A natural history of Spain



Proposal for the creation of a Partial Nature Reserve on Montjuïc

DEPANA /Montjuïc Study Centre/Galanthus 2007

I. Introduction

Montjuïc lies to the southeast of the old centre of Barcelona. The hill is a promontory made up of Neogene materials, and is approximately 200 metres in height. Montuïc breaks up the monotony of the plain formed by sediments deposited from the Besòs and Llobregat rivers, and the torrents and streams which descended from Collserola towards the sea, and which is known as the Plain of Barcelona, today totally occupied by the city of the same name.

From a geological point of view, the mountain is of interest, not only because of the deposits of fossils found here and sought by fossil hunters for centuries, but also because of its orogeny, with formations as interesting as El Morrot Fault. This geographical accident is probably the only element of our current sea front which an old citizen of Roman Barcino , resuscitated for this purpose, would be able to recognise, The fact is that this fault, further shaped by the stone quarries excavated here over the centuries until the 19 th century, as far as the southernmost cliffs are concerned, forms a series of crags of a considerable beauty, and above all unusual for their size along the Catalan coast.

The agricultural past of Montjuïc could still be noted until recently in the Plain of Los Garrofers, where the last wheat harvest was gathered in as recently as 1915. This place conserved for many years the appearance of typical Mediterranean dry farmland (grassland dotted with carobs, olives and fig trees), in serious decline everywhere under attack from urbanisation. The building work of the Olympic Games took over part of the plain with Palau Sant Jordi, and the Torre Calatrava (currently not operational), and the trees were felled. All that's left of this ancient landscape is a small field between the Fossar de la Pedrera and the Sot del Migdia, and a small patch between the cliff sea and the cemetery wall.

There are photographs from the 1960s of people sunbathing and swimming on Can Tunis beach in front of the cliff. From 1965, these images became impossible, as the enlargement of the port swept away the southern beaches of Barcelona. The sand probably once reached very close to the foot of the cliff, remaining separated by a strip of vegetation typical of behind dune communities, as is indicated by the current presence of remains of this type of vegetation, such as Thymelaea hirsuta .

Despite all the changes the hill has suffered in recent years, it is still has considerable biological and geological interest, now even more so due to the huge transformations of the surrounding areas (especially to the Delta del Llobregat), which have reduced and pushed further away the natural areas from the southern edge of the city.

Here below is a brief description of the most interesting natural sites on Montjuïc:

II. Most important areas of natural interest

a. El Morrot de Montjuïc

Situation and characteristics

El Morrot de Montjuïc is the name given to the whole south-east, seaward side of Montjuïc. The rock here, like all the mountain, is sedimentary. Its already steep and abrupt profile has been accentuated by the stone excavated from the old quarry located here.

The altitudinal range of the area is almost 200 metres, falling from Montjuïc Castle to sea level at the Ronda Litoral (coastal ring road). Practically the whole area is formed by cliffs, created by the quarrying work, although part is taken up by the Gardens of Mossèn Costa i Llobera.

The Miramar road runs through the area occupied by the gardens, while the lighthouse can also be accessed by a small road which winds up to it. The abrupt nature of the area impedes access to the rest of the area, except by the public path which runs along the top of the cliffs from the castle.

Biological description

The vegetation of the area is made up of a combination of species typical of Mediterranean

meadows and scrub, and by exotic species which have been planted or have become naturalised. Native species include plants such as: thatching grass (Hyparrhenia hirta), Mediterranean False-Brome (Brachypodium retusum), Spanish broom (Spartium junceum), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), viper's buglos (Echium vulgare), Field eryngo (Eryngium campestre), several spurges (Euphorbia spp.), blackberry (Rubus ulmifolius), borage (Borago officinalis) and Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis).

On the crags there are also Rock phagnalon (Phagnalon saxatile) and the sow thistles (Sonchus spp.). Among the non-native species which cling to the rock are maguey agave (Agave Americana) and prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica).

Finally, in terms of flora, perhaps the most interesting are the species typical of nitrate halophiles and behind-dune communities, very rare on the Catalan coast, such as shrubby Russian thistle (Salsola vermiculata), sea orach (Atriplex halimus) and fleshy-leaf  thymelaea (Thymelaea hirsuta).

The vegetation of El Morrot is of great interest, but it is the diversity of birdlife where its chief biological importance lies. A number of species live here, making it sufficiently interesting at a Catalan level or, even beyond. In all surety, the colony of common kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) is the most interesting feature of the area. The presence of a nesting colony of this species alone is important enough (common kestrels generally do not portray such gregarious behaviour). The colony is made up some 12 breeding pairs (data for 2006), making it the second largest colony in Europe. It is important to note that despite its current importance, the number of breeding pairs has fallen since its discovery, in all certainty due to the deterioration and reduction of the areas favourable for hunting in the nearby Delta del Llobregat and on the hill itself. This said, the kestrel is not the only species of interest which breeds here on the cliff, there is also an important colony of yellow-legged gull (Larus michaelis), and other breeders include blue rock thrush (Monticola solitarius), little owl (Athene noctua), the black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) and peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus). The site is visited by jackdaw (Corvus monedula), common buzzard (Buteo buteo) and booted eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus), among other birds.

Other species of birds which are not so associated with the cliffs also live in the area, such as for example, Sardinian warbler (Sylvia melanocephala), Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata), Bonell's warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli), rock pigeon (Columba livia var. domestica), hoopoe (Upupa epops) or all the swifts (Apus apus, A. pallidus and A melba). Mammals are not well represented with just: greater white-toothed shrew (Crocidura russula), pygmy white-toothed shrew (Suncus etruscus), Algerian mouse (Mus spretus), and bats such as the European free-tailed bat (Tadarida teniotis). As far as reptiles are concerned, anthropophile species associated with rocky habitats are also present, that is, the geckos (Tarentola mauritanica and Hemidactylus turcicus) and the Iberian wall lizard (Podarcis hispanica). Two species of snake are also found: the Montpellier snake, (Malpolon monspessulanus), some individuals of which reach particularly long lengths due to the absence until now of disturbance and the abundance of rats and rabbits on which to feed; and the ladder snake (Elaphe scalaris).

Interest of the area

In all surety this area is the most interesting biologically speaking in all the city of Barcelona, at least from the point of view of its birdlife. The colony of kestrels (the second largest in Europe) and the presence of rare species or those in population decline such as jackdaws, peregrine falcons and little owls, make this site important for birdlife at a Catalan level, and has already been said, is by no means negligible in terms of its flora and other fauna groups present, at least at a level of Barcelona city

The site's geological interest is also very worthy of note, as above the Miramar road there are examples of erosion on marls and sandstones, while on the cliffs of El Morrot, one can observe an almost complete sedimentary series of marine Miocene, unique in Catalonia. It should not be forgotten that Montjuïc is included in the Catalan catalogue of sites of geological interest.

Although the whole site cannot be visited, the path which runs along the cliff top affords spectacular views of the port of Barcelona, while allowing, without the slightest level of disturbance, a good vantage point from which to watch the cliff's birdlife.


Like most of the green areas on the mountain, El Morrot of Montjuïc is classified as an urban park, and therefore in terms of planning its conservation is guaranteed. However, there has been talk of giving a use to this site which would be incompatible with the conservation of its natural values. It would thus be desirable that the site were given a level of protection corresponding to its natural importance, thereby guaranteeing its conservation.

Despite the fact the road which runs along the top of the cliff is well marked and is closed to motorised traffic, some tipping has been detected in the area. Special care and vigilance must be taken to prevent incidents of this nature, more so if we take into account the importance of the site as a breeding ground for species sensitive to this type of disturbance.

b. Camino del Esparver and other dry meadows on Montjuïc  

Situation and characteristics

The largest extent of dry Mediterranean meadows on Montjuïc is located between the cemetery, the Paseo del Mediodía and El Bache del Mediodía, in the area known as the Camino del Esparver, although some small patches also remain between the cemetery and El Morrot.

The meadows are practically flat and in the past were farmed and so to this day scattered fruit trees can still be seen. The area situated above El Bache del Mediodía is crisscrossed by several paths and enjoys free access, although its marginal situation in the context of the different places on Montjuïc make it a rather solitary spot. The area between the cemetery and El Morrot cannot be visited, although there are a few small tracks running through it.

Biological description

The main vegetation of the area, as is seen by its Catalan name Esparver meaning sparrowhawk, a typical predator in such habitats, is made up of dry Mediterranean meadows, that is, meadows with grasses, false brome stands and ruderal pastures.

The grass meadows are dominated by thatching grass (Hyparrhenia hirta), in addition rue (Ruta chalepensis), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), which in some spots grows very abundantly, Spanish broom (Spartium junceum), pitch trefoil (Psoralea bituminosa), Mediterranean False-Brome (Brachypodium retusum), Medicago minima , Sonchus terrenimus , Eryngium campestre , etc. The false brome stands dominate in places with shallower soils and, despite being meadows which are very rich in species, have a less exuberant appearance than the above meadows; with in addition to false-brome, the presence of thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Dactylis glomerata , Euphorbia exigua , Medicago minima , etc. The fact that these areas receive considerable human influence, both today due to the presence of visitors, and in the past - farmers and livestock raisers-, has ensured the presence of nitrate-loving species here: Lavatera cretica , giant reed (Arundo donax), Echium vulgare , Asphodelus fistulosus , sweet alyssum (Alyssum maritimum), etc. Here and there, there are also several trees of native or non-native origins, the latter once cultivated, and which favour an increase in the biodiversity of wildlife. Tree species include holm oak (Quercus ilex), evergreen buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus), olive trees (Olea europaea var. europaea), fig trees (Ficus carica) and Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis).

These grassland communities, even though the opposite may seem the case, are home to a rich fauna community, especially in winter with the arrival of wintering birds. Apart from the commonest species in the open areas of the city and on the slopes of Collserola, such as Sardinian warbler (Sylvia melanocephala), beeeater (Merops apiaster), goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), serin (Serinus serinus), greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) and black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), during migration and the winter rare or very rare birds within the context of the city turn up, such as meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis), tree sparrow (Passer montanus), tawny pipit (Anthus campestris), linnet (Carduelis cannabina), skylark (Alauda arvensis), woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) or corn bunting (Miliaria calandra). With regard to other fauna groups, we can also find Turkish gecko (Tarentola mauritanica) and the Iberian wall lizard (Podarcis hispanica), several species of bat and rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus).

The presence of isolated trees and copses nearby bumps up the list of birds significantly, with robin (Erithacus rubecula), a range of tits (Parus spp. and Aegithalos caudatus), the warblers (Phylloscopus spp.), firecrest and goldcrest (Regulus ignicapillus and R . regulus), blackbird (Turdus merula), treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla), spotted flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) and hoopoe (Upupa epops), among many others.

This wealth of wildlife makes the place a fertile hunting ground for birds of prey which live in the surrounding areas or which pass through during migration, such as little owl (Athene noctua), kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), and common buzzard (Buteo buteo), etc.  

Interest of the site

The wealth of wildlife and the plant formations in the area are sufficiently interesting from a biological viewpoint, without the need to take into account the urban context in which it is located, and more so if one considers the proximity of other sites such as El Morrot of Montjuïc. Because of this, the interest in terms of wildlife and plants of this site, within the conext of the city of Barcelona is frankly unquestionable.

Dry Mediterranean grassland formations, such as those mentioned above, have become rare in recent decades throughout the area, and this is what makes the interest of the last patches of these habitats on Montjuïc, and on the other hills of the city, undisputable. Even more important, in all surety, is the site's diversity of birdlife, with species which cannot be seen anywhere in Barcelona city. The site is, moreover, used by migratory birds.

As has already been noted, the wealth of wildlife, particularly of birds, but also of bats, not only makes the site interesting in itself, but also favours greater biodiversity in the parks close to the city.

The area's role as a space for recreation is not as important as in other spaces, as it is located far from the main circuits of the hill, and with little interest from a point of view of landscape, since, as is well known, the general public shows preference for forested areas. As a result, usage is limited in comparison with other places on Montjuïc


Like most of the green spaces on Montjuïc, these meadows are classified as an urban park, which is compatible with its conservation, providing the right form of management is carried out. Despite this, the possibility of building some types of facilities is considered in this sector, or at least in part of it.

Its situation as a marginal and relatively unfrequented area has brought about the accumulation of waste (even stolen vehicles) and the risk of fire. Another factor which has led to the degradation of this environment, and which makes patently clear the inefficiency of its current level of protection, is the policy of reforestation, mentioned above, carried out by the council's Parks and Gardens Department. In the area located above El Bache del Mediodía, pines and other tree species have been planted, an action which was utterly unnecessary, if we take into account that there are already many forested areas, and this planting is incongruent, if one wishes to promote biodiversity.

It is recommendable to transplant the trees, so that they are concentrated in one sector, and then in, the rest of the area, encourage the regeneration of the dry meadows or, even, the return of dry agriculture. Accompanied by this action, it would be a good idea to install information panels illustrating the values of these grassland formations.

The characteristics of this area both due to its situation and in terms of the conservation of its values natural, recommends against encouraging more visitors, along with more intensive vigilance, so reducing marginal activities which endanger its conservation.

c. La Foixarda Pond

Situation and characteristics

This pond is located behind the Palace Nacional between La Foixarda and the old Botanical Garden, which is separated from it by escalators leading to the Olympic Stadium.

The pond is artificial in origin and was formed by rock being excavated from an old quarry. This led to the formation of a small hollow which, due to the impermeable nature of the ground, led to the accumulation of water on a permanent basis.

Although the whole site can be viewed from the escalators which lead to the Olympic Stadium, access to the pond is restricted.

Biological description

Despite its artificial origin, the pond supports a very interesting flora and particularly fauna, which again is exceptional in the context of the city, as there are no other masses of water with similar characteristics in the city.

The flora is made up of native and non-native species which have grown spontaneously after the formation of the pool. However, the vegetation here has a rather a complex structure, close to formations found in natural wetlands, that is, with a high tree stratum, a bushy stratum, creepers and semi-submerged plants. Species present include: black popular (Populus nigra), Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis), cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), holm oak (Quercus ilex), ivy (Hedera helix), blackberry (Rubus ulmifolius), common reed (Phragmites australis), etc.

The lack of disturbance of the site and, above all, the presence of permanent water, permits the presence of species which are very rare in the city of Barcelona.

Also present are more common species in areas with trees in the city such as collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto), monk parakeet (Myopsitta monachus), both starlings (Sturnus vulgaris and S . unicolor), coal tit (Parus mayor), blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) Sardinian warbler and (Sylvia melanocephala), and robin (Erithacus rubecula). Among the species of greatest interest and associated with water habitats are birds such as grey heron (Ardea cinerea), white egret (Egretta garzetta), kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and Mediterranean pond terrapin (Mauremys leprosa) - the latter in all surety released by a private individual.  

Interest of this site  

La Foixarda pond, if we ignore the rivers Besòs and Llobregat, certainly represents the most important wetland in the city. The site supports a unique ecosystem of great value which cannot be found in anywhere else in Barcelona. Apart from the presence of very interesting species, we should also note its strategic importance for the migration of several species of birds which find in the pond one of the few spaces sufficiently quiet to rest.

The existence of this site allows a great diversity of habitats to be maintained in Montjuïc and, by extension, in the city, at the same time as having considerable value from the point of view of landscape.


The fact that La Foixarda is found within Montjuïc Park ensures the conservation of this space, although its inaccessibility should be maintained, (so ensuring the conservation of such a fragile ecosystem) and a careful eye should be kept on the possible introduction of harmful species for native fauna.

It is also desirable to install an information panel explaining the importance and the biological values of the site in the viewing platform next to the escalators, without causing any harm to the fauna. There is also the possibility to improve the habitat by encouraging native plant species and limiting some non-native species.

d. Sites of geological interest

Embarkment of Virgen María del Puerto

This embankment little more than 100 metres in length is located in the Calle de los Ferrocarriles Catalanes, on the edge of Montjuïc and close to the foot of La Virgen María de Puerto , in neighbourhood of La Marina. Its interest lies in the fact that this is the only outcrop of the Miocene-Pliocene visible and in a good state within the city.

The embankment is in a rather good state of conservation and its solid foundation and location seem to ensure its preservation.

Marls and sandstones of Montjuïc

These substrates, in the sector between the Miramar road and the gardens of the Mirador del Alcalde show spectacular examples of differential erosion (formation of rills) by meteoric erosion. The sedimentary rocks date from the Miocene period. This area features very steep slopes, of very difficult access and are located within the park of Montjuïc, which, in theory, guarantees their conservation.

Quarries of El Morrot of Montjuïc

The quarry of El Morrot, on the seaward side of Montjuïc, like the others on the hill were used to extracted sandstone which served for the building of numerous buildings in Barcelona. The quarrying has revealed an extraordinary set of sedimentary series: an almost complete marine Miocene (Tortonià) series. These sediments are folded and tectonized with abundant mineralization. This is unique in terms of sedimentary rocks of these characteristics in Catalonia. As has already been described, the site also has great importance for wildlife.

At present, the cliffs are in an acceptable state of conservation. Despite the fact they are located within the limits of the park of Montjuïc, there has been no final decision on the conservation of this site of geological and biological interest.

Small embankments

These are a series of small embankments located on the southern edge of the Avinguda del Estadio, more or less in front of the Fundació Miró. The inclusion of this site in the list lies in the fact that that these are some of the few still-visible embankments in which some of the most characteristic fossils of the mountain can be found, such as for example Protoma rotifera .

Although their conservation within the park is in theory guaranteed, the growth of vegetation conceals the outcrops.

III. Proposal for protection of Montjuïc as a Partial Nature Reserve

As a natural space with a reduced size and with a high value (particularly at a level of the county of El Barcelonès), the Partial Nature Reserve (RNP) would be the most suitable figure of protection for its conservation . Art. 24 of the Law on Natural spaces of 13 th June 1985 defines the RNP as:

"1. Natural reserves are natural spaces with a reduced area and a considerable scientific interest which are object of this declaration in order to conserve fully the natural ecosystems contained within or within one of its parts. The declaration of natural reserves is done by law when it is a full reserve (reserva integral) and by decree of the Executive Council when it is a partial reserve. (.)

3. The objectives of partial nature reserves are the following:

  • a) To protect absolutely the geological and geomorphological formations and certain biotypes, species, habitats and communities.
  • b) To conserve or create stop-off points along the migratory routes of birdlife.

4. In no case are activities permitted which may directly or indirectly harm the natural values of protection. "

RNPs are very small sites with considerable natural interest, such as is the case of Montjuïc. It is now time to protect this genuinely Barcelonan site and dedicate it as a priority to the conservation of its natural values so it may be re-found, observed, enjoyed and shown to future generations. Until now very few plans along these lines have been brought into effect exclusively in the city.

The proposal is shown graphically in the map at the end of this text . A core area of protection is proposed which basically includes the areas discussed in the text, that is: El Morrot, the Camino del Esparver and adjoining meadows, the Balsa de la Foixarda and the embankment with palaeontological interest in front of the Fundació Miró. These areas are the most interesting and should be strictly protected with management plans to this aim . The areas surrounding the first two (including the area around the Castle) are proposed as areas of moderate use of the RNP with the aim of restoring them to make a protective ring around the strictly protected core area. The gardened areas around La Foixarda and the embankment of palaeontological interest mentioned are defined as peripheral areas of protection despite their reduced size. They require stricter management measures, given that they contain external uses, of very valuable but extremely small areas. What is in fact needed is to ensure that there are no uses from outside which compromise the protected area.

The area of strict protection would permit very few uses, particularly during the nesting season of birds, but in all surety these management and protection measures would necessitate, as has been noted, the drawing up of a plan of uses at the same time as the declaration of an RNP. The City Council of Barcelona could be the promoter of this, which would then have to be approved by decree by the Catalan Government. Despite the age of this Law, no municipality has yet to promote an RNP in all of its stages. Montjuïc is a sufficiently representative and fitting case to become the first of such reserves.

Barcelona 2 nd January 2007




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