A World Heritage sanctuary for the world’s most threatened cat
Doñana National Park, Spain
Background and History
The known history of Doñana National Park goes back over 700 years – the area was once a favourite hunting reserve of several Spanish kings. In 1963, the Spanish Government, in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), decided to acquire 7,000 hectares (27 sq miles) of land to create the Doñana Biological Reserve. Six years later, Doñana National Park was born, with its boundaries being extended in 1978 and again in 2004. Since 2006, the park’s management has been the exclusive responsibility of the Autonomous Community of Andalucía’s government.
Today, it is the world’s only protected area that is not only a National Park but also a World Heritage site (designated in 1994), a Ramsar wetland site, a Biosphere Reserve, and a European Community Special Protection Area.
The uniqueness of Doñana is due to the great diversity of biotopes it contains, allowing for the coexistence of a wide variety of plant and animal species. In addition to its marsh ecosystem, which is characterised by high productivity, a set of exceptional environmental units converge here: beaches, fixed and mobile dune fields, scrub woodlands and maquis, and numerous lagoons scattered among the vegetation. The park’s size and strategic location make it one of the most important wetlands in Europe: as a wintering area, it receives more than half a million water fowl each year, and also serves as a stop-over for migratory birds on the route to and from Africa.
Having been inhabited and altered by humans throughout its history, the Doñana region continues as a stronghold for traditional uses such as beekeeping, harvesting of pine cones and agriculture. Important traditional events include the “Saca de las Yeguas”, a livestock event, and the “Romería de El Rocío”, one of the most popular religious pilgrimages in the country.
Images of the site
Size and Location
Doñana National Park is located in the provinces of Huelva and Sevilla in the southern Spanish Autonomous Community of Andalucía. It occupies an area of 54,252 hectares (209 sq miles) on the right bank of the Guadalquivir River at its estuary with the Atlantic Ocean. The park is characterised by its flatness, with its highest altitude reaching 47 metres above sea level.
Flora and Fauna
The park’s flora is very diverse, comprising more than 900 species of vascular plants. Endemic plant species include the grass Vulpia fontquerana and the figwort Linaria tursica, both featured in the Spanish National Catalogue of Endangered Species. In 2000, numerous rare or endemic plants of the park were also included in IUCN’s Red List of Spanish Vascular Flora.
The fauna comprises 20 species of freshwater fish, 11 amphibians, 21 reptiles, 37 mammals and 360 birds, of which 127 breed in the park. The local wildlife includes rare and iconic species such as the critically endangered Iberian lynx (considered the world’s most threatened felid) and the Spanish imperial eagle, as well as the threatened marbled duck and white-headed duck. Black vultures, red kites, and large breeding colonies of herons, egrets and waders are also present.
Doñana is internationally known for its Iberian lynx management plan that focuses on habitat management and recovery of European rabbit populations, the lynx’s principle prey, as well as lynx captive breeding and reintroduction programs.
Several human-based activities currently threaten the park, such as agricultural development, mainly through the drainage of marshes and the river to boost production, as well as poaching, over-grazing and illegal exploitation of crayfish. Likewise, Doñana is threatened by growing numbers of tourists attracted by its ecological and cultural richness. For example, in recent years, the “Romería de El Rocío” event alone has attracted a million pilgrims annually.
Despite these challenges, Doñana National Park remains a resilient system where nature is still the dominant force. Over the years, it has achieved tremendous recognition and significance in Europe and abroad, and has served as a testing ground for conservation in Spain, resulting in innovative management approaches.