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The international Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program (MaB) met in Paris last week and announced that it was adding three more sites to Spain’s impressive list of biosphere reserves. Spain now has a total of 45 reserves, edging out Russia as the country with the second most reserves, just behind the U.S. which has 47.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization created the world network of biospheres program in the 1970’s to reduce the loss of Earth’s biodiversity. The program focuses on selecting places where local communities interact closely with the environment to adopt sustainable development practices. Sites designated as biosphere reserves serve as models for other communities in implementing innovative approaches to conserving biological and cultural diversity. There are currently 621 reserves located around the world.
Spain is unique in that its physical space is relatively small compared to the other countries listed as having the most biosphere reserves. Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of area and the US is the fourth largest while Spain ranks 52nd. The high density of areas in Spain recognized by UNESCO’s MaB program as “sites of excellence” for managing natural and human activity attests to the rich diversity of carefully conserved biological landscapes there. Its vast lands of protected wildlife make Spain an ideal destination for ecotourism, where visitors can experience life in peaceful rural destinations and gain personal insight into these communities’ successful partnerships with nature.
Terres de l’Ebre in Tarragona is on the northeast coast of Spain. About 190,000 people live in this area, which features numerous coastal and inland ecosystems. Energy technology from wind, water and solar sources has also been developed here in a special effort to protect the stunning local landscape.
La granja y el espinar (Segovia) is located in the Sierra de Guadarrama, a central Spain mountain range that extends nearly 80 km north to south and ends close to Madrid. This wooded region is home to about 14,000 people, various centers for forest research, and small scale agricultural activity.
Mariñas Coruñesas e Terras do Mandeo is on Galicia’s northeastern Atlantic coast, an area that includes 18 towns and where rural communities pay special attention to sustainable development.
Other reserves in Spain: Reserves in Spain are scattered throughout the country and include island landscapes such as La Gomera on the Canary Islands to woodland areas like Las Ubiñas - La Mesa Reserve in Asturias, which provides a natural habitat for the Eurasion brown bear. The Sierra Nevada near the city of Granada is the highest mountain chain on the Iberian Peninsula and was added to the world network of biosphere reserves given its ancient monuments of Roman and Arab origin, unique architecture, and popular festivals that attract over one million visitors every year.
Spain also has a long list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the entire old town of certain cities such as Salamanca, with its historical and scenic architectural landscapes. Some Spanish traditions have also been listed on UNESCO’s list of intangible world heritage, including flamenco, the Mediterranean diet, and Catalonia’s curious castells performances, in which teams of traditionally dressed castelleres stand on top of one another’s shoulders to create incredible human towers.