Picos de Europa National Park

Picos de Europa National Park

The Picos de Europa National Park can be found in the central aspect of the Cantabrian Mountains, which run west to east along the Cantabrian Sea. The range covers over 480 kilometers in length and about 100 kilometer on average wide (the north to south aspect).

The diverse topography of mountains has been shaped by the action of water and ice on the limestone rock, which forms the Cantabrian Mountains. These features can be seen in the U-shaped glacial valleys and lakes and at the Mampodre Glacier. The park is also home to two of Spain’s most spectacular gorges formed by erosion from the many rivers, the Beyos gorge and the Cares gorge. The water erosion has also created magnificent caves with Trave being the deepest, which is also the second largest in Spain.

The ecosystem has been compared to that of the Siberian region with its large oak and beech forests characteristic of the Atlantic coast. The winds and close proximity of the sea make the erosion of the north side more stark with its higher rainfall and more fast flowing rivers. The Picos de Europa National Park also has several wetlands, including Pozo Butrero, Isoba Lakes and Lagunas de los Hoyos, which have been identified as special areas to protect the flora and fauna.

This unique park managed jointly by the three provinces it traverses of Asturias, Cantabria and Leon provides extensive walking, horse riding and climbing opportunities. The diverse landscapes within the park offer activities for all sports and leisure people from the rugged peaks to the gentle river valleys everyone’s needs are met.

Originally the Picos de Europa National Park, the first protected areas of Spain in 1918, was a quarter of the size it is today, covering some 64,660 hectares. It has many diverse environments with its highest peak, Torrecerredo, being 2,648 meters above sea level and its smallest being a mere 75 meters.


Animals & Birds
The fauna in the park match the diversity of its landscape from its inhabitants of the many rocky areas and cliffs to those animals who thrive on the patchwork of forests, scrub and grassland which has resulted form centuries of farming the land.

It has many protected or endangered species including the Cantabrian capercaillie and the bearded Vulture. The capercaillie can be found in the mountainous forest areas where the berries, acorns and beechnuts it east are found. Being a ground nesting bird its eggs are one of the favourite foods of several of the predators notably weasels, goshawks and boars. The grey partridge is common amongst the forests and scrubland eating the many seeds this terrain provides. Its short low flights with its accompanying call of ‘rick, rick, rick’ make it easy to identify.

The bearded vulture can be seen in the rocky mountain areas as they provide ideal sites for dropping its food of bones and shells onto the rocks below so that they are split and are easier to eat. They share this terrain with the short curved horn of the chamois is also a common sight as it travels between these rich pastures and the icy rugged peaks of the mountains.

Within the mature forests of the Picos de Europa brown bears still live. These forests provide a wide variety of food for this omnivorous predator from small birds, fish and animals to its wide variety of wild berries. Increased use of their natural habitat for sporting activities and improved infrastructure has caused a serious decline in their numbers.

Another predator now restricted to the natural parks is the Iberian wolf. It is an extremely adaptability creature and its widely varied diet means it is able to live in the forests, grasslands, tundra and mountains.

The flora of the Picos de Europas is as varied as its habitats with the deciduous forests of the Cantabrian mountain, the grasslands and stunning valleys formed by fast flowing rivers to the glacial areas of the mountain peaks.

The vegetation at the high altitudes of the Picos de Europa National Park is highly specialized pajonera grass, which is able to survive in these adverse conditions. The juniper bush also favours this colder climate thriving in the limestone crags and hills of the southern side of the range. The birch can also survive at altitudes over 1,800 meters along with creeping shrubs and herbaceous plants

The forests cover the mountain range with distinct characteristics depending on whether they face the Atlantic or not. Pine, hazel, beech and holly forests favour the northern Atlantic side with a variety of orchids and saxifrage also flourishing here. In contrast the smaller forests of the south have oaks and juniper with a variety of mountain flowers. These specialized ecosystems also allow many invertebrates to flourish such as reptiles, butterflies, beetles, bugs and flies, which in turn provide food for many small animals and birds.


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