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A Day to remember

About Parque Natural del Alto Tajo



Original announcement of the event on this website (April 2010)

For the GEO article in Spanish language, please go to the downloads section.

A Day to remember

Following weeks of preparation the long awaited day had finally come. At 10 am on a sunny Saturday in June, about 80 nature lovers had answered to GEO Spain's call to celebrate for the first time ever a very special event on the Iberian Peninsula: GEO-Biodiversity Day. With this call the magazine wanted to make a small contribution towards raising the awareness among Spaniards - and ultimately among that of people all over the world - for the necessity to protect nature, and with it it's biodiversity.

Before going into detail of the day's course of action, something about the location should be said. The choice had not been an easy one. Three places had been taken into consideration, all of them situated in the autonomous region Castilla-La Mancha, not far from Madrid. In the end GEO Spain opted for the Natural Park Upper Tajo (Alto Tajo). It lies in the province of Guadalajara, one of Castilla-La Mancha's five provinces, about 200 kilometres east of Madrid. The decision was based on three facts: first, the unchallenged biological wealth of the location, home to a manifold, in many aspects singular nature heritage. Second, its perfect infrastructure, including the innovative wooden park lodge, which blends perfectly well with the surrounding forest. And third, the pragmatic and unconditional organizational help from the park's management as well as from regional authorities.

On the spot, bright sunshine announced perfect conditions for the Action Day. After having welcomed the participants, the seven experts introduced themselves: members of the park staff, who had volunteered to share their time. Next, groups were formed for general botany, butterflies, amphibians and reptiles, birds, carnivorous mammals and aquatic animals. A special workshop for girls and boys aged 6 to 13 years old had been arranged. The small ones would not only get instruction about the main features of the park, but also enjoy building some nesting boxes for smaller birds from cork.

Two groups proved to be the most appealing: ornithology, guided by SEO/Birdlife expert Luis Martínez, plus plants and butterflies, supervised by biologist Dr. Luis María Ferrero, an excellent connoisseur of the local flora. Orchids, too, aroused great interest: the natural park is home to 32 of 92 species, which can be found on the Iberian Peninsula and the Balearic Islands. So, a group of 13 attendants followed Juana and Francisco Barber, who are ranked among Spain´s most distinguished orchid-specialists. The group for carnivorous mammals was guided by Miguel Ángel Diaz from LIFE project - enthusiasts started a search for tracks and excrement of Wildcat (Felis silvestris), Beech marten (Martes foina) and European otter (Lutra lutra), the three best known species inhabiting the park. The group for amphibians and reptiles was guided by naturalist Enrique Ayllón, President of the Spanish Association of Herpetologists.

All participants were equipped with a daypack, containing a cap and notebook (made from recycled paper) imprinted with the GEO logo, and a mini-guide. This booklet, compiled by GEO's editorial staff in cooperation with scientists, contained descriptions and pictures of those species which visitors of the park would most likely run across. And last, bottles of mineral water were provided, sponsored by the Spanish company Osborne. The main well for Solan de Cabras, their brand for mineral water, originates just within a few kilometres from the Natural Park.

Eventually, everybody was ready to start. Some groups could reach their area of study by car only. The majority of the participants, however, stayed in the vicinity of the park lodge, especially at the Mirador de la Virgen de la Hoz, one of the most impressive lookouts within the sanctuary. The day flowed smoothly. Some people turned their gaze towards the sky to observe the matchless silhouette of Griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus), standing out against the crystal clear sky of the Alto Tajo. Others looked at the ground, marvelling at unique species of orchids, some of them being smaller than a fingernail. At 4.30 pm, after several hours of marching, detailed explanations, extensive photography and a quick picnic (participants did bring their own food), all groups returned to their starting point, the Nature Lodge.

At the lodge, the Park's director, Ángel Vela, and biologist Paula Callejo were already waiting for them. Armed with PCs and printers they now started to record the day's photographic chronicle. An often surprised, sometimes proud and certainly pleased audience saw all kinds of images come to light: orchids and lizards, fish and bizarre insects, birds as well as plants of every variety. The pictures are on display on Geo Spain's website, section Biodiversity Day. After the experts had completed their survey of pictures, the total number of species could be ascertained for the time being: 203.

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Among the findings were:

Orchids: Within just a few hours 12 species were spotted, out of 32 growing in the natural park and 92, which are catalogued for all of Spain by the country's science council CSIC. The search area included three different habitats. First an arid, sun bleached environment predominated by thyme and lavender, in which scattered trees (juniper, oak and holm oak) create specific microclimata. Next a pine-forest and the micro-sanctuary of Torremocha del Pinar´s marsh area. And last the passage leading to the lookout Mirador de la Virgen de la Hoz and the loops of the Río Gallo.

Other Flora: Out of the park's 1500 plant species (estimates go up to as high as 2000) the inventory came up to some 6 to 8 percent. 125 species could be identified for sure.

Butterflies: 10 species. This comes up to 7,7, percent of the 130 species native to the park. Worth mentioning as well: the insects were observed in different stages of metamorphosis: as adult specimen, caterpillars and as eggs.

Birds: 32 species were either seen or heard during the course of the day. The natural park is home to seven species of birds of prey, comprising approximately 673 or 875 breeding pairs. Most of the common species could be monitored, among them Sparrow hawk (Accipiter spec.) and Booted eagle (Aquila pennata).

Mammals: The group searched for tracks of mammals along a route, which traversed different habitats (from Corduente to Río Gallo). Pine-forests, Mediterranean forests and gorges were checked as well as the banks of the Río Gallo (it's waters running very high, extremely hampering the search). Despite all difficulties 12 species were verified.

Amphibians and reptiles: Various wetlands and pools were checked out. Because of the long distances between their search areas the group had to travel by car. Various toad- and lizard species were sighted plus two snakes: Ladder snake (Rhinechis scalaris) and Southern smooth snake (Coronella girondica). All in all 11 species (6 amphibians and 5 reptiles) were found.

Discussions and more

After having finished the count, experts and visitors assembled in the lodge's movie theatre. A video broaching the issue of biodiversity made quite clear, that it's conservation has a massive impact on men's own good. Next topic in the programme was a panel discussion with the field experts together with Alberto López Bravo, director of the Department of Natural Parks in the province of Castilla-La Mancha and Julián Dueñas, editor-in-chief of GEO-Spain. Attending as well were Markus Kley, general manager of G+J Spain and Fernando Miguel Madrid, mayor of the neighbouring village of Corduente. The mayor manages the new biomass-power-plant constructed by the energy trust Iberdrola right at the entrance of the Park. This groundbreaking project for the utilisation of wood from the surrounding forests created 32 jobs in an area, which has a long tradition of a flagging economy.

A play was than to conclude the day: „Juicio a los Humanos“ (Trial against Humanity), enacted by the company Onira Teatro. Based on anthropologist José Antonio Jáuregui´s book by the same title, the lawsuit which Mother Earth conducts against mankind is described in a funny and satirical manner.

In order to keep the spirit of this GEO-Day alive, the spacious park lodge is home to the exhibition „La diversidad del planeta Tierra“ (The Diversity of Planet Earth). It consists of 42 large-sized photos taken by internationally renowned photographers, whose work has been published in GEO magazine over the years. The exhibition, which has been on display in various European cities already (among them Madrid and Barcelona), will stay at the lodge for three months.

Thus ended a wonderful, unforgettable day. It was the first time ever, that a Biodiversity Day was organized in Spain. If the attendants have learned something than it is the following: it is a public responsibility, i.e. that of media like GEO, to stimulate people to become active - to sharpen their understanding for the prevailing situation and the necessity to conserve biodiversity. And to encourage every single one of us, to fight for biodiversity without any ifs and buts. It is not too late.

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About Parque Natural del Alto Tajo

One principal characteristic of Alto Tajo Nature Park is it's abundance in botanic species. The Park's almost 180000 hectare are home for about a fifth of all species to be found on the Iberian Peninsula. Exceedingly important are the spacious pine-forests, comprising 56 percent of the wooded area. Various species are represented, among them a multitude of Scots pines, European Black pines, Maritime pines and smaller, but no less valuable, bunches of Aleppo pines. Forests of Stone pines cover the hillsides in river valleys and thrive in higher altitudes. Under their crowns – or in separate little forests as well – Portuguese, Holm and Pyrenean oaks can be found. At the Park's core, on calcareous soil, prosper huge reservoirs of Spanish juniper, belonging to the best preserved ones in all Europe.

The variety of habitats in the park and the low impact of human beings secures the survival of a rich fauna. Thus, the sanctuary provides refuge for endangered species including Bonelli´s eagle. Numerous cliffs along river canyons are home to impressive numbers of predatory birds such as Golden Eagle (18 pairs), Bonelli´s eagle (4 pairs), Peregrine falcon (35 pairs), Egyptian vulture (26 pairs), Griffon vulture (about 400 pairs) and Eagle owl. The birds share their cliff habitat with small groups of Spanish ibex. Numerous pines and broad-leafed trees provide shelter for a good number of birds like Hawk, Sparrow hawk, Booted eagle, Serpent eagle, Buzzard, Jaybird, woodpeckers like Green and Spotted woodpecker, as well as smaller birds like Red crossbill, Blue tit, Great tit, various finches and Citril finch.

Moreover, the park and it's surroundings are the habitat of Wildcat, Badger, Beech marten, Weasel and one or the other Genet. Scores of trees function as hide-outs for Roe deer, stag and boar, browsing in meadows and open spaces from sundown till the early morning hours. Much smaller in size, but no less fascinating are the invertebrate inhabitants of the pine-forests and juniper-groves in higher areas, such as the spectacular butterflies Pamasius apollo and Graellsia isabellae.

Alto Tajo Nature Park has signed the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in September 2009. The plan of action for the next five years aims at letting those people, who live in the region, benefit economically from the development of tourism, without interfering with the Park's natural treasures.

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GEO coverage of Biodiversity Action Day in Spain and the world (GEO Spain, October 2010, in Spanish)

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