Aiguamolls de l’Empordà Natural Park
Much of the once huge marshes of the Alt and Baix Empordà were lost to drainage for farmland over the centuries (See also Els Aiguamolls and Malaria). In the 1970’s, the tourist complex of Empuriabrava came close to eating up the remaining marsh, but a hard fought conservation campaign saved the wetlands, and the site was finally declared a Park Natural in 1983. The park consists of two main areas around the Gulf of Roses between the Muga and Fluvia rivers with a complex of habitats including fresh and saltwater marshes and lagoons, salt flats, riverine forest, farmland and the unique closes (flooded meadows which are cut for hay in the spring and grazed in the summer using horses. This is one of the best run sites in Spain with an excellent balance between conservation and public use. Note: aiguamolls is Catalan for marsh.
The Aiguamolls is the second most important refuge for wetland birds in Catalonia . In all, some 300 species of bird have been recorded here including 90 odd breeders.
- Breeders All the herons are present including one of the few Iberian populations of great bittern. Other breeders include marsh harrier, gadwall, black-winged stilt, dotterel and Kentish plover. Successful reintroduction of purple gallinule and the omnipresent white stork (xxx pairs in 2006). Flamenco does not breed but is present throughout the year.
- Winterers : Large numbers of ducks in winter.
- In passage : Numerous waders, spoonbill, osprey, Audouin’s gull.
The drier areas support great spotted cuckoo, theka lark and rare lesser grey shrike.
Reptiles and amphibians: European pond terrapin, palmate and marbled newts, western spadefoot, stripeless tree frog, painted frog, green lizard, Spanish Psammodromus, grass and viperine snakes.
Mammals: Fallow deer have been reintroduced and are easily seen grazing around the lagoons near El Cortalet. Otter have also been reintroduced but are evidently more elusive. Polecat is the most common predator.
Where to stay in or near the Aiguamolls
- Ca la Maria del Marqués. Restored 19th century house, just two kilometres walk from the main park entrance of the Aiguamolls. More
- Can Bonet. Rural cottage in the Gavarres Massif surrounded by nature, but just fifteen minutes drive from Girona. More
- Mas Caterina. Holiday cottages situated in a large Mediterranean garden in the tranquil Gavarres Massif. More
Guide books in English
- The excellent Spain: Travellers’ Nature Guide has a nice well-informed chapter on the wildlife and flora of the Aiguamolls
- Birdwatching in Spain This essential guide includes good section on birding in the Aiguamolls
- A Birdwatching Guide to Eastern Spain- more detail on the Aiguamolls
Routes : A well designed route from the information centre takes the visitor through different habitats with good views from hides, guaranteeing a good catch of species in a comfortable morning walk.
When to visit : All year round but best during spring (esp. April & May) and autumn migrations.
Information Centre : El Cortalet, Castelló d’Empúries (road to Sant Pere Pescador). Tel.: 972 454 222.
Nearby: Illes Medes, Cap de Creus; Serra de l’Albera
Information adapted from Ramsar Directory of Wetlands of International Importance
Importance: Several rare plant species occur at Els Aiguamolls de l’Empordà , e.g. Centaurea seridis and Orchis laxiflora . The site is also notable for the rare endemic fish species Aphanius iberus (at its northernmost locality) and Gasterosteus aculeatus . Amphibians of particular interest are Discoglossus pictus, Hyla meridionalis, Triturus helveticus and Mauremys caspica . Nesting waterbirds include Ardea purpurea , Ixobrychus minutus , Botaurus stellaris , Anas querquedula , Circus aeruginosus , Porzana pusilla , Himantopus himantopus and Acrocephalus melanopogon . Various Anatidae, Bubulcus ibis , Vanellus vanellus , Pluvialis apricaria and Gallinago gallinago winter here.
Wetland Types: The Aiguamolls de l’Empordà are a coastal complex of saline and freshwater wetlands in the floodplains of the Rivers Muga and Fluviá. It is separated from the sea by sand dunes.
Biological/Ecological notes: The saline wetlands support a halophytic vegetation with Salicornia herbacea and Arthrocnemum fruticosum , while less saline, better-drained areas give rise to meadows of Agropyron sp., Puccinellia sp. and Juncus maritimus. In some of these meadows spectacular spring displays of flowering Iris spuria may be seen. Areas which are regularly flooded by freshwater (naturally or artificially) support lush beds of Carex spp. and Eleocharis palustris . The numerous drainage channels dissecting the floodplain support a characteristic flora composed of Phragmites australis , Typha spp., Scirpus lacustris , Iris pseudacorus etc., and riparian woodlands of Salix alba , Populus alba , P. nigra , Alnus glutinosa , Ulmus minor , Fraxinus angustifolia and Tamarix gallica fringe the rivers. The coastal beaches and dunes support specialised plant communities with Agropyron junceum , Sporobolus pungens , Ammophila arenaria, Convolvulus soldanella, Eryngium maritimum, Euphorbia paralias and Echinophora spinosa . The most common reptiles are Lacerta viridis, Chalcides chalcides, Psammodromus hispanicus, Natrix natrix and N. maura . The most numerous mammal species is Crossidula russula , but Arvicola sapidus, Mus spretus and Microtus agrestis are also present. The population of Oryctolagus cuniculus has been decimated by myxomatosis, whereas the hare Lepus capensis is expanding into orchard areas. Other noteworthy mammals are the well-established Putorius putorius , and Lutra lutra , which is recovering after a period of decline.
Hydrological/Physical notes: In summer, surface waters fall below sea level, so the area behaves as a continuous drainage basin. As the water evaporates, the salinity increases.
Human Uses: The area is government property and partly privately owned. It is divided into two separate zones by the town of Ampuriabrava. Inside the area there is some agriculture, and tourism is important. In the surrounding areas there is agriculture, urbanisation and tourism developments.
Conservation Measures: The site has been designated a Natural Park (Parque Natural). It is also an EU Special Protection Area for wild birds.
The Iberianature guide to Spain