Doñana Natural Space is composed of two different protected areas including in total some 128.386 hectares and it is managed and funded by the Environment Agency of the Junta de Andalucía (the regional government):
- The National Park, created on October 28, 1969. With an extension of 54,251.65 hectares, it is a territory under a very high level of protection; public access is restricted only to the visitor centres, trails associated to them and 4WD tours organized by various licensed companies. The main objective here is the conservation of species and ecosystems, prioritizing research activities ahead of the use of the natural resources and public uses. The majority of the land is public and hunting and agriculture are not allowed.
- The Natural Park, created on July 28, 1989. With an actual extension of 68,236 hectares, it is a less strictly protected territory with a more open public access. It works as buffer area protecting the National Park and also contains good examples of well preserved patches of forests, marshes and dunes. Here the idea is to reconcile the conservation of ecosystems with the use of resources. It houses an extensive network of visitor centres and walking trails. A good part of the land is private and agriculture and hunting are allowed in some areas but carefully regulated.
Information guide of the Doñana Natural Site (in Spanish). Download
Information on Doñana from Spanish Environmental Agency
Information on Doñana from Andalucian Environmental Agency
Another point of interest in the Doñana Natural Site is the system of fossil dunes of El Asperillo, which runs parallel to the coast between Matalascañas and Mazagón. Once on the beach, you can see the impressive sandstone cliffs , declared a natural monument for their uniqueness and beauty.
From hunting preserve to national park
For centuries, nobles and kings considered the forests and marshes at the Mouth of the Guadalquivir River as one of the best hunting areas in Spain. And that was the main activity carried out in Doñana for a very long time, thanks to which its ecosystems were preserved in fairly good condition. In the twentieth century the great transformations of the marshes were carried out, at the end of which most of them had been turned into farmland. At present only 1/4 of the original marshes remain in natural conditions.
In the late 1960s, a handful of scientists and naturalists, determined to save this land from the dangers that threatened it, finally saw the fruit of all its efforts when about 30,000 has. were protected under the national park figure. Since then this natural area has been growing and accumulating international recognition until being considered at present one of the most important nature reserves in Europe.
In between two worlds
Located at the Mouth of the Guadalquivir River, on the southwest coast of Andalusia, in the provinces of Huelva, Seville and Cádiz, Doñana is part of Europe, but the proximity of Africa is felt. It is washed by the waters of the cold Atlantic Ocean, but is strongly influenced by the temperate Mediterranean Sea. Most of its territory, covered by marsh clays, have a fluvial origin, but the sea also played a leading role in its formation. Migrations bring us southern birds from Africa in spring and northern birds from Europe in winter, helping to increase the biodiversity of the area.
A mosaic of natures
In its almost 130,000 hectares Doñana offers a great variety of ecosystems and landscapes, which support a rich community of animals and plant species adapted to a very complex reality.
THE MARSHES. Most of Doñana is covered by a huge plain, former tidal marsh, which today is flooded by rainwater and those provided by some seasonal streams. In autumn the plains turn green with the first rains and welcomes large flocks of geese coming from the north. In winter it looks like a great lake of water swollen by the wind and populated by large flocks of ducks, greylag geese, waders and many other species of waterfowl. In spring, the level of the waters descend and get hidden under a vast green carpet of bulrushes and reeds, decorated by patches of buttercups with white floating flowers. Herons, ducks, flamingos, coots and grebes nest among this dense vegetation cover. In summer the high temperatures and the lack of rain turn the marshland into a large dry and cracked desert where only a few species survive.
THE COTOS. In the sands surrounding the marshes, we find dense scrubland areas where the composition of species depend on the amount of water available in the soil. On dry soils far from the upper level of groundwater occurs what is locally called “monte blanco” (white bushland), where different species of rock roses and aromatic plants dominate. In more humid soils we find what we locally call “monte negro” (black bushland), where heather, gorse, myrtle and blackberry bushes intertwine to create impenetrable barriers. We also find on the sandy soils large patches of natural forests with old cork oak forests and some wild olive trees and large plantations of umbrella pine that offer shelter to a rich community of raptors and mammals in which the Spanish imperial eagle and the Iberian lynx stand out.
THE VERA. Thus we call the narrow strip of land that is located along the contact area between the sand of the dunes and forests and the clays of the marshes. Here the water filtered from the sands comes out all year round in springs that creates patches of grassland and reedbeds that attract species of both ecosystems, turning it into an area of great ecological variety. This is where the famous “Pajareras” are located, a group of large cork oaks where a large breeding colony of herons and spoonbills is built up every spring, which access is unfortunately restricted.
THE DUNES AND BEACHES. Aligned with the coastline, separating it from the marshes, we find successive bands of dunes about 30 km long where a sparse vegetation survives on some very unstable substrates. Only a few old juniper trees survive the thrust of the wind that push the dunes about 3 – 6 meters on average a year, devastating everything on their way. Umbrella pine woods called “corrales” grow in the interdunar spaces and advance in unison with them in a precarious natural balance. Foxes, wild boars, red deer, spur-thighed tortoises, lizards, vipers and beetles decorate the white sands with their tracks. The beach of Doñana, which extends for about 30 km between the towns of Matalascañas in Huelva and Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Cádiz, is considered the largest virgin beach in Spain. To this we could add the second longest that connects the tourist resorts of Matalascañas and Mazagón with some 17 km of fine white sand beach.
THE RIVERBANK FORESTS. In the protection area of La Rocina Stream, next to El Rocío, we find a plant formation unique in the whole Doñana Natural Site. It is a thick riverbank forest that develops along this stream, in which dominate willows, buckthorns, white poplars and blackberry bushes. Bordering this set we find some old cork oaks that alternate with strawberry trees, umbrella pines and dense patches of common braken.
A changing reality
In addition to its variety of ecosystems, the biodiversity of Doñana is marked by seasonal climate changes, which produce such big changes that the landscape may seem unrecognizable if seen at different times of the year. This is an annual cycle which affects both the appearance of its ecosystems and the species composition that populate them. Vast areas of natural and transformed salt marshes are flooded or dry following the patterns of annual cycles of rain and / or agricultural use.
The natural marshland serves as a store food for thousands of birds in winter and spring, while places like the extensive rice fields to the northeast attract them in summer when the marshes dry out and autumn during the harvest of crops. These flat lands around the Mouth of the Guadalquivir are not only important for our birds, but also offer refuge and support many thousand migratory birds that, coming from the warm lands of sub-Saharan Africa or the cold northern Europe, use Doñana as breeding or wintering area.
Culture and traditions under the sun
Apart from nature at its best, the Doñana region is rich in ancient cultural traditions as the El Rocío Annual Festival (end of spring) or the locally called Saca de las Yeguas (Rounding of the mares, beginning of summer) which attracts many thousands of visitors every year. It also offers complete sun and beach tourist facilities like Matalascañas and Mazagón, which attract crowds of holidaymakers in summer. Attractive culinary experiences enrich the offer; the famous white wines of El Condado of Huelva and mountain and marine products enhance attractive menus to please everyone. The towns of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Almonte, Aznalcázar, Hinojos, Villamanrique de la Condesa, Niebla, Bollullos del Condado and La Palma del Condado, among others, offer visitors beautiful corners among its streets of whitewashed houses.
These days, Doñana uphold to make its natural values and cultural traditions against those who believe that the economic development of the area should go through the mass tourism or agriculture route without any jurisdiction . A natural world threatened by an artificial economic world without environmental awareness. Clear examples we have had in the recent past and present of these perceived. It is in our hands, in all of us hands, that this jewel of nature will be enjoyed by future generations.
Since the National Park was created in 1969, Doñana has accumulated a number of international awards. In 1980 was declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve, in 1982 was included in the Ramsar Convention List and in 1994 was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.