The northern slope of Monte Perdido (left) and Cilindro de Marboré (right), in the Pyrenees in Huesca. The snowy mount Perdido hosts one of the few glaciers that can be found in the Pyrenees. Photo credits: EFE/David Aguilar.

Picu Urriellu, also known as Naranjo de Bulnes, is the second highest peak in the Picos de Europa central massif and the symbol of this national park. It is very popular with hikers and climbers. Photo credits: EFE/R. Gómez Lucía/voo.

100th anniversary of Spain’s two oldest national parks

Picos de Europa and Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Parks are celebrating their 100th birthday. They are two of the 15 parks in the network, which covers 400,000 hectares.

Picos de Europa and Ordesa y Monte Perdido, the two oldest national parks in Spain, are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. These two protected natural areas, in Asturias and Huesca, were pioneers in a network that contains 15 biosphere reserves, covering 400,000 hectares, that is, 0.7% of the Spanish territory.

Spain was the first country to pass a National Parks Act, although USA had established Yellowstone as an American national park in 1872. The Spanish law, adopted on 8 December 1916, was supported by King Alfonso XIII.

The law, which contained only three articles, created the national park status, defined as areas of exceptional scenery in the country’s territory. Under this law, the State undertook to ensure respect for the environment, flora and fauna, geological and hydrological features of national parks.

Two years after the law was passed, in 1918, the first two national parks were established: Montaña de Covadonga, which later changed its name to Picos de Europa, and Valle de Ordesa. Their establishment placed Spain at the forefront of environmental protection worldwide.

Fifteen nature parks

In 1954, two natural areas were added to the network of Spanish National Parks: Teide and Caldera de Taburiente (Canary Islands). In 1955, Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici (Catalonia) joined them. In 1957, the law adopted in 1916 was annulled and replaced by a new Forestry Act.

The National Parks Act prohibits both recreational and commercial fishing, recreational and commercial hunting, tree felling for commercial purposes and construction, except in the existing communities in Monfragüe and Picos de Europa.

At present, the network of Spanish National Parks also includes Cabañeros and Tablas de Daimiel (Castile-La Mancha), Islas Atlánticas (Galicia), Monfragüe (Extremadura), Doñana and Sierra Nevada (Andalusia), Archipiélago de Cabrera (Balearic Islands), Sierra de Guadarrama (Madrid and Castile-León), and Timanfaya and Garajonay (Canary Islands).

2000 protected areas

The largest of all national parks in Spain is Sierra Nevada, covering 86,300 hectares; the smallest, with a surface area of 3000 hectares, is Tablas de Daimiel. The most visited park is Teide, welcoming more than 4 million visitors every year.

In addition, our country has nearly 2000 natural areas with different levels of protection. This means that around 15 million hectares are protected (30% of the country’s total area).

All these areas contain invaluable natural resources and landscapes. Most of them are protected both by national and international organisations or treaties like EU Natura 2000, UN Biosphere Reserves or the Ramsar Convention.

At present, the network of Spanish National Parks is considering the inclusion of two new parks: Sierra de las Nieves, in the province of Málaga, and Mar de las Calmas, in El Hierro, Canary Islands. The latter would be the first-ever 100% marine national park.