The delicate balance of nature
Doñana National Park is a natural park and nature reserve in the south of Andalusia. Mostly located in the province of Huelva, it extends too into Cádiz and a little bit into Seville. It covers some 543 km2, of which 135 km2 are protected and have restricted access.
The modern day configuration of the park is the result of a shifting delta centred around the Guadalquivir River. This main artery of Andalusia has its only exit to the sea near to Sanlucar de Barrameda and is the natural access to the interior and Seville, a route used by the Vikings nearly 1200 years ago.
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Blockage of the delta has resulted in extensive wetlands that, for many centuries, were not considered to be habitable by humans and the zone became hugely important for a wide range of wildlife. So much so that, in 1969, the area was declared to be a nationally protected monument when the World Wildlife Fund and the Spanish government bought a section of marshes with the specific aim or protecting it from agriculture speculation. And, since 1994, the area has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The purchase was the culmination of a creeping process that had place enormous pressure on the eco-system; this by drainage of the marshes, irrigation to boost agricultural production and by water pollution by upriver mining. The expansion of tourist facilities along the coast was also exerting pressure on the natural wilderness and protection resulted in a more sympathetic approach being adopted that has, in fact, resulted in a different, to some, more discerning, kind of tourism.
The park is named after Doña Ana de Silva y Mendoza who was the wife of the seventh Duke of Medina-Sidonia. Doña Ana was the daughter of the flamboyant Princess of Eboli and during her lifetime, she lived and then died in Doñana in a small palace her husband built for her.
Doñana National Park has a unique biodiversity and, although there are some similarities to the natural parklands found in the Camargue in southern France with which Doñana is twinned, the park features its own, distinctive ecosystems and shelters that attract a huge and varied wildlife including thousands of European and African migratory birds, fallow deer, Spanish red deer, and large animals such as wild boar, European badger and Egyptian mongoose.
The park is perhaps most famous for the protection it affords to endangered species such as the Spanish imperial eagle and the Iberian lynx, both of which are still under threat from local farmers who fear for their livestock.
The nature reserve of Doñana includes not only the Doñana National Park but also the Natural Park, a different entity that was created in 1989 and expanded in 1997. The formation of the two large areas created a buffer zone of protection for nature that is placed under the management of the regional government.
Because of its strategic position, placed as it is between Europe and Africa, as well as its proximity to the Strait of Gibraltar, the large expanse of salt marsh is a breeding ground para excellence as well as a transit point for many species of European and African birds and, especially during the winter, can provide a home for up to 200,000 individuals.
The accumulation of over 300 different species of birds that can be sighted there annually also attracts a flock of photographers and naturalists who gather on an annual pilgrimage to witness one of nature’s enduring spectacles.
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