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Protected areas for people and nature in Spain

At TENT, our focus has always been on large wild areas, where ecosystems can be regulated at scale by the recovery of natural processes. We choose to partner with local foundations to improve the protection and enjoyment of wild areas in Europe. Now, we’re embarking on a new partnership with NGOs working in the Upper Tagus region of wild Spain.

Spain is arguably the most biodiverse country in Europe. It is also the country with the largest surface area of terrestrial protected areas, covering around 27% of its land mass. However, many of Spain’s 3,705 protected areas lack effective management and public support, and though they have extensive coverage, more than 55% of Spain’s habitats are considered in poor condition under the Habitats Directive. 

Like many other conservation NGOs, we believe that Spain is a leader in European conservation. That’s why we’re forging a new partnership with the Nuestros Espacios Protegidos (i.e. Our Protected Areas) initiative. The project aims to foster national pride and public support for Spain's protected areas, increase their size and, most importantly, improve their management and conservation. Nuestros Espacios Protegidos is a collaboration between EUROPARC Spain and Frankfurt Zoological Society, and is coordinated by Ignacio Jiménez, a Spanish conservation biologist with extensive international experience in Central and South America and Madagascar. He was one of the leaders of Tompkins Conservation's Iberá Programme, which included the creation of the largest park in Argentina and the largest reintroduction programme in the Americas.

Improving the management and extent of protected areas is becoming an international priority – one that Spain is already leading on. During the 2022 UN biodiversity conference, COP15, countries reached a landmark agreement that aims to reverse the unprecedented destruction of nature. One of the agreement’s twenty-three targets, known as 30x30, aims to protect at least 30 percent of the planet’s land and water by 2030. Effectively managed protected areas in Europe can preserve and restore biodiversity and provide a valuable source of employment and investment for rural communities. Studies show that proximity to well protected areas can improve human wellbeing and health.

““ Our goal is to communicate in a clear and effective manner the great diversity of values and benefits associated with Spanish protected areas” 

Ignacio Jimenéz, 
Director, Nuestros Espacios Protegidos

A beautiful, lesser-known region of wild Spain 

Nuestros Espacios Protegidos has selected the Upper Tagus region as a model site for improving the management of one of the wildest regions in Western Europe. The Upper Tagus region is home to more than 400,000 ha of continuous Natura 2000 reserves, including two contiguous nature parks covering 180,000 ha. As part of the Iberian Mountain Range, this region includes the unspoilt upper reaches of the Tagus River - the longest in the Iberian Peninsula - a wide range of forest and grassland habitats and abundant wildlife populations; all situated in one of the least populated regions in Europe, with less than 1.5 inhabitants/km2.
The Upper Tagus region is home to vast tracts of forest, one of Europe's wildest rivers, endemic species, and an already well-connected system of protected areas in the Alto Tajo Nature Park, Serrania De Cuenca Nature Park and surrounding Natura 2000 areas.

In February 2023, The European Nature Trust visited the project area for an immersive weeklong experience. Here, we began to understand the value of protected areas to the Spanish rural landscape, and the huge potential for conservation to mitigate the impacts of rural depopulation and invigorate the economy of Castilla La Mancha.

The Nuestros Espacios Protegidos  initiative aims to work with environmental authorities, local governments, other NGOs and local associations to turn the Alto Tajo and Serranía de Cuenca nature parks into highly effective protected areas that offer conservation and restoration of ecosystems while improving the quality of life of local communities. In addition, the NGO hopes to showcase this type of collaborative conservation as an inspiration for other protected areas in Spain and for the Spanish public in general.    

Ongoing and future activities include participatory processes to create Spain's 17th national park within this region, the promotion and regulation of public use within the Alto Tajo natural park, supporting local villages to treat their water sewage systems, conservation outreach with local children and youth, and reducing the effects of hunting.

TENT's Conservation Manager, Jacob Dykes with Ignacio Jimenéz of Nuestros Espacios Protegidos, and Jamie Dunlop of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.


PROTECTED AREAS FOR PEOPLE AND NATURE

Conservation analysis:
The Upper Tagus Region

Conservation values and opportunities

  • One of the best-preserved stretches of river in Europe and a high diversity of habitats – three types of pine forests, holm oak and deciduous oak forests, juniper woodlands, mountain grasslands and riparian forests—within a spectacular landscape of mountains, plateaus and canyons.
  • A high abundance and diversity of large wild herbivores (red deer, roe deer, fallow deer, ibex, wild boar and mouflon), together with important colonies of griffon vulture and Egyptian vulture
  • More than 400,000 ha of protected areas under the Natura 2000 network, including 180,000 ha in two contiguous nature parks
  • The area has been identified by the Spanish and regional governments as a top priority to establish the first national park in the Iberian Mountain range.
  • A large network of conservation organizations and projects working in a collaborative manner, including close collaboration between the Upper Tagus initiative and Rewilding Europe/ Rewilding Spain’s Iberian Highlands initiative, focused on the restoration of trophic chains and keystone species, old-growth forest conservation and the promotion of nature-based businesses
  • An incipient ecotourism industry linked to the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism.

Conservation challenges

  • Mistrust between local inhabitants and park managers/environmental authorities
  • Need for local residents to see concrete benefits from parks
  • Lack of human and material resources to manage the existing nature parks
  • Uncontrolled low-quality public use in some areas
  • Lack of sewage treatment in almost all villages
  • High intensity of hunting activities with widespread use of lead
  • Logging of old-growth forests to generate biofuel

Ongoing and planned conservation actions

  • Long-term support to the regional government with technical and social processes to discuss and plan the potential establishment of Spain's 17th national park.
  • Technical assistance to the Alto Tajo Nature Park authorities to promote and regulate public use along the Tagus River in order to minimize environmental impacts and maximize the quality of experience and local jobs.
  • Establishment of water sewage systems in villages sited inside Alto Tajo Nature Park to reduce water pollution and avoid fines from the central government.
  • Collaboration with hunting groups to reduce lead poisoning by switching to alternative ammunition.
  • Promotion of the Upper Tagus region with national and international media as one of Spain’s most important wild landscapes.
  • Close collaboration with the Iberian Highlands initiative, especially by providing high-quality visual communication products. 

Nuestros Espacios Protegidos is a collaboration between EUROPARC Spain and Frankfurt Zoological Society, and is coordinated by Ignacio Jiménez, a Spanish conservation biologist. The European Nature Trust is actively collaborating to drive awareness and engagement with the initiative.

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