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What is na National Park?

The international definition of the IUCN

The Commission of Protected Natural Spaces of the International Union for Conservation of Nature  (IUCN) has classified the natural environment  protection figures  into six categories,  that  include strict protection zones and  areas where sustainable exploitation of natural resources is allowed.   Category I includes strict conservation areas, where the only human activity allowed is surveillance and research. In Spain we do not have natural areas in the Category I, although there may be specific areas of strict protection in Natural Parks and National Parks.   In Cabrera, the small islets where seabirds nest are strictly protected areas and the only access allowed it for scientific research. In Germany 2% of the territory by law must be of strict conservation! The National Parks belong to Category II of the IUCN classification, and are defined  as a large area of territory that is intended to protect biodiversity along with the ecological structure and underlying environmental processes,  as well as  promote education, recreational use and scientific research. The objective  of a National Park is to preserve the natural functioning of the interrelationships between animals, plants and the physical environment in a territory little altered by humans. Unlike areas of the Category I, visitors are encouraged to enjoy and acquire knowledge about their natural values. The National Parks are generally large territories with a wide variety of interrelated ecosystems, for example, the Galapagos Islands National Park.  

The classification of the IUCN includesthe Natural Parks in Category III and IV, and defines them  as protected areas   that allow a sustainable use of natural resources, although it is recommended that a part of the area be not exploited.

The Spanish definition of National Park

In Spain the National Parks Law of 2014 defines a National Park as a space of high ecological and cultural value, little transformed by human activity  that,  due to the beauty of its landscapes, the  representativeness  of its ecosystems or the uniqueness of its flora, fauna and  geology,  have ecological, aesthetic, cultural, educational and scientific values whose conservation deserves preferential attention and is declared of general interest of the Spanish state. The network of National Parks of Spain conserves a representation of the most important natural systems of the territory. The National Parks are the Noe’s Ark of the natural values of Spain. In Cabrera  are represented natural systems of the marine environment (Maerl bottoms, meadows of Posidonia, and other coralline communities) and the terrestrial  environment  (Mediterranean garrigues,  low rocky coasts, high sea cliffs, and seabird islands).  

A Natural Park is a territory protected by its biology, geology or landscape that, has outstanding ecological, aesthetic, cultural, educational and scientific values. The difference between a Natural Park and a National Park is the declaration of national interest of the area protected. The National Park protects one or more natural systems found in Spain.

Does the management of a National Park depend on the central state and that of a Natural Park of the autonomous community? No, since, following several resolutions of our Constitutional Court, in 2007 it was established by law that the management of a National Park belongs to the Regional Government. The National Government defines a common planning and conservation guidelines.  

Is a Natural Park an area with less protection? No, the rules for visitors to a National Park are remarkably like those of a Natural Park.

In Spain there are 15 national parks, 10 on the mainland, four in the Canary Islands,  and one in the Balearic Islands. The first National Park of Spain was  Picos  de Europa, created in  1918, and the most recent is that of the   Sierra de Guadarrama in 2013. The  Cabrera Archipelago National Park was created in 1991, and  its marine area was extended in 2019.

In our next post we will talk about the Natural Parks and protected areas of the Balearic Islands.