Barcelona Field Studies Centre

Management of the Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park

By Jaume Vicens i Perpinya

Director of the National Park of the La Garrotxa volcanic area

The National Park of the La Garrotxa volcanic area lies in the Catalan pre-Pyrenees, in semi-mountainous land with a particularly damp local climate. It was created by a law of the Catalan Parliament in 1982, and it covers an area of 119 square kilometres, of which nine square kilometres are made up of 25 natural reserves of geobotanic interest. With its more than 30 volcanic cones and numerous lava flows, it is the best-preserved volcanic region in the Iberian peninsula. It is well-known for the great diversity of its vegetation, which ranges from typical Mediterranean to Central European and Atlantic. and which makes it especially valuable. The age-old human settlement in the landscape has given rise to a mosaic of cultivations, woods and meadows of considerable beauty. Furthermore, it contains many buildings of historic and cultural interest: Romanesque hermitages, mediaeval fortifications and a scattered population in masias (the typical Catalan farmhouse) of great interest as examples of traditional rural architecture.

The Volcanic Area Protection Board is the controlling body of the National Park, and lays down the guide-lines and strategies to be followed. However, effective management of the area did not begin until 1985, when an information and Management Centre was opened in the town of Olot.

Since then the measures taken have centred around the basic lines of action imposed by the long-standing settlement of the area, in order to ensure that the conservation aims laid down by the law are met, at the same time as making them compatible with the principle of sustained development of resources.

These lines of action are:

1. Town planning and management:

The National Park of the La Garrotxa volcanic area is the only one in Catalonia which includes within its borders urban and industrial centres which might expand to the detriment of the conservation area when revisions are made to area plans. There are in fact eleven urban centres in this situation, with a total of 37,000 inhabitants. While the urban land and the activities which take place on it are outside the administrative scope of the Park, the dynamism of these towns has a strong effect on administration. Also, within the boundaries of the Park, over 500 inhabited masias (the typical Catalan farmhouse) have been registered, most of which are used for agricultural and stock-rearing activities. Since all activities which take place within the conservation area have to be monitored by the governing body of the National Park, it is evident that the planning management problem is a complex one.

The Park's strategy in this respect has consisted of the systematic control of illegal activities and building, the encouragement of contact between planning officials and promoters in order to make their activities compatible with the aims of the Park, and the promotion of improvement works.

The area's dynamism and the review of town planning standards by the municipalities within the Park in order to designate land for industrial or urban use has provoked, and still provokes, a considerable impact on natural systems, at the same time as affecting the internal boundaries of the Park. In order to deal with this situation and to seek alternatives, a European Environment Forum was held in summer 1991. The conclusions drawn from this were to be incorporated into planning strategies.


2. Management of forestry resources:

More than 60% of the conservation area is forest which retain their, original configuration. Holm oak woods predominate, with a lesser coverage of meso-xerophylous (dry) oak wood, beeches and alders.

The forest is almost exclusively in private hands and its ownership is highly fragmented, since there are more than 500 proprietors. The main lines of action have been directed towards planning timber exploitation through Technical Plans in order to improve the structure of the woods, turning them into mixed stock woods.


3. Management of fauna:

In the early stages, the main problem was the large amount of hunting supported by the area. In order to regulate this activity in a suitable way, the formation of hunting clubs with a strictly local scope was encouraged, and agreements were immediately reached with these to designate replanting zones and safety zones where hunting is not permitted, and which now account for 20 % of the area of the Park. This has considerably reduced the pressure from hunting and has made possible the recovery of the wild animal life.


4. Recovery and improvement of damaged ecosystems:

The large-scale extraction of volcanic material was the main motive for protecting the area. Once this objective had been achieved with the definitive closure of the quarries, various projects have been put into operation in order to restore the affected areas.

Recently, actions have been undertaken to recover flooded and marshy areas. Most of them have been drained for agricultural use, with a view to recovering the flora and fauna appropriate to these zones.


5. Public use:

Since the creation of the National Park there has been a considerable increase in the number of visitors, with more than 200,000 persons per year at the moment. The majority of these come on school visits or organised tours. In order to control and meet the needs of these visitors, the Park maintains two information centres, a network of signposted paths, a guide service and a maintenance and cleansing service. There is also a fair number of private and public environmental education centres, as well as hotels and other accommodation.


6. Scientific research

The geological, botanical and landscape interest of the National Park has attracted, and still attracts, a considerable number of researchers and scholars from both home and abroad. Until now, academic and applied research with modest aims has been carried out, although it is expected that more ambitious research programmes will be set in motion over the next two years.

All in all, then, the management of the area involves a high degree of complexity, both because of the economic dynamism of the area and the presence of a large human population. These characteristics make it ideal for the development of management models which will be perfectly suitable for extrapolation to the remaining, un-protected, part of the area. This is one of the facts which more than justifies the financial investment and effort needed to achieve the aims in hand with certain guarantees.