Thursday, March 23, 2017
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Picos de Europa Regional Park

Click to enlargeLeaving the dramatic, bare rocky peaks of the Picos de Europa National Park behind and heading south, you find yourself in the Picos de Europa Regional Park in the province of León, which in turn belongs to the autonomous community of Castilla/León. The geological structure here is more diverse with mountains generally more rounded, moulded by glaciation. The rock is mainly conglomerate and limestone with some granite and sandstone. Vegetation cover, in the forms of heathers, brooms and gorses lends the terrain a greener, generally more colourful aspect.
 
 
Since its creation in 1994 the Picos de Europa Regional Park has been, not surprisingly, often confused with the Picos de Europa National Park. Under the jurisdiction of the autonomous commuity of Castilla and León, it covers 120,757 ha. in the province of León including the portion of the Picos de Europa National Park (Oseja de Sajambre and Posada de Valdeón valleys) belonging to León province. Not counting said valleys, the Regional Park covers 101,337 ha. The area forms part of Spain's Natura 2000 network of protected natural spaces, recognised for much of its eco-system being unaltered by man, and is a SPA (Special Protection Area for birds, in Spanish, ZEPA) and SCI (Site of Community Interest, in Spanish, LIC). The status of Regional Park (Parque Regional) aims to preserve the natural value of its ecology, to ensure that any human development within its boundaries is compatible with its conservation and to Click to enlargeencourage traditional activities, namely farming, hunting and tourism. Coal mining is no longer the thriving industry it once was in the region. Agriculture is small-scale and mostly cereals, livestock mostly cattle and horses bred for meat.

The Picos de Europa Regional Park spreads south from the Sajambre and Valdeón valleys of the national park to encompass the Leonese municipalities of Burón, Riaño, Crémenes and Prioro; east to include Boca de Huérgano, which borders the Natural Park of Fuentes Carrionas and Fuente Cobre in the neighbouring province of Palencia; and west to incorporate Maraña, Acebedo, Reyero and Puebla de Lillo. Also within the Picos de Europa Regional Park is the whole of the Regional Hunting Reserve of Riaño (71,538 ha.) and 65% of the Regional Hunting Reserve of Mampodre (30,858 ha. in total).

More or less in the centre of the Picos de Europa Regional Park lies the new town Click to enlargeof Riaño, at an altitude of 1,148m. It's true the setting is magnificent, a large body of water surrounded by mountains and dominated by the pyramid of Pico Yordas. But Riaño has a sad history. After various threats throughout the 20th century, the rivers Esla, Yuso and Retuerto were finally dammed and the valley flooded to create the reservoir in 1987, just seven years before the creation of the regional park. The old town now lies directly under the bridge that crosses the middle of the water. From a population of 1,649 in 1970 to 823 in 1981, the population in 2005 stood at 539. The defiant local population had lost the battle and Click to enlargemany refused to accept their new housing, shops and community infrastructure in the town built for them on the hill, finally moving elsewhere.

Hope for the future now rests with tourism to boost the economy. If this is managed sensibly and sensitively, bearing in mind the area's unique biodiversity, it could surpass the revenue currently gained by hunting.

Many place names in the Picos de Europa Regional Park are testament to the once significant Cantabrian brown bear population. Here's a very interesting article (in Spanish and on pdf) I found by Javier Fernández García on theToponomy of the Picos de Europa Regional Park in relation to the Cantabrian brown bears. Brown bears still roam this land, as do the odd Capercaillie or two. Add to this the amount of possible outdoor, environmentally-friendly activities that can be enjoyed here then they should be in with a chance.

Atlantic habitats meet Mediterranean in this part of the Cantabrian mountain chain. Wooded areas are predominantly European, or Common, beech (Fagus sylvatica) mixed with Downy birch (Betula pubescens), European holly (Ilex aquifolium), Yew (Taxus baccata) and Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia). Oaks are also abundant, especially the Pyrenean (Quercus pyrenaica) and Lusitanian (Q. faginea).

Narcissus asturiensis, Gentianella ciliata and Tulipa sylvestris ssp. australis

As the snows dissipate in early spring the fields on the edges of mountain streams are swathed in the yellow of wild daffodills, two of which are listed on Annexe II of the EU's Habitats Directive; Narcissus pseudonarcissus nobilis and the diminutive Narcissus asturiensis (above left). As the year progresses other rarities appear. Look out for Wild tulips in April/May, Tulipa sylvestris ssp. australis (above right) and the Fringed gentian, Gentianella ciliata (above centre) in summer.

Of particular note among the vegetation in the Picos de Europa Regional Park is the Pinar de Lillo in the west of the territory, a natural Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) forest, a relict of what was once spread over the Cantabrian mountains. Due to the presence of Capercaillie, visits to the forest are restricted and confined to groups of 15 maximum. Permission must be sought from;

Servicio Territorial de Medio Ambiente de León
(Sección de Espacios Naturales)
c/ Peregrinos, s/n
León
Tel: 987 29 61 00

 

The two main interpretation and tourist information centres for the Picos de Europa Regional Park are;

Oficina de Información del Parque Regional (eastern sector)
Ayuntamiento (town hall) de Riaño
Plaza de Cimadevilla, s/n
Riaño
Tel.: 987 74 06 65
and
Oficina de Información del Parque Regional (western sector)
Avda. Alonso Sánchez Lombas, s/n
Puebla de Lillo
Tel.: 987 73 10 03

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