IberiaNature A guide to the natural history of Spain
By Nick Lloyd - Home - Contact

Facts and figures about Spain. Trivia about Spain

Physical geography of Spain -general

  • Spain 's total official surface area is 505,955 km2. It occupies around 80% of the Iberian Peninsula -493,514 km2 of 582,881 km2. The Balearic Islands are 4,992 km2, while the Canary Islands are 7,447 km2. There are also a few smaller islands and territories including the two Spanish cities in North Africa : Ceuta , with 20 km2 and Melilla with 12 km2.
  • Land boundaries: 1,917.8 km ( border countries: Andorra 63.7 km, France 623 km, Gibraltar 1.2 km, Portugal 1,214 km, Morocco (Ceuta) 6.3 km, Morocco (Melilla) 9.6 km).
  • Spain has three small possessions off the Moroccan coast - Islas Chafarinas, Peñon de Alhucemas, and Peñon de Velez de la Gomera.
  • 24% of Spain is above 1000 m and 76% between 500 and 1000 m. Spain has an average altitude of 660 metres. Only Switzerland, with an average altitude of 1,300 metres, is higher.
  • Spain 's mainland coastline is 5,755 km long. The Balearic coast is 1,186 long.
  • Of the 179 habitats described by the EU, 65% are present in Spain.

Spanish Mountains

  • In 1894, Franz Shrander, a German geologist calculated there were 1779 ha of glaciers in the Pyrenees . By 2001 the area had shrunk to 290 ha, and this is forecast to totally disappear over the next 60 years. See Pyrenean glaciers melting fast
  • Until 1805 nobody was sure whether Veleta (3,396 m.) or Mulhacen (3,479 m) was the highest peak in Iberia. Locals, possibly ironically, know the gently sloping but immense Mulhacen as a 'cerro' or hill, while the more spectacular Veleta is accorded the status of a mountain.
  • Naranjo de Bulnes is exactly 88km from the nearest three provincial capitals: Oviedo, Santender and León. It is known as Naranjo (or Naranco) de Bulnes because of its orange hue in the evening light.

Spanish Rivers, lakes and wetlands

  • There are 172,888 km of natural watercourses, though many of these are dry for much of the year.
  • The Guadalquivir plain from Seville to the coast is almost totally flat. Seville is just 9m above sea level yet is 100km from the coast.

Biggest lakes in Spain

  • Curiously, the biggest lake in Spain , Sanabria in Zamora is fed by river Tera, while the second biggest, Banyoles, is fed by the river Ter.



Size (ha)

Max Depth (metres)




370 ha


Glacial marginal

Lago Banyoles (Estany de Banyoles)


107 ha



  • There are some 150,000 wetlands in Spain , most of which are small. They cover 114,000 h of the 280,000 ha left in 1800. Wetlands probably once covered 500,000 ha - 1% of Spanish territory.
  • The largest inland lagoon is Gallocanta in Zaragoza with 1,400 ha followed by Fuentedepiedra in Malaga with 1,300 ha. Both are shallow saltwater lagoons.
  • There are 444 mountain lakes and 82 karst lakes, 14% and 49%, respectively are considered highly degraded. There are 637 inland freshwater wetlands.
  • See wetlands and lakes in Spain


  • Spain is a stormy country within the European context. Some 10,000 storms are recorded in an average year, of which 5,000 take place in the summer, 2,500 in spring, 2,000 in autumn and 500 in winter.
  • The record number of bolts of lightning counted in one day in Spain is 60,201 on 17th August, 2003 .
  • Oddly, the wettest village in Spain is not on the Atlantic coast but in Andalucia. Grazalema in the Sierra de Grazalema has an average of 2,153 mm of rain a year. The warm, humid winds blow in from the Atlantic and cool and condense as they pass over these limestone peaks.
  • Hours of sunshine vary in Spain from 1,700 on the Cantabrian coast up to more than 3,000 in the South and the Canaries.
  • Spain is a windy country. Speeds of more than 175 km/h have been recorded in Los Llanos in Albacete , though winds of more than 200 km/h almost certainly occur around some of the higher peaks.
  • The official record of the lowest temperature in Spain is at Estany Gento in Lerida with -32ºC in 1956, though once again experts suspect that some of the peaks in the Aragonese Pyrenees have fallen as low as -40ºC.
  • There are a number of official figures in Spain of around 47ºC, including at Écija , also known as the 'sartén or frying pan of Andalucia' in the province of Seville, with 47.0ºC in 1959 and again 1967, and Seville itself in 1946.

Environment and Conservation in Spain

National Park (Province/s)

Surface area (ha)

Declaration (year)

Picos de Europa (Asturias, Cantabria y León)



Ordesa y Monte Perdido (Huesca)



Teide ( Santa Cruz de Tenerife )



Caldera de Taburiente ( Santa Cruz de Tenerife )



Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici (Lleida)



Doñana ( Huelva )



Tablas de Daimiel ( Ciudad Real )



Timanfaya ( Las Palmas )



Garajonay ( Santa Cruz de Tenerife )



Archipiélago de Cabrera (Palma de Mallorca)



Cabañeros ( Ciudad Real )



Sierra Nevada ( Granada y Almería)



Islas Atlánticas (Pontevedra y A Coruña)





  • There are around 750 protected areas in Spain , many as a result of the fashion for their declaration in the 1990's. Despite their number and extent, many areas are poorly managed. In October 2004, 48 new national parks were earmarked for declaration over the coming years.
  • The EU Red Natura lists 1,206 sites which are to be protected as Zonas de Especial Conservación . These will cover around 110,00 km2 (22% of Spain ) of which 5,560 km2 will be marine sites.
  • Around 1,250,00 hunting licenses are granted every year. Most of these are held by very occasional hunters of game birds.
  • The number of visitors is becoming a serious problem for some National Parks. 650,000 people visit Ordesa each year.
  • There are 156 endangered species of fauna and flora in Spain. 90% have currently (2004) no recovery plan, in contravention of the 1989 Nature Conversation Act. The number of endangered species has doubled since 1990. 108 are plants, 16 invertebrates, 1 amphibian, 4 reptiles, 4 fish, 17 birds and 6 mammals. In the last 100 years, at least 17 species of fauna and 24 species of plants have become extinct in Spain.
  • According to the Spanish Ministry of the Environment, since 1996 at least 1,000 animals have died a year from illegal poisoning. 44% of these are protected species. The baits are often (59.6%) put out by the owners of private game reserves to kill foxes and wolves, and so increase their rabbit and partridge populations. Between 1990 and 2003, a least 4 bears, 80 imperial eagles, 20 lammergeyers, 495 black vultures have been poisoned. The government believes that these figure are in reality much, much higher: BirdLife International claims that the Spanish population of the red kite has fallen by 50% in 10 years because of poisoning.


  • Spain has more birds, mammals and reptiles than any other EU country.
  • Spain has the highest level of endemism in the EU. There are 40 endemic vertebrates. 12 of these are mammals.
  • Of the 118 species of mammal, 5 were introduced in the 20th century (American mink, marmot, muffloun, coypu). Several were introduced centuries ago (fallow deer, ginet, Egyptian mongoose, the latter two by the Arabs, probably as pets) and are are now considered as native. There are 85 native terrestrial mammals.
  • Recent figures for 2004 suggest a slight recovery in the Cantabrian-Asturian population of bears, up from 75-80 to 120-130 individuals. 13-15 bears hang on in the Pyrenness. In 1900, there were an estimated 2000 bears left in Spain .
  • Spain is one of the last remaining refuges of the European wolf. The population is slowly recovering from its 1970 low of 400-500 odd individuals with current (2003) figures estimated at 2,500, almost 30% of European wolf numbers outside the ex-USSR. In early 2004, a wolf was detected in Northern Catalonia for first time in more than a century. It is thought to have made its way through France from the Italian Alps.
  • The fox is probably the most common Spanish carnivore, its numbers estimated at 500,000-1,000,000 individuals.
  • The otter is present in 42 of the 47 Spanish mainland provinces, and is absent from the islands. Population is thought to have fallen by 60% between 1966 and 1985, though is now slowly recovering in many areas.
  • The bucado ( Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica ) a sub-species of the Spanish mountain goat enjoys the doubtful distinction of being the first mammal to be become extinct in Europe in a 100 years, despite being protected since the early 20th century. The last one, a female, was killed by a falling tree.
  • There are 27 species of bat. There are 11 species of shrew, 3 of which are endemic
  • Around 500 whales, dolphins and porpoises beach on Spanish coasts a year. Fishing practices, gregarian instincts and currents are the main causes. Six whales beached as a result of the prestige disaster.
  • In 2000 there were 160 lynxes in breeding age. In 2004 there are 100.


  • Around 337 birds breed in Spain out of the total of 520 for Europe . More than 500 species are present at some time during the year. Officially (according to SEO) there are some 557 species listed for Spain (and rising). However, many of these are occasionals, vagrants or exotics
  • Spain 's largest heronry with some 70 nests is a wild colony located in trees in Barcelona Zoo right in the centre of the city. German bird experts and the city council claim that the cliffs of Montjuic also in centre of Barcelona are home to Europe 's largest single concentration of kestrels.


  • There are 56 species of reptiles. 11 are endemic to the Canaries
  • There are 26 species of amphibians
  • 68 species of continental fish live in Spanish rivers, 17 of which have been introduced.
  • There are 227 species of butterflies.


  • There are an estimated 8000 (nobody really knows) plant species in Spain , 2000 of which are endemic to the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa .
  • Potentially, 95% of Spain would be covered in some form of forest. 20-28% of forest cover remains today. 50% of this is pine forest.
  • Some 105 species of autochthonous trees grow in Spain (nobody agrees on the exact figure). 44 of these are capable of forming true woods. 33 grow in the Canaries
  • The most common tree in Spain is probably the holm oak ( encina ), estimated in 1995 at 682,881,000 specimens. However, despite these numbers many holm oak woods are made up of immature specimens.
  • 50% of the 2000 plants found in the Canaries are endemic.

Trivia about Spain

1. When El Quijote was published in Castile in 1606, an estimated 20% of the realm's population was literate, probably the highest percentage achieved in world history until then. (According to E.C. Riley 'Don Quixote' 2000. Trans. Introducción al Quijote' Biblioteca del bolsillo 2000)

2. Over the last 14 years, the population of the brown bear in the Cordillera Cantábrica has risen from 60 - 80 individuals to 105 - 130. Just 14-16 bears are left in the Spanish and French Pyrenees.

3. They write from Galicia in Spain that some fishermen lately took on that coast a sort of monster, or merman, five feet and half long from it's foot to its head, which was like that of a goat. It has a long beard and moustaches, and black skin somewhat hairy, a very long neck, short arms, and hand longer than they ought to be in proportion to the rest of the body: long fingers like those of a man, with nails like claws, very long toes, joined like the feet of a duck, and the heels furnished with fins resembling the winged feet with which painters represent Mercury. From Scots Magazine 1739.

4. The first dinosaurs discovered in Spain (knowingly as dinosaurs rather than the bones of a dragon, giant or monster) were the fossilised bones of two Iguanodons in 1873 by one Vilanova i Piera, the first professor of palaeontology at the University of Madrid in Utrillas (Teruel) and Morella (Castellón).

5. According to the National Tree Inventory there are 5,000 million trees in Spain . In the same line as New Zealanders and sheep, every resident of the Cantabrian region gets 280 trees, and 0.54 ha of forest. Over in the Mediterranean we get 41 trees at 0.13 trees a person. The European average 0.36 trees per inhabitant.

6. Fog forms in Oviedo an average of 100 days a year .

7. According to the Instituto Geografico Nacional, at least 24 tsunamis have hit the coasts of Spain since 218 BC. In addition to the famous Lisbon tsunami of 1755, the worst was the wave which struck the coasts of Cadiz and Huelva in 1775. The last recorded tsunami was caused by an earthquake off Algeria on 21st May 2003, which sent a small tsunami crashing into the coasts of the Balearic islands and causing considerable damage to boats and port facilities.

8. Recent tentative estimates reckon on around 2,000 wolves in Spain, 54% of which are found in Castilla y Leon and 34% in Galicia . There are thought to be some 300 breeding pairs, giving a total number of around 1,500 at the start of spring and around 2,000 by mid autumn.

9. Largest cities in Spain in 1600: Sevilla (40,000), Toledo (44,000), Madrid (40,000), Barcelona (40,000), Valencia (35,000), Valladolid (32,000), Córdoba (25,000). Population of Spain in 1600: 9 million.

10. Ávila (1128 m) is the highest provincial capital in Spain. Burgos is the coldest with a yearly average of 10.1ºC. Only Merida (Extremadura) and Santiago (Galicia) are capitals of their autonomous regions but not provincial capitals. Merida (52,200 in 2004) is the smallest capital of an autonomous region. Teruel (32,304) is the smallest provincial capital. The province of Teruel is also the least dense in Spain at 9.36 hab./km².

11.In 1990 there were 15 million cars in Spain. In 2004 there were 25 million. In 2003, 20 million people travelled on long-distance trains in Spain compared to 67 million in Italy and 320 million in France. 27 million tonnes of frieght was shifted on Spanish railways compared to 82 in Italy and 120 in France. 400,000 cars took 1,200,000 people out of Madird this last Puente de Mayo, provoking historic trafiic jams. 47,000 left by train (Source BTV' Els Temps de Picó').

12. The population of capercaillies has fallen by 70% in the Cordillera Cantábrica in the last 25 years. In 1988, there were an estimated 582 males. 190 and 204 males were recorderd in 1998 and 2001. Specifically, in Asturias the 2000-2001 official census recorded 101 males, half of which were in the areas of Cangas del Narcea and Degaña. In 1982, there were 291 male capercaillies in Asturias. See also Wolves, boars and capercaillie

13. 7% of energy in Spain came from renewable sources in 2004, 50% from petroleum, 15% coal, 26% natural gas, 12% nuclear energy. (EU figures: 6%, 37%, 18%, 24% and 15% respectively). Transport consumed 41% of energy total, followed by industry 33%, homes 15% and agriculture and services 11%. In Spain we and the tourists produced 609 kilos of waste in 2003 (467kg in 1995), 59,3% of which was dumped in tips and 6.6 incinerated, and every 1,000 of us owned 460 cars in 2002 (362 in 1995: EU : from 394 to 463). 94.3% of inland freight transport was by road and 5.7 by rail (EU of 25: 76.4% and 181%) Source Eurostat.

14. According the CSIC, Of the 4,500 minerals in the world, 27 were first discovered in Spain, including andalucite, and recently, baltharthurite (Murcia in 2002) and calderonite (Badajoz in 2003)

15. The last glaciers disappeared in the Sierra Nevada in 1913 at Corral de la Veleta what was the southernmost glacier in Europe. mountains in Spain