Forests in Spain

I traveled to Spain and was impressed by the lack of forests in this country. Kilometers of bare land. The influence on the climate is evident. Temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius are normal in this country.


Don’t get me wrong I found beautiful gardens inside cities.

100_6523flower Spain

So I did a little research about what happened with the forests of Spain. Here is what I found.

At the beginning of the Christian era, Pliny the Elder (23– 79 AD) reviewed the timber resources of the Mediterranean basin. Although the major supply centres in the East were still quite important, attention was moving westward. By that time, exploitation of forests was no longer limited by proximity to the sea shore. Forests were laboured in the hinterland such as in hills and mountains of the Apennines, Alps,Corsica and Pyrenees. Strabo’s Geography pointed out that, overall, forests were abundant in the Mediterranean mountain regions.

Littoral pinewoods suffered the most as a result of the expansion of maritime commercial routes. Their early extinction has been docu-mented in palynological deposits close to ancient economically important enclaves such as the Sinus Tartessii (the actual Bay of Cádiz, south-western Spain).

The high density of settlements along the littoralresulted in further deforestation of the hinterlands (Plato, Critias III)(Thirgood, 1981). Timber was piled in river beds and floated to thecoast with the help of the seasonal peaks of the water level. Onlyremote mountain forests, from where the transport of timber wasdif ficult, escaped exploitation.

Extensive woodland still remained at the end of the classical period. The crisis following Emperor Commodus’s reign (193 AD)plunged Roma into a general unstable life: violence and pillageh indered the exploitation of land and industry and diminished the international trade

The Visigothic social structure that evolved in Hispania after theLate Roman Empire was based on subsistence farming. The fall of international trade eased the pressure on forest resources. Population was concentrated in the countryside; the old Roman villae were transformed into the medieval curtis albeit maintaining the samestructure of large scale farm (latifundium). Visigothic economy,reported by Isidore of Seville (ca. 560 –636) in his Etymologies wasbasedonpastoralandagrarianactivities:cereals,vineyards,vegetablegardens products, beehives, hunting and fishing.

From 711 to 756 AD, the Arabic culture rapidly spread their domains over the Iberian Peninsula. The presence of Muslims for more than 800 years involved contrasting impacts over the forest across the territory. The advanced irrigation techniques of the Arabs allowed abetter use of the land for their agriculture-based economy. El Idrisi (1100–1165 or 1166), an andalusi geographer, describes in his Spanish Geography (Blázquez, 1901) a territory where woodlands still supplied important resources and wealth. Inhis description of theMosque of Cordoba, El Idrisi registered the provenance of pine woodbeams from as far as Tortosa (in present day Catalonia), praising the good quality of that timber and regretting the depletion of forests in the city surroundings.

The Christian Reconquest lasted from 722 till 1492. During this long-lasting campaign, all territories in the Iberian Peninsula were at some point the border between the Moor and Christian Kingdoms. Asa result, the land was exposed to tree felling and arson that depleted the woods that previously covered the landscape.

For instance,the Chronic of Albelda (year883 AD) reports how the troops of Alfonso I left all the area adjacent to the river Duero turned into wasteland after fighting against the Moors in the lands of Toro and Tierra de Campos.

During the 13th century, the Christian Kingdoms had almost completed their expansion to the extreme southern lands of the Peninsula.To guarantee the security of these territories they were given to Christian military orders. These orders were to possess the property and use of most of the land. Livestock herding (mainly sheep) was chosen to exploit these wide, forested and depopulated new territories. This political decision had dramatic consequences since it linked the Spanish economy to the international trade of wool at the expense of a deep transformation of the woodlands.

During the 13th and 14th centuries, and being aware of the importance of woods in rural economy, the Castilian government created strict regulations trying to protect forest resources. King Alfonso XI of Castile ordered to compile a hunting treatise called El Libro de la Montería.

Book III provided a detailed description of tree species and names of the forested lands that were suitable for hunting activities, especially those having wild boars and bears. This Book evidenced the recovery of dense forests all over the Castilian Kingdom’s geography, especially in those areas where the council repopulation took place: pines were still in the mountains, and large areas coveredwith holm, cork and other oak woodlands remained in places fa-voured for pastures.

In 1803, new Navy Ordinances gave private landowners freedom to make use of their timber.However, these regulations were suspended two years later arguing that there were no topographic maps of the affected lands avail-able.

By the beginning of the 20th century the Iberian landscapes were drastically deforested. The forest cover regeneration was an urgent social need for Spanish authorities.

The forests In Spain were burned to make charcoal, or to clear land for sheep to graze – once common practices throughout Spain. When the government first took stock of the damage in the late 19th century, it estimated that 5 or 6 million hectares – or about 10 percent of the country’s land area – would need to be replanted.

Centuries of deforestation have turned Spain’s lush forests into barren scrub lands, making them vulnerable to erosion. But volunteers are working to revive the landscape and protect local water sources.

At the Institute for Food and Agriculture Research and Technology in Madrid, scientist Gregorio Montero said that centuries of deforestation have caused a serious erosion problem in Spain.

“Spain has been a country of shepherds and farmers since the beginning of the Middle Ages,” he said. “Its natural resources have degraded – large forests became scrubland,” Montero said.

As in the Sierra de Guadarrama, landowners across Spain burned or cut down their trees, then ran herds of sheep or cattle across the land. The lack of trees has exposed the topsoil, allowing nutrients to be washed out with the rain, making it less fertile.

And without trees, the soil cannot retain water. This, in turn, dries out the soil, causing the surface to harden to the point where rain can no longer penetrate it. This can lead to flooding, as well as making it difficult for new trees to take root.

By the mid-19th century, Spanish landowners observed their soil being washed away into the sea.

According to the U.N. FAO, 36.4% or about 18,173,000 ha of Spain is forested, according to FAO. Spain had 2,680,000 ha of planted forest.

At the Guardarrama national park, volunteers continue the slow work of replanting the country’s forests.

After I saw the devastation that lack of caring for forest has done to a country I believe that the government should have a national policy where people that plant forest should be paid by the government and planting forests in this country should be a planned national effort.



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One Response to Forests in Spain

  1. Mike says:


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