The ancient rivalry between the kingdoms of Granada and Seville is well documented, and very much alive and kicking. Which is why the ecologists of Granada have reacted with fairly unrestricted glee to the news that the Sierra Nevada has become the first National Park in Spain to be awarded entry to the much coveted Green List of the IUCN.( the International Union for the Protection of Nature.) Not that we're gloating, but poor old Doñana, home to a handful of expensive, mangy wild cats and the odd stork, say the folk of Granada, has failed against the odds to have its bid accepted.
And the thing is, although many of you may not have heard of it, the IUCN is a very significant player in these matters, and their views carry weight. In fact, the IUCN is the world's oldest and largest global environmental organisation, with more than 1,200 government and NGO Members and almost 11,000 volunteer experts in some 160 countries. With the key word here being expert, for these guys are neither administrators nor jealous politicians, but for the most part exceptional, dispassionate scientists whose role is to describe the truth as they see it.
So it's a fair old honour for the Sierra Nevada to be given this acclaim, especially when you consider that not only is it for now the single site in Spain, but one of only 23 internationally, in an exclusive list stretching from Kenya to Korea to Columbia .
Fair recognition too, we think, for it is an area of immense beauty, astounding biodiversity and with a powerful history to boot. With more than 86 000 hectares of protected land it is by some margin the biggest National Park in Spain, and of course the highest, with peaks rising to over 11 400 feet. Such is the height gain from practically the shores of the Mediterranean to the towering peaks that it allows for various, distinct habitats which are home to more than 2100 plant species, leading to the claim that as many as 80% of Europe's endemic flowers are found within its borders. There are also huge temperature swings through the year: in the summer it is not uncommon for the thermometer to rise above 40C, whilst in the winter it can plunge to 20 below, so it is remarkable how various species have been able to adapt to such wildly fluctuating conditions, and to cope with drought and the challenge presented by 300 days of the most intense solar radiation.
So this award underlines what we've known all along, namely that it's fabulous , that it's fragile, that it's home to a myriad rare beasties, that it's freely accessible, and most important perhaps, that the powers-that-be are undeniably aware of all of the above and are offering not only recognition but also the best protection that European environmental laws can currently provide.
Come and see for yourselves. Despite the restrictions placed on the hunters, road builders and developers, the rest of us can roam and explore freely on foot. There are no access issues, no tolls, no fences, and, most pleasingly of all, virtually no people. Unlike somewhere like say, Doñana. Did I mention that they are not yet on the list …..?
- The author wishes to note that he has no axe to grind with the people of Seville. Rather that this is an amiable rivalry, a bit like that between fair Lancashire and t'other lot.