Wetlands are one of the most important ecosystems for the conservation of biodiversity. More than 40% of threatened species are believed to depend on wetlands at one point or another of their biological cycle. In Spain, it has been calculated that 60% of these areas have been lost over the last hundred years. This implies an environmental problem of the greatest magnitude. With respect to the services provided by ecosystems, they play a fundamental role in the regulation of groundwater and surface water.
Since our early days, the restoration and management of wetlands has been one of our main lines of action. Our activities have directly favoured over 80 wetlands, with a total surface area of over 2,700 hectares.
Each action is implemented through the creation of alliances with local collectives (landowners, farmers, etc.) and administrations in order to generate opportunities for social and economic development in rural settings. We also belong to the international network Living Lakes.
Our work on the conservation of wetlands has been recognized with several prizes, such as the Award of the BBVA Foundation for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Spain.
Wetlands in Castilla La Mancha
We have been working on the wetlands in Castilla La Mancha since 1999, especially in the Natura 2000 site “Wetlands of La Mancha”. These areas constitute an oasis of biodiversity and accommodate unique habitats and species, many considered to be of priority conservation interest by the EU.
In 1999, conservation activities started up thanks to the “Wetlands of Villacañas” LIFE project, with the aim of recovering the saline meadows in “Limonietalia” as well as other saline formations around three lagoons in Villacañas (Toledo). Since then, our efforts have continually grown.
We have coordinated a project supported by the European Commission called LIFE “Wetlands of La Mancha”. This initiative has been developed jointly with the Castilla La Mancha Regional Government and it finished at the end of 2016. The project intended to preserve the saline steppes surrounding 27 lagoons in La Mancha located in the Natura 2000 Network. The ecosystems of Mediterranean saline steppes are unique in Europe and the Habitat Directive (Directive 92/43/CEE) considers their conservation to be a priority. They accommodate characteristic species of flora and fauna, such as esparto grass (Lygeum spartum) or sea-lavender (Limonium sp.), and are only comparable to certain lakeside complexes located in Mongolia and North Africa. These habitats have suffered a notable decline in recent decades.
The actions carried out include direct conservation, purchase of land, environmental awareness-raising and collaboration with the farming sector. The project’s main activity has been the acquisition of land with high natural value so that, after their purchase, conservation actions could be carried out such as the closure of ditches and ponds, the modification of paths or the plantation of autochthonous species. Plants have been grown from seeds obtained in the area at the nursery in Malagón, and the Royal Botanical Garden (managed by the Higher Science Research Council, CSIC) has advised on the planning of the plantations. Following the conclusion of this project the nursery will continue to produce specimens to extend the restoration activities around lagoons. The monitoring of the fauna has included censuses of the water fowl and studies of the arthropods (in collaboration with the National Natural Science Museum, MNCN-CSIC) that have improved our understanding and data about these spaces. In order to ensure the project’s monitoring, a freely-accessible geographic information system has also been developed. More than 4,000 pupils have participated in workshops and guided tours organized by the project in collaboration with the schools. The Global Nature Foundation has supported the production and marketing of ecological agrarian produce from the Natura 2000 Network. Agreements have been signed with producers of legumes (chickpeas from Pedrosillo, brown lentils and flat lentils), and their efforts also enable the conservation of steppe bird populations, such as great bustards or little bustards.
The project received the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Commission, the Biodiversity Foundation, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Food and the Environment, the Gas Natural Fenosa power utility, Actionatura and COMSERMANCHA. The town councils of the ten municipalities in the area (Alcázar de San Juan, Campo de Criptana, Las Mesas, Las Pedroñeras, Lillo, Mota del Cuervo, Pedro Muñoz, Quero, Villacañas and Villafranca de los Caballeros) have played a key role in furthering the project.
Summary of project results – Layman report (poner el Layman en pdf)
Project web page: www.humedalesdelamancha.es
Wetlands in Tierra de Campos
In Tierra de Campos, action has been taken with the former endorheic basin of La Nava and its surroundings (Mar de Campos) in the province of Palencia, specifically at La Nava (Fuentes de Nava – Mazariegos), on the Laguna de Boada (Boada de Campos) and on La Nava de Pedraza (Pedraza de Campos), with a total surface area currently restored of 575.46 hectares. These wetlands are located in the Natural Space of La Nava – Campos de Palencia and in the Natura 2000 spaces of SPA La Nava – Campos Norte (Laguna de La Nava), SPA La Nava – Campos Sur (Laguna de Boada and Nava de Pedraza) and SCA Laguna de La Nava (Laguna de La Nava).
We are currently taking part in the management of all three wetlands with the general aim of demonstrating that wetlands, in general, can be restored and managed in an environmentally-friendly manner, recovering spaces of enormous value for the conservation of biological diversity, and in turn that they can operate as a tool for the environmentally-friendly social and economic development of their surroundings.
Since Fundación Global Nature started the recovery works at the Fuentes de Nava wetland in 1990, with the financial assistance of the ACMA Programme, the predecessor of the LIFE Programme, more than 400 hectares of the former “Mar de Campos” have been recovered.
Another of the wetlands recovered has been the Laguna de Boada de Campos, a lagoon located a few kilometres from La Nava. This wetland was another of those that dried up in the middle of the 20th century. Since 1998, an area of 70 hectares of flood table has been recovered through the leasing of the land from the lagoon basin from the Town Council of Boada de Campos, the purchase of plots and payments of compensation to the farmers who let their land be flooded.
Finally, 2004 saw the start of the recovery project at the Laguna de Pedraza de Campos which has allowed the recovery of almost 100 Ha of the basin of the former lagoon that dried out in 1970.
The main achievements have been:
- Restoration of several lagoons in approximately 600 hectares of the original surface area
- Presence of thousands of water fowl – different degrees of threat
- Creation of a bird ringing station
- Establishment of buffer zones around the wetlands to reduce the pollution from farming
- Re-afforestation between the wetlands and the farming areas with a total of 50,000 trees planted
- Construction of a bypass for the Castile Canal to the Laguna de Boada to improve water quality
- Control of helophytic plants: 12 – 20 Marismeño horses
- Restoration associated with cultural heritage (Castile Canal)
- More than 40 national and international work camps
- Creation of a Museum House at the lagoon in Boada de Campos
In order to carry out all these actions, it has been fundamental to receive the technical and economic support provided by countless public and private entities such as the European Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Food and the Environment, the Biodiversity Foundation, the Duero River Basin Confederation, the Castilla y León Regional Government, the town councils of Fuentes de Nava, Mazariegos, Boada de Campos and Pedraza de Campos, Araduey‐Campos Local Action Group, the Montemadrid Foundation, the Caja Círculo, Ibercaja and Catalunya Caixa savings banks, etc.
The Albufera in Valencia
The lagoon at the Albufera, which lends its name to the Natural Park, is a unique setting that is home to endemic species such as the Spanish pupfish (Aphanius Iberus) and Valencian toothcarp (Valencia hispánica). It provides a refuge for numerous birds on their migration routes. Surrounding the lake, there are also high-value ecosystems, such as a marshy ecosystem with its paddy fields and the Devesa ecosystem, a Mediterranean coastal forest of incalculable ecological value. We are working to preserve all these habitats through conservation projects and collaboration with multiple agents.
Since 2011, we have been actively participating in the management of two artificial wetlands in order to improve the quality of the water reaching the Albufera, the Tancat de Milia and the Tancat de l’Illa. Within the context of this activity, the LIFE “Albufera” project began in 2013 with the aim of increasing the efficacy of three tancats or artificial wetlands that clean up the water in the Albufera: the Tancats de l’Illa, Milia and la Pipa. In this way, the quality of the water in the lagoon is improved, re-naturalized habitats are generated and the birds in the wetland are protected. In addition to the Global Nature Foundation, the following institutions also participate in the project: the Water and Environment Engineering Institute (IIAMA) of the Polytechnic University in Valencia, SEO/BirdLife and Acció Ecologista Agró. It has received the support of the European Commission, the Biodiversity Foundation of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment, Acuamed and la Júcar River Basin Confederation.
In the surroundings of the Albufera, we also collaborate with other entities engaging in conservation, such as the Parador de Turismo in El Saler hotel, the GOTUR ornithological group and the Xaloc association with which we have carried out awareness-building activities, bird-ringing seminars and specific conservation projects. We have also signed a collaboration agreement with the Valencian Regional Government (Department of Agriculture, Environment, Climate Change and Rural Development) for the execution of conservation initiatives in the surroundings of the Albufera. These activities include the re-introduction of specimens of threatened fauna to strengthen the wild populations, re-afforestations or environmental awareness-building activities.
Prat de Cabanes – Torreblanca
We carry out conservation and awareness-raising activities at the Prat de Cabanes-Torreblanca Natural Park. This is a littoral wetland located between the municipalities of Cabanes and Torreblanca in the province of Castellón and hosts endemic species such as gambeta shrimps, pupfish and toothcarp.
We are currently engaged in awareness-raising activities (talks, guided tours, etc.) together with the Town Council of Torreblanca through a stewardship agreement. With the support of other entities such as the Provincial Council of Castellón, we have provided the content for public use at the Espai Natura, an environmental education centre in this park with informative panels on the area.
Ponds and temporary wetlands
For more than a decade we have been working on the creation, improvement and conservation of cattle pools and temporary Mediterranean ponds. Cattle pools constitute essential habitats for the conservation of certain species of birds, amphibians, water plants, etc., some in danger of extinction such as the black stork (Ciconia nigra).
The presence of pools is important for the increase in biodiversity, not only because of their status as wetlands, but also because the water they store gradually filters into the earth, helping with fertility and the soil yield. They provide humidity to a large part of the property through dewfall and the air. Over the years, the water expands underground, improving the soil and the trees. In addition, they add diversity and elements of interest to the landscape.
“Temporary Mediterranean ponds” form one kind of cattle pools and are habitats of priority interest. These are very shallow lagoons and pools that flood from time to time, generally during winter and spring, mainly fed by rainwater, with an irregular flooding cycle that fluctuates both over the year and from one year to the next. They are home to flora mainly comprising annual plants and geophytes with an eminently Mediterranean distribution.
In recent years, we have conducted multiple activities intended to create and maintain cattle pools within the framework of stewardship agreements with the owners of private properties, fundamentally in Extremadura.
The reservoir known as Embalse de Talaván is located in the district of Cuatro Lugares in Cáceres province and is included in the Natura 2000 Network. It is an area of confluence of highly relevant ecosystems, such as holm oak dotted grazing lands, cattle pools and steppe plains. Within the context of the natural spaces recovery programme of the Banco Santander Foundation, we have started improvement works in the setting of the Talaván Reservoir.
Actions include re-afforestation and improvement of plant communities. Specimens planted include tree species such as bushweeds (Flueggea tinctoria), willows (Salix salviifolia), alders (Alnus glutinosa), ash trees (Fraxinus angustifolia) and black poplars (Populus nigra) as well as bushes such as privet (Ligustrum vulgare), black elder (Sambucus nigra) or dog roses (Rosa canina). Nesting islands have been installed for such species as black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) and nesting boxes for the lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni).
Biodiversity improvement activities are regularly supplemented by awareness-raising and environmental education initiatives in the region.
Artificial wetlands are structures that reproduce in a controlled manner the physical, chemical and biological processes permitting the elimination of pollutants dissolved in the water and normally occurring in natural wetlands. It is a “soft” water purification technique consisting in circulating the polluted water through channels or plots with vegetation. The term pollution refers to any excessive concentrations of elements that do not normally imply any risk but, in excess, cause an alteration in its composition. The plants feed off the organic matter present in the water, reducing its concentration and, therefore, eutrophy. The design varies; water may run off as a free sheet (superficial flow) or under the surface by means of gravel beds (sub-superficial flows). The plant species used and the design depend on the elements that need to be removed from the water for cleansing.
We have developed numerous artificial wetlands for this purification technique. Within the context of the Macrophytes LIFE project, a pilot project was conducted in the Mediterranean alongside the Higher Technical School of Agronomy Engineers at the Polytechnic University in Madrid and Lorca City Council.
The simplicity of its operation and the low operating and maintenance costs mean that these techniques are particularly suitable for implementation in developing countries. We have developed artificial wetlands in such countries as the Philippines, Colombia or the Dominican Republic.
In Spain, different artificial wetlands are used to clean up waste water from small communities or rural housing. There are also infrastructures intended to handle masses of water feeding natural wetlands, such as in the case of the Albufera in Valencia. Here there are three “Tancats” that have been converted into artificial wetlands to clean up the water in the Albufera and also generate habitats that can accommodate bird species, small amphibians and reptiles.
The Tancat de Milia is one of the three artificial wetlands purifying the water for the Albufera in Valencia and it is located in the municipality of Sollana. This natural reserve, previously a paddy field, covers 33.4 hectares and cleans up a volume of 2,500 m3/day.
This wetland abstracts water directly from the lake for purification. It also receives the effluent from the “Albufera Sur” WWTP and applies a final refinement treatment before it reaches the lagoon. In addition, it recreates natural ecosystems that are few and far between in the area and of great value for birdlife such as aquatic warblers or the greater bittern.
The system comprises a sector of sub-superficial flow, a sector with superficial flow and a third sector intended for the recreation of an Albufera in optimal condition, including two islands intended for nesting birds. Since the beginning of the Tancat de Milia and l’Illa, Fundación Global Nature has been involved in the design, construction and management until January 2017.
The Tancat de l’Illa located in the municipality of Sueca follows the same scheme as the Tancat de Milia but on a smaller scale. It abstracts and purifies water from the Albufera and also receives the effluent from the Sueca WWTP.
With a surface area of 14.5 Ha, it treats a volume of 2,000 m3/day and, in view of its extensive plant cover, it is a good breeding area for imperial herons. Since the beginning of the Tancat de Milia and l’Illa, Fundación Global Nature has been involved in the design, construction and management until January 2017.
The “Canal de Castilla” or Castile Canal is one of the most important hydraulic engineering works ever built in Spain. A number of wetlands are located along its margins and these, together with the gallery woods and coppices growing along the Canal, make up an ecosystem of high ecological value. Due to the great diversity of fauna and flora they accommodate, they diversify the homogeneous landscape of Tierra de Campos. These environmental values have meant their inclusion within the Natura 2000 Network, as most of the wetlands have been declared SPA and SAC and are even included in the Regional Catalogue of Wet Areas.
We have been working on the conservation of these wetlands since 1990. Among the actions carried out in this setting, the most outstanding is a LIFE project entitled “Lagoon restoration and management: Canal de Castilla SPA” (LIFE06 NAT/E/000213) that enabled the comprehensive recovery and management of these unique lakeside ecosystems in the Duero River Basin and was awarded the Best LIFE Projects 2010 prize by the European Commission.
The main achievements attained through the execution of this project have been:
- Increasing and recovering the surface area of wetlands associated with the Canal de Castilla.
- Improving and favouring the habitat of priority species such as the greater bittern or the aquatic warbler.
- Increasing the structural diversity of the landscape.
- Highlighting the value of the wetlands among the local population and making the tourism activities in the area more dynamic.
- Drafting and approval of a Comprehensive Handling and Management Plan for the SPA: Lagoons of the Canal de Castilla.
Fundación Global Nature