecting large wilderness areas. The goal of rewilding is to create resilient and self-sustaining ecosystems that can support a diverse array of plant and animal life.

The Iberian highlands rewilding project looks really interesting.

Described by Rewilding Europe as “A rugged mountain chain of high plateaus that carves its way through the Iberian Peninsula of Spain, home to pine, oak and juniper forests that mingle alongside steppe and dramatic river canyons“. The Iberian Highlands rewilding project encompasses over 850,000 hectares that lie inside existing protected areas. (Alto Tajo natural park, the Serranía de Cuenca natural park and the Montes Universales mountain range)

The Iberian Highlands spans the two autonomous communities of Castilla-La Mancha and Aragón, where land abandonment and depopulation has been an ongoing trend since the 1960s. This has encouraged the comeback of deer, wild boar, mouflon, small groups of Iberian ibex and an abundance of Egyptian and griffon vultures; but the top predators, the Iberian lynx, Iberian wolf and Brown Bear – remain absent from the slopes.

The Serranía de Cuenca Natural Park
The Serrania de Cuenca natural park
Wildlife tourism opportunities

If this project is a success it will create an impressive backdrop and opportunity for sustainable wildlife tourism in Spain. Hides for bird photography in steppe environments, Iberian lynx, raptors and other birds of prey along with large mammals will certainly draw the attention of companies that offer this type of wildlife holiday. Hopefully (and perhaps most importantly) many local companies will also be able to take advantage of this extra protection given to this massive and impressive area in Eastern Iberia.

The Iberian highlands rewilding project
The Iberian Highlands podcast with James shooter.

Well worth listening to, this 30 minute podcast gives a few insights into the project in general.

Listen to the podcast here:

Leading the production is James Shooter, an experienced and award-winning filmmaker and content creator whose work has been published by BBC, Channel 5 and Daily Telegraph, among other media.

James visited the Iberian Highlands to learn more about the natural heritage of the area and how Rewilding Spain’s work will contribute to the restoration of the landscape ecosystems and to maintain it as one of the most important and unique natural areas in Europe.

Reintroduction projects in the Iberian highlands rewilding project

In order to involve local communities, there will be ongoing educational and promotional workshops intended to promote the use of lead-free ammunition and also monitor and presumibly prohibit the use of poisons which are known causes of damage to species and ecosystems.

Bearded and black vultures will be helped to return to the area by both natural dispersion and introduction from other projects in Spain (and Europe). Feeding platforms and habitat restoration will encourage these important carrion birds to stay and breed in the area.

Bearded Vulture - Gypaetus barbatus - Quebrantahuesos
Bearded Vulture – Gypaetus barbatus – Quebrantahuesos

A short video (In Spanish) about the reintroduction program for Black vulture (Aegypius monachus) and bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) in the Alto Tajo y Serrania de Cuenca.

Iberian Lynx
After the devastating population crash of rabbits (its main food supply), the Iberian Lynx became known as the most endangered cat in the world. Now the species numbers around 1000 individuals both in the wild and in various captive breeding programs in Spain.

Rabbit numbers are still very low in the area but there are healthy populations of roe, fallow and red deer along with wild boar that will act as an adequate food supply for this apex predator.

Iberian lynx Mammals of Spain - Reintroducion of Iberian lynx
Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) Lince Ibérico

The plan is to introduce and maintain a viable and permanent population using lynx that are not suitable for the ongoing breeding programs, captive bred and other relocation projects.

Taurus cattle
Tauros cattle
Tauros cattle, on their way to again become Aurochs, Bos primigenius. A project by the Tauros Foundation, in cooperation with Rewilding Europe in Frias de Albarracín, Aragon. Staffan Widstrand/Rewilding Europe
Taurus cattle in Alto Tajo, Spain
The tauro is a type of cattle that resembles the aurochs, the wild cows that were the ancestors of every present day domestic cattle breeds and was a keystone species for European biodiversity over thousands of years. Although the aurochs became extinct in the 17th century, their genes are present in several domestic cattle breeds. By combining this genetic material, the Taurus Foundation created the taurus, which looks and behaves like its wild ancestors.
News clip (in Spanish) about the Taurus Cattle used in this project

“Following a forest fire in 2005 affecting 11,900 hectares of pine and Pyrenean oak, the burnt trees were removed and the area left to naturally regenerate. However, the current stands which have developed are too dense and lacking in complexity – which stymies acorn production. Natural grazing has started with horses helping to open up these areas to light, leading to more structural diversity and a mosaic landscape to enable long-term natural regeneration. Other areas such as the open high plains at Villanueva de Alcorcon are also being grazed by horses.”

Przewalski’s horses

Grazing horses will reduce the density of shrubs and other vegetation thus reduce the impact of wildfires when they inevitably happen. Read more about the re introduction of the caballo serrano de Guadalajara here :

Przewalski’s horses in the Alto Tajo, Spain
Through their grazing, the Przewalski’s horses will clear combustible vegetation, reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire. Photo – Emmanuel Rondeau
There are also plans to re-introduce Spanish ibex into the most rugged areas.
Guided wildlife tours in the The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

“The Iberian Highlands is a vast forest landscape already protected by two large natural parks and many Natura 2000 sites. The area lies in the middle of the so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with very low human population density and depopulation. Rewilding, in combination with other strategies, can make a difference by offering new opportunities that help people to live from the local resources. These resources include a rich and ancient culture, expanses of native pine, juniper and oak forests, impressive cliffs and rocky areas, open arid areas, a diverse guild of wild herbivores, and the source of major rivers, including the Tagus which stretches for over 50km.”

Pablo Schapira
Project Director Iberian Highlands
More information

The official website for The Iberian highlands rewilding project

The official website for rewilding Spain

Alto Tajo Natural Park:
Cuenca Natural Park:

Follow and join in with the topic over at the Iberia Nature Forum

Interesting article in the Guardian about the project

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