Garajonay: Conservation and biodiversity

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    The conservation of the natural environment.

    According to the Act creating the Park, the park administration has as its main objective ensuring the conservation of the natural and cultural resources, restoring damaged ecosystems, developing a system of public use that is compatible with the conservation of resources, effecting activities of interpretation and of environmental education which favour respect for the park on the part of the public, carrying out the necessary studies to guarantee a scientific base to the management and favouring the sustained development of the socio-economic surroundings of the Park.

    Problems of Conservation

    The main problems of conservation of the Park are:

    • Incomplete representation of the monteverde formations of the island. Outside the Park, there are natural woodlands of great quality deserving conservation which it would be advisable to include within the park. Furthermore, some types of woodlands are not well represented inside the Park.
    • Existence of degraded areas. About 13% of the Park corresponds to old plantations with exotic species or scrubland replacing the original woodland.
    • Invasion by exotic species. As a result of the favourable climatic conditions, there is a large proportion of exotic species. These are fortunately generally restricted to degraded and open areas but some show invasive behaviour.
    • Existence of a significant number of endangered species. Garajonay and its surroundings are considered to be the second area in Spain with the largest number of endangered species.
    • Forest fires represent the greatest risk to the conservation of the Park.
    • Increase in the pressure exercised by visitors. Although the pressure from visits is still moderate, the expectations of growth of tourism on the island mean that an increase in human pressure is foreseeable.
    • Existence of a significant network of roads in the Park, which complicates the control of visits.

    Items for Conservation

    Garajonay National Park has important items for conservation which can be summarised as follows:

    • Nature: The Park protects ancient woodlands which have hardly been affected by human activity.
    • Diversity of ecosystems: There are numerous types of woodland ecosystems as well as the rock and river ecosystems.
    • Endemicity: Although the diversity of the flora and fauna is not great as this is an island ecosystem, the level of endemicity being very high, with fifty species of flora being endemic to La Gomera and another 122 species endemic to the Canaries and regarding the fauna, there are 153 species endemic to La Gomera and another 327 endemic to the Canary Islands that have been described up to the present.
    • Rarity: The number of species included in the catalogue of species of flora that are endangered amounts to twenty-one. Furthermore, many species have a very much reduced distribution.
    • Representation: The Park protects over half of the ancient monteverde woodland in the Canary Islands.
    • Uniqueness: The Canarian monteverde is a residual ecosystem related to the extinct subtropical woodlands which covered the south of Europe and North Africa in the Tertiary Period.

    Restoration of degraded areas

    One of the priorities of the Park is the reconstruction of the original natural ecosystems in those areas which today are occupied by exotic species. The areas under restoration amount to about 500 hectares, concentrated in elevated areas on the southward facing side where the original vegetation was heather and myrtle (fayal-brezal).

    The elimination of the pines from plantings carried out in the 1960s which now occupy these areas is done by means of successive clearings (that is to say by gradually reducing the density), followed by repopulation with plants of autochthonous species under the protective cover of the pinewoods. The pines which are initially left standing to give protection to the new plants over the first few years are subsequently eliminated.

    In the areas covered by natural vegetation, human intervention is practically non-existent. Thus the woods evolve in a natural manner: the trees reach maturity and then die, decompose and all the material and energy goes back into the ecosystem. In Europe, where the majority of woodlands are intensely transformed, subject to human use, the forest in the Garajonay National Park is one of the few places where it is possible to visit woodland formations in a condition which is close to their original state.

    Recovery of the endangered flora

    Twenty-one species of plants which are catalogued as endangered live in Garajonay. In order to avoid their disappearance, the Park is carrying out a recovery programme which involves the conduct of studies to evaluate their populations and demographic tendencies, the genetics of the populations, the knowledge of their reproductive biology and of their environmental needs, possible threats, etc., which will serve to establish the lines of action that will be necessary. Some of these are reproduction in a nursery and subsequent increase of populations by means of planting, the adaptation of the habitat to reduce competition or to favour the natural regeneration of the plant, etc. Up to the present, the results have been highly promising with seven of the nine species with which work has been done.

    The struggle against fire

    Forest fires are the worst threat to the conservation of the park. In general, the environmental conditions and the characteristics of the vegetation in the interior of the Park do not favour fire spreading, but there are other factors which involve an increase in the risk, such as the existence of plant communities which are highly combustible surrounding the park (scrubland of laburnum and rockrose, as well as a rugged topography) which together with the dry summer, the presence of numerous inhabited areas around the park make it possible for fires to start and to spread.

    The struggle against forest fires is carried out in several different ways: on the one hand, by means of environmental education of the population, on the other, by means of prevention through the selective management of vegetation at strategic points so as to avoid the accumulation of combustible materials, and finally, by means of an extinction service made up of wardens and reserves as well as material resources such as fire-fighting trucks, etc..

    Research

    Research in a National Park is indispensable to obtain the knowledge necessary for proper management. The Park has regulations regarding research by other institutions and carries out its own studies in such different fields as climatology, vegetation, flora, fauna, ecology, public use, socio-economic environment, etc. What is more, currently a programme of ecological monitoring is being undertaken consisting of a permanent data collection network, the object of which is to find out about the operation and evolution of the ecosystem in the long term.

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