A new national park in southern Spain brings fresh hope to local economies

Sierra de las Nieves in Málaga province contains unique species of plants and wildlife, and nearby municipalities are counting on this new visitor attraction to revitalize the region

A view in Sierra de las Nieves, now a national park.
A view in Sierra de las Nieves, now a national park.Juanjo Sierra

Spain has a brand new national park. Sierra de las Nieves in Málaga province, in the southern region of Andalusia, is becoming the 16th natural space to receive top environmental protection following its approval by the Senate last week.

The new national park extends over 23,000 hectares and contains 65% of all the Iberian peninsula’s existing forests of Abies pinsapo, a type of fir unique to southern Spain and northern Morocco. The best-known specimen is the Pinsapo de las Escaleretas, which has been declared a national monument.

We have to make the most of this fantastic and unique designation
Ronda Mayor Mari Paz Fernández

Besides endemic plants, the area is also home to golden eagles, Bonelli’s eagles, beech martens, roe deer and otters, as well as a native species of crayfish.

Geographically, the park extends across the municipalities of Benahavis, El Burgo, Istán, Monda, Parauta, Ronda, Tolox and Yunquera, although its area of influence reaches further to seven other locations that are considered part of a biosphere reserve, meaning part of the environmentally relevant zone does not enjoy international protection.

The Andalusian chief of agricultural affairs, Carmen Crespo, called it “a historic moment for Andalusia, a quantum leap that gives us three national parks that are each completely different.” Regional authorities estimated that the number of visitors to the area will increase tenfold, from the current 55,000 to over 500,000.

Mayors and local councilors from 13 municipalities in Sierra de las Nieves traveled to Madrid last week to witness the “historic moment” of legislative approval inside the Senate. Local leaders are hoping that the national park designation will also bring new economic and social opportunities to their rural communities.

Eagles flying in the Sierra de las Nieves natural park.
Eagles flying in the Sierra de las Nieves natural park.Garcia-Santos (El Pais)

“This fills us with hope and life,” said Parauta Mayor Katrin Ortega, of the Socialist Party (PSOE). “We have worked hard to make this a reality and it will help us rebuild our population and economy.”

This idea was repeated by the mayor of El Burgo, José Joaquín García of the United Left (IU), who said “this tool will help us bring back residents who left our villages and fight depopulation by opening new businesses that will reactivate our streets.”

The president of the commonwealth of municipalities in the area, Antonio Pérez of the PSOE, underscored the political unity behind the drive to achieve national park status. “This fills us with pride after making it a reality with support from all the political groups with parliamentary representation. Now we have to work hard to set up everything that a space of this nature involves, and focus on showing visitors our best image,” added Pérez, who is also the mayor of Alozaina.

Local leaders already have projects, said Ronda Mayor Mari Paz Fernández, of the Popular Party (PP). “We are planning to develop a new tourism office that will strongly emphasize Sierra de las Nieves. We have to make the most of this fantastic and unique designation.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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