Wildlife reserves and national parks

Spain has an amazing wealth and variety of wild spaces, it certainly ranks as one of the most, if not the most, diverse environments in mainland Europe. There is a plethora of parks and game reserve categories, all with very different restrictions on access for motor vehicles. Not the least important factor in this is which of the Autonomous Regions manages the park, because for a variety of reason regulations are more or less strict depending largely on local conditions, relative wealth, population pressures, etc. and, perhaps more cynically, local politics.

There's plenty of space to go round: this trail was possibly hannibal's route over the Pyrenees. It's within the 'Parc Natural d'Alt Pirineu' but the trail is open to traffic - for now!

There’s plenty of space to go round: this trail was possibly Hannibal’s route over the Pyrenees. It is actually well within the ‘Parc Natural d’Alt Pirineu’ , a peripheral zone to a national park, but the trail is open to traffic – for now!

As far as biking is concerned there are two issues at stake: by and large, off-roaders are better off avoiding the more high-grade nature reserves, and in many respects any sensitive environment could well do without the bash and clatter of two-wheeled invaders. Personally, I think the impact of motorcycles on the environment as such is negligible – unless it’s overdone and riders are downright irresponsible – and I well recall an unusual alliance in the UK during the ’70’s between bikers and horse riders over maintaining access to bridleways and green lanes – or maybe it was all that leather and tight trousers! – which finally led to the foundation of the Trail Riders Fellowship, which among other things is an important lobby group for maintaining free access to trails. On the other hand on-road bikers can take full advantage of the facilities that natural parks encourage in their vicinity; these areas are rich in camp sites, hostels and a good range of hotels, all of which are supported by a well-developed road infrastructure.

There are fourteen national parks in Spain, of which only eight are on the mainland. National parks are notable both for their pristine environments and outstanding beauty, and are strictly controlled. They are the only natural spaces that are controlled on a nationwide basis, that is to say that although the regional governments actually run the parks they do this in compliance with national rules and regulations, among which is the total prohibition to the public of vehicular traffic – no arguments, no exceptions, go to jail without passing GO!

The next step down the line are ‘natural parks’, these are managed by the regional governments under their own rules and legislation. A great many natural parks are peripheral zones to the national parks, often in advance of being incorporated. In these cases access to vehicles is restricted on an ad hoc basis, sometimes varying by season – both to safeguard the areas during the summers and to control access during breeding seasons, etc. I know of several off-road guides that do not take these factors into account, sending riders into restricted zones or dissuading them unnecessarily. There is simply no way to avoid this apart from making the effort and doing the research. This is where the difference between regional governments really shows; in the ready access to accurate and timely information.

Moving further down the scale, not necessarily in terms of environmental sensitivity, there are more and more categories of nature reserves, all with their own status and regulations. But few, if any, have statutory limitation with regard to access. But for the sake of being diplomatic, at least, it is wise to always bear in mind any notices or signs that you are about to ride into a sensitive area. One sign to look out for in particular is the acronym SEO-Birdlife (Sociedad Española de Ornitología), which is the Spanish equivalent of the RSPB. Tis organisation not only runs but owns its own reserves, usually in support of extremely sensitive environments, breeding grounds, etc. – I think it goes without saying that bikers should not go romping a round in these; after all, there’s more than enough wild space in Spain to go round!

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