The Southern Iberian Chain

JUAN CARLOS MUÑOZ ROBREDO

The Southern Iberian Chain

The Southern Iberian Chain

JUAN CARLOS MUÑOZ ROBREDO

The Southern Iberian Chain

The Southern Iberian Chain

JUAN CARLOS MUÑOZ ROBREDO

The Southern Iberian Chain

The Southern Iberian Chain

JUAN CARLOS MUÑOZ ROBREDO

The Southern Iberian Chain

The Southern Iberian Chain

JUAN CARLOS MUÑOZ ROBREDO

The Southern Iberian Chain

The Southern Iberian Chain

JUAN CARLOS MUÑOZ ROBREDO

The Southern Iberian Chain

A rugged mountain chain of high plateaus that carves its way through the Iberian Peninsula of Spain, home to pine, oak and juniper forests that mingle alongside steppe and dramatic river canyons.

Over half of the Rewilding Landscape’s 850,000 hectares lie in protected areas – mainly as Natura 2000 sites. The sparsely populated Iberian Highlands sit at a crossroads of competing climates and dynamic and diverse habitats that have become a sanctuary for a wide range of species, including thriving populations of raptors such as Bonelli’s eagle, peregrine falcon and the eagle owl.

The Iberian Highlands spans the two autonomous communities of Castilla-La Mancha and Aragón, where land abandonment and depopulation has been an ongoing trend since the 1960s. This has encouraged the comeback of deer, wild boar, mouflon, small groups of Iberian ibex and an abundance of Egyptian and griffon vultures; but the top predators – the Iberian lynx, Iberian wolf and Brown Bear – remain absent from the slopes.

Livestock farming and hunting continue to have a strong – but decreasing – presence throughout the landscape and nature tourism is an expanding sector throughout the Iberian Highlands. The high levels of biodiversity and low levels of human disturbance provide promising conditions for nature tourism to play a greater role in diversifying and strengthening local economies.


JUAN CARLOS MUÑOZ ROBREDO

Rewilding vision

For each rewilding landscape we developed an inspiring vision that shows our ambition for the next ten years. Together with our local partners we work to make this vision a reality.

What are we doing here?

Restoring the scavengers

Scavenging is a vital ecological process in the Iberian Highlands, but some species are missing. We are working with our local partners to return the Cinereous vultures to the landscape to help restore broken links in the trophic chain. Measures are being implemented – including supplementary feeding platforms and visual lures – to encourage the natural recolonisation of bearded vultures, and preparatory work is underway to carry out a translocation of birds from the Pyrenees.

To safeguard their return, steps are also being taken to promote the use of lead-free ammunition, and monitor the threat that poisoning poses. The reintroduction of the Cinereous vulture has already started, with the acclimatisation of individuals for some months in pre-release enclosures.

Return of the Iberian Lynx

The Iberian Lynx disappeared from the Iberian Highlands as populations of their main prey – the rabbit – plummeted due to various introduced diseases. To restore this charismatic carnivore to the top of the food chain, an experimental release is being mapped out, using animals that are unsuitable for breeding in captivity. Although rabbit numbers are still scarce, there is a plentiful amount of roe, fallow and red deer present in the proposed release area, as well as wild boar.

If successful, the reintroduction will be scaled up to establish a permanent viable population in the landscape. The presence of this felid could act as a catalyst for nature tourism in the Iberian Highlands, creating new enterprise opportunities and benefitting local communities.

Natural grazing

We will restore natural grazing processes with kulan in arid areas of steppe habitat, optimising the conditions for a host of bird species that include the Dupont’s lark, black-bellied sandgrouse, little bustard and great bustard. By supporting these bird species along with many more, there is the possibility of establishing photographic hides on the steppe that would make a valuable contribution to ecotourism in the area.

Following a forest fire in 2005 affecting 11,900 hectares of pine and Pyrenean oak, the burnt trees were removed and the area left to naturally regenerate. However, the current stands which have developed are too dense and lacking in complexity – which stymies acorn production. Natural grazing has started with horses helping to open up these areas to light, leading to more structural diversity and a mosaic landscape to enable long-term natural regeneration. We are also planning to reintroduce Iberian ibex to the most rugged areas.

Open areas will also be maintained by natural grazing in the municipality of Villanueva de Alcoron, now that there are no longer large livestock in the area. The flat area at an altitude of 1,200 metres is home to Scots pine and black pine forest, with an understorey of juniper and barberry. The presence of horses will reduce the density of shrubs and other vegetation, and in doing so, reduce the impact of wildfire.

Protecting old-growth forests

We are working to conserve the last remaining old-growth forest in the Iberian Highlands by compensating the owners for the loss in timber revenues. These magnificent and irreplaceable old trees are thereby saved, so they can continue to make a valuable and substantial contribution to carbon sequestration, while hosting much of the biodiversity that lives in this ecosystem.

Mapping has already identified 987 hectares of this precious habitat, with buffer zones totalling 1,466 hectares around them. Good connections with key landowners (in mostly small municipalities) are in place, along with a partnership with the city of Cuenca – home to the largest forest owner in the region.

To engage a wide range of local people in proforestation, a public campaign is being set up in which citizens can adopt an old tree and provide compensation for the timber value through their purchase. This nurtures stronger community involvement, as well as growing the budget for forest protection.

“It has been wonderful to see semi-wild horses grazing freely.”

Pablo Schapira
Pablo Schapira
Project Director Iberian Highlands
How would you characterise your rewilding landscape?
The Iberian Highlands is a vast forest landscape already protected by two large natural parks and many Natura 2000 sites. The area lies in the middle of the so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with very low human population density and depopulation. Rewilding, in combination with other strategies, can make a difference by offering new opportunities that help people to live from the local resources. These resources include a rich and ancient culture, expanses of native pine, juniper and oak forests, impressive cliffs and rocky areas, open arid areas, a diverse guild of wild herbivores, and the source of major rivers, including the Tagus which stretches for over 50km.

What have the major achievements been in your rewilding landscape to date?
The major achievements have undoubtedly been involving relevant stakeholders in our plans for the Rewilding Landscape, and explaining its value; partnering with a few early adopters to start activities in the area. We have educated people on the need for healthy ecosystems and communicated our sense of pride to work on new commitments to forge stronger connections between nature and the economy and society. It has been wonderful to see semi-wild horses grazing freely and Cinereous vultures soaring in the skies again, as well as implementing initial actions to attract bearded vultures to the area.

What would you like to see achieved in your rewilding landscape in the next five years?
We first want to see that stakeholders across our 850,000-hectare rewilding landscape understand and are engaged with our work. Secondly, we want to have established exemplary rewilding actions to achieve a network of well-connected natural and semi-natural core areas with functional ecosystems and a matrix of multifunctional landscapes that benefit both nature (i.e. biodiversity and ecosystems functions), and humans (i.e. ecosystem services and their associated socio-economic opportunities, like ecotourism).

Team members

Mara Zamora Crespo

General Secretary

Pablo Schapira

Project Director

Lidia Valverde Jiménez

Communications Officer

Board members

  • José María Rey Benayas
  • Jordi Palau
  • Marco Bolognini

Contact

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