STEPPE AREA OF NORTHERN LA MANCHA

“A refuge for steppe birds in the heart of La Mancha”

GENERAL DESCRIPTION

The area named “Northern La Mancha Steppe Area SPA” covers nine separate areas that are important for steppe birds, especially with regard to the great bustard (Otis tarda), as this location attracts over sixty per cent of the total population in Castilla La Mancha. With a flat or undulated relief, all these areas are included within the large natural district of La Mancha, distributed among the provinces of Cuenca, Ciudad Real and Toledo.

The landscape is characterized by an ensemble of cultivated areas with some areas of fallow land and pastures in between, with small enclaves of evergreen holm oaks, kermes oaks or diverse scrub land (mainly gorse). There are also some enclaves with juniper and several formations typical of gypsum steppes. The habitats are complemented by the existence of small saline areas or saltpetre-bearing meadows with the presence of tamarisk thickets. The dominant pastures are annual false brome groves beds of Brachypodium retusum. There are small riparian extensions with remains of groves of white poplar and willow, where ems were also important in the past but are currently almost non-existent. All these areas have been cultivated since ancient times, predominantly with unirrigated cereals and some vineyards.

SUMMARY TECHNICAL DATA

Natura 2000 N Code: ES0000170. Name: Northern La Mancha Steppe Area. Provinces: Toledo, Cuenca and Ciudad Real.

Area: 106 414 Ha.

Municipalities or towns of reference: CIUDAD REAL: Alcázar de San Juan and Campo de Criptana. CUENCA: El Acebrón, Almendros, Fuente de Pedro Naharro, Horcajo de Santiago, Pozorrubio, Tarancón, Torrubia del Campo, Uclés, Villamayor de Santiago and Villarrubio. TOLEDO: Cabezamesada, Consuegra, Corral de Almaguer, Dosbarrios, La Guardia, Lillo, Madridejos, Ocaña, El Romeral, Santa Cruz de la Zarza, Tembleque, Turleque, Villacañas, Villanueva de Alcardete, Villanueva de Bogas, Villarrubia de Santiago and Villatobas.

Characteristic habitats: unirrigated dryland, grazing lands, annual bromes, thickets of holm oak and Aleppo pine, white poplar and willow groves, with junipers, gorse, gypsum-bearing formations and saline pastures.

Outstanding values and most representative and unique species: the environmental values lie in the existence of major pure steppe and sub-steppe areas, as well as the saline pastures. The most emblematic species of birds include the great bustard, the sandgrouse, the black-bellied sandgrouse, the stone curlew, the Montagu’s harrier, the little bustard, the lesser kestrel and Dupont’s lark.

Other protection concepts: not present.

Best time to visit and other recommendations: spring and autumn.

The plains and small plateaux are located at a mean altitude of around 700‑800 m. In the valleys, there are some endorheic areas that present seasonal lagoons.

The best-known areas included are the Llanos de Tembleque and La Guardia or the so-called Mesa de Ocaña. It also includes the area known as the Dehesa de Monreal, a series of small lagoons of artificial origin created in 1984 and supplied by means of a seasonal stream with abundant islands and marsh-loving plants.

The villages in the area are medium to large in size and are mainly given over to agriculture, sheep farming and the service sector. There is currently also a little industry. In some areas such as Consuegra and its surroundings, there are traditional growers of saffron, harvested in the autumn. The whole area holds enormous historical and artistic interest.

ORNITHOLOGICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPORTANCE

As mentioned above, the main importance of this territory lies in the major populations of steppe birds it houses, as it is one of the most important for these species in Castilla La Mancha, particularly the great bustard. We can find here important concentrations of little bustards, sandgrouse and black-bellied sandgrouse, with a small core of Dupont’s lark.

The Dehesa de Monreal is important for the breeding of white-headed duck, common swamp hen, black-billed tern, black-winged stilt, avocet and marsh harrier; as well as for the over-wintering of red-crested pochard.

SIGNIFICANT SPECIES
NOMBRE COMÚN NOMBRE CIENTÍFICO
Aguilucho pálido Circus cyaneus
Alcaraván común Burhinus oedicnemus
Avutarda común Otis tarda
Cernícalo primilla Falco naumanni
Ganga ibérica Pterocles alchata
Ganga ortega Pterocles orientalis
Sisón común Tetrax tetrax

Other species of vertebrates of interest that are present are reptiles and amphibians, such as Iberian ribbed newts, toads, parsley frogs and frogs.

THREATS AND MANAGEMENT

The agrarian and husbandry activities that have moulded this landscape in which the steppe birds thrive are compatible with the conservation of their populations. In any case, the adoption of improvement measures must be undertaken for the sake of the bird populations, such as the adaptation of the sowing and harvesting calendars, a reduction in the use of biocides, or greater precaution with mechanized harvesting.

The current transformation from the traditional cultivation of vines towards espalier vines implies the loss of a useful habitat for steppe birds like the great bustard. Similarly, the transformation from certain unirrigated crops to irrigated ones and the construction of new infrastructures may generate serious impacts.

Another threat for the great bustard populations lies in illegal poaching, which must be checked.

In various of the cadastral polygons of the municipalities of Fuente de Pedro Naharro, Horcajo de Santiago, Torrubia del Campo, Uclés, Almendros, Villamayor de Santiago, Pozorrubio, Horcajo de Santiago, Consuegra, Corral de Almaguer, Dosbarrios, El Romeral, La Guardia, Madridejos, Santa.Cruz de la Zarza, Tembleque, Turleque, Villacañas, Villanueva de Bogas, Villarrubia de Santiago and Villatobas, programmes are being applied by the Castilla La Mancha Regional Government to help farmers adopt agricultural practices that are compatible with the conservation of the habitat for steppe birds.