In many cases, when we go out to the mountains or go on a hiking route, we find ourselves walking through a National or Natural Park, a Biosphere Reserve or a Geopark, among other legal figures that we can find regulating and protecting the natural environment. But, would you know the differences between National Parks, Geoparks, Biosphere Reserves...?
In general, when we carry out activities in the middle of nature, we do not stop to think about the reason that led to the declaration and inclusion of the area in which we are in any of the aforementioned figures. We see, with more or less attention, the signs that inform us of the routes and the recommendations or limitations that exist.
In fact, there are several other figures, such as ZEPA areas, SCI, Natural Monuments, etc., in addition to those already mentioned. One of the main functions of all of them is the conservation and protection of the natural environment and the flora and fauna that inhabit it. The differences between all of them can be found in several characteristics that go from the level of protection that each one implements, the organisms that regulate them, the objectives they pursue and the degree of exploitation that they contemplate. In order to catalog or define a natural space with one of these protective figures, it must meet a series of circumstances and conditions that accredit it to access this rank.
Among the different types that exist, we are going to focus on the most common ones, those that can most affect our trips to the mountains or our hiking trails. And we must not forget that among its functions are to regulate the use made of its resources.
It is not uncommon to confuse Natural Parks with National Parks, although as you can imagine they have some differences, starting with the degree of protection and the level of requirements that must be met in order to designate a natural area as a National Park.
We can say that this is the highest level of protection that exists in our country for a natural environment. This is due to its extraordinary natural and cultural values, the exceptional flora and fauna and the singularity of its geomorphological formations, added to the little alteration that the hand of man would have caused in the environment. Factors that make it worthy of special attention, being declared of general interest and depending directly on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment and the body created for its management.
There are currently 15 National Parks in Spain, being the Covadonga Mountain National Park the first one to be declared, although it later became the Picos de Europa National Park. The last one to be declared as such was the Guadarrama National Park.
In order for all these natural areas to be considered as such, they must meet the following characteristics, among others: state of conservation, continuity of their territory, and not include human settlements except in specific cases.
One of the main differences between National Parks and Natural Parks is that the latter are managed individually by the autonomous communities where they are located.
Like the previous ones, their ecological, scenic, cultural and natural values give them a special uniqueness that make them worthy of protection for their conservation. Although in this case they do not meet the very demanding requirements that are imposed on National Parks, such as human settlements, peripheral protection zones, etc...
Spain has more than a hundred Natural Parks in its territory, each one with its own singularities and characteristics. As they are managed by the different autonomous communities, they are the ones to whom we must turn if we need to request permits to carry out any activity. As in the case of the National Parks, the Natural Parks have their own PRUG or Use and Management Plan that regulates or may regulate access to the park's trails or the carrying out of group activities, among other things.
In the 90's, with France, Germany, Spain and Greece as precursors, the figure of Geoparks emerged in Europe. Later, in 2000, the European Geoparks Network was created, and later UNESCO supported the project, extending it to the whole world and creating the Global Geoparks Network, which currently has more than 140 geoparks distributed around the world.
The main characteristics of this type of protection are that they are managed and declared as such by UNESCO, and that they focus on areas of great geological value. That is, in addition to possessing great beauty and uniqueness, they are representative of the geological history of the area where they are located.
In this case, in addition to the objective of protecting these geological treasures, the aim is also to promote sustainable socioeconomic and cultural development, as well as environmental awareness and dissemination.
Currently in Spain we have declared 12 Geoparks scattered throughout the peninsula and islands. They are exceptional natural spaces where, in addition to enjoying them, we are aware of the importance of the geological heritage that we have in our country.
As with Geoparks, Biosphere Reserves are declared as such by UNESCO at the initiative of member states. Although in this case the final management is assumed by the country where it is located, it can also overlap with other forms of protection such as natural or national parks.
A natural area must meet a series of requirements to be named a Biosphere Reserve:
Sustainable socioeconomic and sociocultural development.
Special conservation of the ecosystem, landscapes, flora and fauna.
Encouragement of research projects, environmental education, cultural...
Spain has more than 48 biosphere reserves, making it the second country in the world in terms of the number of natural areas declared as such. This number can be increased because there are several projects presented for approval.
In this type of protected areas, different zones or levels of protection are contemplated, depending on each zone that it includes.