LA MANCHA WETLANDS
“Paradise for birds in the plains of La Mancha”

GENERAL DESCRIPTION

Within the large natural region of La Mancha that spreads across the provinces of Ciudad Real, Toledo and Cuenca, we can find a large number of dispersed wetlands of high natural value. The endorheic complex of La Mancha gives rise to a unique aquatic landscape in the dry plains of Castilla La Mancha, offering variety with the presence of seasonal or permanent surfaces of water in an eminently agricultural setting. To the landscape values, we must add the biological diversity of the surroundings of the lagoons due to the existence of a succession of ecological niches providing a great wealth of marsh fauna and flora, as it welcomes a large amount of passing migratory birds, and it is also a space of vital importance for water fowl living there all year round. All of this makes the endorheic and semi-endorheic context of La Mancha one of the most significant areas of marshland on the Iberian Peninsula.

The “La Mancha Wetlands” SPA and SCI comprises a large number of discontinuous wetlands among which we can highlight the lagoon complexes of Lillo, Villacañas, Quero, Alcázar de San Juan, Pedro Muñoz and Manjavacas. Here we can find wetlands of great ecological interest, such as the wetlands of El Longar, el Altillo and la Albardiosa in Lillo (Toledo); the Larga, Peña Hueca and Tirez wetlands in Villacañas (Toledo); the Laguna Grande and del Taray wetlands in Quero (Toledo); the la Paloma wetland in La Puebla de Almoradiel (Toledo); the Grande and Chica and the Lagunilla de la Sal wetlands in Villafranca de los Caballeros (Toledo); the Laguna de los Carros, de Pajares, de la Veguilla, de Cerro Mesado, de las Yeguas and del Camino de Villafranca wetlands in Alcázar de San Juan (Ciudad Real); the Laguna del Salicor in Campo de Criptana (Ciudad Real); the Laguna del Retamar, del Pueblo, de Navalafuente and de Alcahozo lagoons in Pedro Muñoz (Ciudad Real); the Laguna de Manjavacas, de Sánchez Gómez, de Melgarejo, de Navalengua, de la Dehesilla and de Alcahozo lagoons in Mota del Cuervo (Cuenca); the Laguna del Taray Chico in Las Mesas (Cuenca) and the Pantano de los Muleteros marsh in Mota del Cuervo (Cuenca), among many others.

SUMMARY TECHNICAL DATA

Natura 2000 N SPA Code: ES0000091. Area: 14 616 Ha. Natura 2000 N SCI Code: ES4250010. Area: 14 493 Ha.

Name: “Humedales de la Mancha” (La Mancha Wetlands).

Province: Toledo, Ciudad Real y Cuenca.

Municipalities: In Ciudad Real province: Alcázar de San Juan, Campo de Criptana, Pedro Muñoz and Socuéllamos. In Cuenca province: Las Mesas, Mota del Cuervo and Las Pedroñeras. In Toledo province: Lillo, Miguel Esteban, La Puebla de Almoradiel, Quero, El Toboso, Villacañas, La Villa de Don Fadrique and Villafranca de los Caballeros.

Characteristic habitats: steppes and saline esparto grass (Lygeum spartum and Limonium sp). Riparian galleries with halophyte tamarisk thickets zx tarayales. Meadows of high grass and reeds. Halophilic scrub land (Suaeda vera, Arthrocnemum fruticosum). Saline pastures (Juncus maritimus, J. acutus). Plants in muddy areas (Salicornia). Calcareous turf bogs or sawgrass (Cladium mariscus and Carex davalliana). False brome and dry pastures of Brachypodium retusum. Mediterranean scrub land.

Outstanding values and most representative and unique species: natural spaces of great importance for lakeside plant formations and birds: ducks, Ardeidae, spoonbills, flamingos, cranes, etc, and birds of prey such as the marsh harrier. Endemic species of flora: Limonium costae, L. toletanum, L. carpetanicum, L. longebracteatum, etc.

Other protection concepts: Wet La Mancha Biosphere Reserve. Natural Reserves of the Lillo Lagoon Complex (Longar, Altillo Grande and Altillo Chico), La Laguna de la Albardiosa, La Laguna de Tirez, La Laguna de Peñahueca, Las Lagunas Grande and Chica in Villafranca de los Caballeros, La Laguna de la Sal, La Laguna de Salicor, the Lagoon Complex of Alcázar de San Juan, the Lagoon Complex of Pedro Muñoz and the Natural Reserve of the Lagoon Complex of Manjavacas and the Micro-reserve of La Laguna de los Carros. In addition, some of these lagoon complexes have been declared Fauna Refuges and/or are of the maximum importance for the white-headed duck, according to the Recovery Plan approved for this species.

Best time to visit and other recommendations: spring, autumn and winter. Many of the wetlands included in the SCI and SPA include bird observatories and informative signed routes for visitors. At the Natural Reserves of the Lagoon Complexes in Pedro Muñoz and Alcázar de San Juan, each has an interpretation centres explaining these wetlands. It is necessary to be extremely respectful of the birdlife during the visit so as not to disturb the tranquillity of the water fowl, especially during the nesting period.

The territory these wetlands are located in is an extensive area at an average altitude of 650 m, midway between the three provinces mentioned. The landscape is characterized by large extensions of plains given over to the cultivation of mainly cereals and vines, with very scant tree cover. The lagoons are very diverse in terms of their origins, types and area, with some of them seasonal and others with permanent presence of water, some with fresh water, others with briny or even hypersaline water, etc. The lagoons are predominantly endorheic of karstic origin, shallow and briny or hypersaline, although we can also find wetlands linked to river courses, with fresh water and greater depth, as well as wetlands on plains or flood tables.

The natural vegetation is scant: around the lagoons, there is a dynamic banding of rings of plant life depending on the proximity of the water, with different plants in the surroundings closest to the lagoon until the edge of the lagoon basin and other plants typical of the free water surface. The most outstanding is lakeside vegetation (helophytic) formed by clumps of sedge, reedbeds and bulrush groves. In some wetlands, woody plants grow in the form of willow or tamarisk thickets. Water plants are dominated by macrophytes and charophyte algae, although there is also a major presence of saline lagoons with halophyllic flora (adapted to the presence of salt). There are abundant exterior steppe-like areas with patches of esparto grass and halophyllic reeds and other beds and clumps of Brachypodium retusum. The scrub land close to the surroundings, when they exist, is dominated by evergreen oaks, kermes oaks and gorse.

With respect to birdlife, the area is important for the overwintering and nesting populations of water birds, always dependent on the water level. The populations of marsh harriers, avocet, black-winged stilt and black-billed tern are noteworthy. Birds of passage include populations of crane and winter concentrations of red-crested pochard, northern shoveller, white-headed duck, greylag goose, common teal, mallard and common pochard. We can also find populations of steppe birds among the crops close to some of the wetlands included in the SPA (little bustard, great bustard, stone curlew, Iberian sandgrouse, etc.).

The area is characterized by the existence of large towns with extensive municipal limits, where the main economic activity has been agriculture and husbandry, although industrial activity is currently beginning to strengthen and tourism is booming.

ORNITHOLOGICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPORTANCE

In addition to the landscape value that these wetlands provide in an eminently arid setting, the complex hydrological system regulating some of these lagoon complexes and the formations of marsh plants and esparto grass are noteworthy, with the presence of numerous endemic species of halophilic flora.

With respect to the fauna values, the populations of water birds stand out as it is a very important area for the breeding and/or overwintering of marsh harriers, avocet, black-winged stilt, black-billed tern, red-crested pochard, northern shoveller, white-headed duck, greylag goose, teals, pochards, etc. The fields near some of the lagoons included in the SPA-SCI are of interest for the reproduction of lesser kestrel, little bustard, great bustard, stone curlew and sandgrouse. Around some of the lagoons, major winter gatherings of common cranes and other Anatidae concentrate or pass through. Also noteworthy are the breeding colonies of imperial heron, night heron, little egret, greater bittern, little bittern, etc.

SIGNIFICANT SPECIES

The list of bird species inventoried in the La Mancha wetlands, including nesting, overwintering or migratory species, is very extensive. Those of the greatest relevance are cited below, either because of the level of threat or else due to their abundance, in order to give an idea of the importance of this natural space for the conservation of water fowl.

NOMBRE COMÚN NOMBRE CIENTÍFICO
Aguilucho lagunero Circus aeruginosus
Ánade friso Anas strepera
Avetorillo común Ixobrychus minutus
Avoceta común Recurvirostra avosetta
Calamón común Porphyrio porphyrio
Canastera común Glareola pratincola
Cigüeñuela común Himantopus himantopus
Flamenco común Phoenicopterus ruber
Fumarel común Chlidonias niger
Malvasía común Oxyura leucocephala
Pagaza piconegra Gelochelidon nilotica
Pato colorado Netta rufina

There are also populations of steppe birds among the crops close to some lagoons, such as the great bustard, the common little bustard, the stone curlew and the sandgrouse. The presence of Dupont’s lark has also been cited.

Another vertebrate species of interest, in the reptile group, the Mediterranean turtle (Mauremys leprosa).

Some species of rare or interesting plants cited are

THREATS AND MANAGEMENT

The main conservation problem of the wetlands making up this SPA and SCI is the major desiccation they suffer due to a lack of water provision, either through the fall in the piezometric level or over-exploitation of the aquifer due to the drilling of wells for irrigation, or else as a consequence of the general decline in rainfall experienced over recent decades and by the channelling of rivers and streams, in the case of wetlands in river flood plains.

Pollution and eutrophization of the water due to spillages or continuous inflows of untreated waste water or incorrectly treated waste water from the towns close to the wetlands represent another of the serious problems affecting many of these wetlands.

On top of these impacts, we have to add the illegal dumping of rubble in the lagoon basins and their surroundings, increased cultivation on the margins of the lagoons and esparto grass clumps as well as the diffuse pollution caused by contributions of phytosanitary products and fertilizers from the crops close to the wetlands, the strong pressure for urbanization that many of these wetlands are subject to due to their proximity to townships, or the disruptions for wild birds derived from the public use of the lagoons.

In 1996, Natural Resources Organization Plans (NROP) started to be drafted for most of the wetlands included in the SPA and SCI. In consequence, a total of ten Natural Reserves and one Micro-reserve have been declared in the wetlands making up this natural space, their respective NROP approved and actions undertaken for the restoration, conservation and regulation of public use and the provision of infrastructure to help visitors understand the wetlands. A variety of Fauna Refuges have also been declared for the protection of wild birds in the area and a territorial Recovery Plan has been approved for the white-headed duck in several lagoons comprised in this space.