Doñana National Park. One of Europe’s largest ecological reserves is located in the south eastern area of Spain, at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River.
Doñana Park is located in the south eastern area of the Iberian Peninsula, at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. This 108,086 hectare park occupies land in the provinces of Huelva, Cádiz, and Seville. Half of this land has been designated as a national park since 1969, while the other half was created as a natural park in 1989 and amplified in 1997.
This is one of Europe’s largest ecological reserves. Given its location within bird migration routes between Africa and northern Europe, it is a priceless sanctuary for birds of numerous species that rest and nest here.
In 1994, UNESCO accredited the area as a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve.
Unesco Biosphere Reserve
Traces of evidence from the Neolithic age have been discovered in Doñana Park, and a number of hopeful visitors have searched for evidence here of the ancient city of Tartessos. Roman remains discovered in the area suggest a Roman presence in Doñana from the 2nd to the 5th century. These local Romans seem to have focused their labor efforts on fishing activities, fish salting, and the production of garum, a type of fish sauce that was highly valued in Roman cooking traditions.
In the Middle Ages, this region was known as an excellent place for hunting and it was even designated as a royal hunting ground. Some new species were actively introduced into the grounds, such as the fallos deer, while the presence of preexisting species such as the deer and the boar was increased. Wolves, the classic enemies of hunters and ranchers, began to be eliminated from the area during this period.
In the 16th century, the Duke of Medina-Sidonia gave his wife Doña Ana de Silva a country home within the hunting grounds, which is where the park’s current name comes from: Coto de Doñana. The home was later converted into a palace where the painter Francisco de Goya is said to have painted his famous works La maja vestida and La maja desnuda.
Several ornithological studies were carried out in the hunting grounds from the second half of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th. In 1963, part of the land was purchased in collaboration with the Spanish government and the WWF, and one year later the Doñana Biological Station was created, a research institute that belongs to the Spanish Council for Scientific Research.
225,000 hectares of the Doñana have been included in the latest addition of UNESCO’s biosphere reserve.
Not everything has been easy and harmonious in Doñana Park however. On April 25, 1998, a holding dam burst. The dam water, which contained heavy metals, spilled into the Guadiamar River. Fortunately, the contaminated section of the river was successfully diverted, saving the park from a terrible tide of polluted water.
Doñana National Park is home to an extraordinary diversity of flora, examples of which include the large fruited-juniper, the stone pine, the cork oak, heather… and hundreds of native species. An effort is being made to eliminate non-native flora species that have had a negative impact on the park’s ecosystem, such as eucalyptus, acacia, and cat’s claw.
The park also provides a natural habitat for a wide range of animal species, including 20 different fresh-water fish, 10 amphibians, 13 reptiles, 37 mammals, and 360 birds. At least 130 of these bird species make Doñana Park their place of reproduction, making this an ideal destination for bird lovers to observe the flying nomads.
The undisputed king of the park is the Iberian lynx, which has the sad distinction of being the most endangered feline in the world. Deer, genets, Egyptian mongooses, otters, foxes, badgers, and others also all make their homes here.
Visitors may enter the park by vehicle, always under the careful control of groundskeepers, and make their way to one of the visitor’s centers to take a guided tour of this unique natural space that that is teeming with rich nature and wildlife.
Some traditional celebrations pose a potential threat to the delicate ecological balance of this natural attraction. A million people participate each year in the Romería de la Virgen del Rocío, a pilgrimage celebration held in the town of Almonte, located within the park grounds. The strict management of the park by authorities and staff along with the responsible attitude of event participants has produced positive results, which we hope will continue to guarantee the sustainability of this natural paradise.