Sierra Cebollera Nature Reserve, La Rioja

Nature and sustainability


The large diversity of landscapes and contrasts in Spain is surprising. What's more, this is the country with the highest number of UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserves in the world. In Spain you can find mountains, forests and valleys; as well as volcanoes, dunes and desert areas, marshlands, lakes, cliffs, waterfalls, canyons...Unique and valuable nature that needs and to be looked after. 

How many protected natural spaces are there in Spain?

The total surface area of natural spaces that have some form of protection in Spain spans across more than 30 million hectares. This means almost a third of the terrestrial space and some 12 percent of the marine surface areas are protected. Apart from developing various initiatives and tools for protecting its ecosystems at national level, Spain also participates in the principal international environmental protection programmes and agreements (Ramsar, Red Natura 2000, ZEPIM, OSPAR, MAB, etc.). Within the UNESCO programme, for example, Spain stands out for its 53 spaces that have been declared Biosphere Reserves, its 15 geoparks and its four national parks listed as World Heritage sites (Doñana, Teide, Garajonay and Monte Perdido). Also for the number of Starlight Reserves, with 14 spaces certified for the quality of their night skies for stargazing. There are thirty natural spaces in Spain certified with the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism (ECST) and several destinations included in the EDEN Network (European Destinations of Excellence), a European Commission initiative to promote sustainable tourism. Without forgetting that for decades Spain has been the leading country in terms of Blue Flag beaches.

How many national parks are there in Spain?

Nature in Spain allows you to enjoy true natural wonders all year round. A visit to Spain's 16 national parks opens up an incredible world of natural diversity: from the summits of the highest mountains in the Pyrenees in the Ordesa-Monte Perdido Park or the Picos de Europa, to the volcanic formations of the Teide or Timanfaya; the rugged slopes of the Caldera de Taburiente or the fabulous Garajonay laurel forest. There are also the dense forests and waterfalls of Aigüestortes; the marshlands of Doñana, the wetlands at Tablas de Daimiel, the mountain ranges and plains of Cabañeros, or the sweeping plains of Monfragüe; and not forgetting the rock fields and glacial cirques of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, the paradise-like beaches at the Islas Atlánticas National Park or the cliffs in the Cabrera Archipelago

Hiker in the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, Huesca

What is Spain's plant and animal life like?

Spain is one of the richest countries in terms of biodiversity in the world and there are multiple options for learning about it in a responsible way. Its strategic location between two continents, its different climates, the variety of the relief and geography of its territory, with almost 8,000 kilometres of coasts and two archipelagos, explain this to a large extent. Spain’s wildlife includes species typical of Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa and the alpine regions, as well as numerous endemic species on the islands and mountain regions. In total, it is estimated that there are around 70,000 animal species. The wolf, fox, mountain cat, Iberian lynx, deer or wild boar are just some of the most iconic mammals. There are also numerous species of birds of prey, such as the eagle, the bearded vulture, the vulture, the falcon, the owl and the goshawk. Spain is also an important stopping-off point for flocks of migratory birds on their journey to and from Europe and Africa. Did you know that Spain is one of the best places for birdwatching? And that the Canary Islands are the region in Spain with the highest number of endemic species. Without a doubt, Spanish biodiversity is extraordinary, although there are around 74 species in danger of extinction, including the Iberian lynx, the brown bear and the imperial eagle. 

With regard to vegetation, Spain boasts a catalogue of more than 10,000 different plant species, many of them indigenous. In general terms, you can distinguish between two different types of vegetation, according to whether they are located in wetter or dryer regions. In the northern and mountainous areas there are extensive forests and valleys, while in inland and Mediterranean areas the plains, steppes and forests of holm oaks, pines or cork trees prevail. On the other hand, there are the Canary Islands, which are almost miniature continents because of the incredible concentration of biological diversity in just a few kilometres.  

Beech forest Tenerife, Canary Islands

Environmental policy and sustainable development

Spain is a country with a growing level of awareness towards environmental protection. The concern for searching for a sustainable development model, which is compatible with its economic activity and rational use of resources with environmental conservation, materialised into the Strategic Sustainable Development Strategy for Spain, approved in 2007. Spain also maintains an active attitude towards global environmental protection, subscribing to numerous agreements for the global protection of nature and protocols to combat climate change and pollution. In this regard, a noteworthy aspect is Spain’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development approved by the UN in 2015, which incorporates aspects directly related with the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity, reducing pollution, defending the environment and the fight against climate change.

Visitors in the Aigüestortes National Park, Lérida