Las Tablas de Daimiel National Park - Spain

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Las Tablas de Daimiel National Park

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General Site Description: 

Las Tablas de Daimiel National Park (TDNP) is a floodplain wetland located at Central Spain in the core of La Mancha Húmeda Biosphere Reserve. Until the 1970s, wetland inundation was due to natural flooding of both the Gigüela and the Guadiana Rivers, and to the aquifer discharge (Llanura Manchega Occidental aquifer) as the groundwater table was close to the surface. Historically, the wetland´s inundation was also promoted by small water-mill dams which helped to increase the water-level. TDNP is the typical example of wetland degradation in the Mediterranean Europe, including dessication, agriculture conversion, groundwater overexplotitation and water quality impairing. Most importantly, aquifer overexploitation resulting from excessive agricultural irrigation strongly changed the ecosystem hydrology from a semi-permanent wetland to a highly fluctuating ecosystem with long periods (several years) of almost complete dryness. From the 1870s until the 1950s, the area was a private hunting park. It then became a National Hunting Reserve and later, in 1973, a National Park. It was included in the Ramsar convention in 1982. Its main environmental values are the large waterfowl populations, the European cut-sedge and the reed, and the plasticity of the ecosystem to absorb different threats.

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General Characteristics, Purpose, History

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Size : 

1 675.00ha

Purpose of Site : 

Las Tablas de Daimiel is a unique ecosystem that has evolved historically through the convergence of many ecological, social and economic factors. From the early 1980s scientific research has been conducted within the ecosystem, most of them ecological, with data records extending from the 1950s to the present. There are active monitoring programs on different ecological processes including temporal dynamics of nutrients, plankton and macrophytes, evapotranspiration and photosynthesis, exchange of CO2 and CH4 emissions and monitoring of fish and birds. Since 2012 there is also a FACE (free-air CO2 enrichment) facility exposing Phragmites australis to elevated (580 ppm) CO2.

History of Site: 

The first known settlements of man in Las Tablas de Daimiel can be traced back to 3600 BP. These first settlers built small villages called “motillas”, which were little artificial mounds 4-10 m high, providing shelter against flooding and wildlife. One of the best preserved motillas is that of Las Cañas (Fig. 11. 1), located in the southwestern part of TDNP. It belonged to the Argar Culture, which was dominant in SE Spain in 1600-1400 BC. This montilla was later abandoned and recolonized by Iberian people some 400-500 years BC. Some Greek remains were also found. Later this motilla was abandoned, and recolonized once again in the late Middle Age.All the area was already influenced by Romans around 130 BC. Some remains of a stone road were also found within the National Park, and it is likely that an oak pasture was named by the Romans (Polistena, later called Zacatena), which suggests that there may have been a Roman settlement there. No further information is available for TDNP until the arrival of Arab muslims in Spain, in the early VIII century AC. This is also mentioned in Muslim chronicles of the 10th century AC, good for cereal cultivation and cattle breeding. It is also likely that an Arab village was settled in Zacatena. In 1147 AC, the Christians conquered Calatrava la Vieja castle, and transferred it to the Military Order of Calatrava which established its headquarters there. Some recent findings revealed that the castle inhabitants ate cyprinid fishes that were likely caught in the nearby wetland. A Muslim castle also rose in the western area of the wetland, close to the Zacatena oak pasture. At any rate, this area was owned by the Calatrava Order and remained in their hands until the 19th century. Several watermills in the area have been dated back to late Middle Age The Infante Don Juan Manuel (Prince John Emmanuel) was a Spanish aristocrat and writer, the author of “The Game Book”, written in the early 14th century. In it, he reported hat TDNP was a very good game (mostly waterfowl) site in those years. In the early 15th century, the Encomienda of Daimiel for the current city and the Jétar Encomienda were created. The latter owned two watermills and the right to fish in the Gigüela River. The Master Table owned the fishing rights in the Guadiana River, the Zacatena oak pasture and five watermills. King Philip II visited the wetland three times in the second half of 16th century, most likely to hunt. In King Phillip’s Account on Spanish Wealth, it was reported that TDNP was a good for fishing eels and barbels. There are many records of floodings by the Guadiana River and other streams since the 18th century. The first malaria epidemics were dated in 1745-1749, 1755-1769 and 1785-1787, with many more episodes occurring later, until malaria disappeared in the late forties of the 20th century. To diminish the effects of plagues, watermill dams were opened in summertime, to enable water to run, hence enhancing water renewal. Another royal account of the Spanish wealth was performed in 1752, where three fishermen, seven watermills, two fulling mills and eleven water-powered oil mills were recorded in the area. There were also gypsum saltworks, whose waters were useful to treat malaria. From mid-19th century onwards, watermills were the center of human activity in TDNP. In the larger watermills, one could eat, meet other people, buy or sell commodities, sleep, drink wine, find sex and so on. Most transportation took place over the water, using flat bottom, 2-4 m long boats, propelled by a big stick that was dragged through the wetland mud. Because of strong vegetation growth (mostly cut-sedge, Cladium mariscus) water tables were soon occupied and closed to navigation. Fishermen had to burn vegetation in some areas to produce water trails (“trochas” as they called them) to enable boat movements. The Daimiel Encomienda was disentailed in 1831, and the Military Orders were abolished, ceasing to exist. As a result of this, some wetland zones were purchased by three private owners (Rafael Sevillano, Francisco Martí de Veses and Julián Settier) who transformed them into waterfowl preserves, where hunting was only allowed to members. Hence, TDNP was a group of waterfowl preserve from the middle 19th century until 1973. Since only rich people could afford the expense of belonging to game societies, a lot of resentment grew among the low class folks, and some of them, known as “black guns” started poaching” there. European crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes) was introduced in the wetland in the mid 19th century and soon developed large populations. The knowledge on human settlement in TDNP from the late 19th century until the third Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) is very scant. No fighting occurred in TDNP, but there were three agricultural colectivities in Daimiel, run by anarchists, communists and socialists. The anarchist colectivity was that of the Zacatena property, which was shortly before owned by a duchess. After the war, game preserves were resumed and three hunting parties were organized every year. TDNP were soon colonized by people devoted to hunting and crop gathering, in a manner closely resembling that of the Arab people in the Tigris and Eufrates marshland. Crayfish was caught in enormous numbers, enabling 200-300 families to make a living. There were also cyprinid fishermen. All in all, river people earned three times more than peasants and this was the cause of frequent quarreling and hatred between these social groups. The river people used to live in small stone huts, called “casillas” covered by reed roofs. They grew up and lived more freely than their agricultural counterparts of Daimiel, but they were more subject to water-borne diseases, such as malaria, that was erradicated in the late forties. Previously, in the 1920s, mosquito-fish had been introduced to fight this disease. Some parts of the wetland at the Guadiana entrance to TDNP were devoted to rice crops from 1940 to late 1960. Austropotamobius was decimated and finally disappeared from the wetland as a result of an infection by the fungus Aphanomyces astaci, around the mid 70’s. This put an end to fishing, but an attempt to reintroduce it, using the American crayfish Procambarus clarkii, resulted in massive growth of this resistant, omnivorous species and proved deleterious for many other species in the wetland, such as charophytes. Another introduced species was pike, which entered TDNP from a nearby reservoir in the 60’s. In 1956, a government plan for the Alto Guadiana catchment, where TDNP is located, promoted desiccation of many wetlands, with two purposes: getting new land plots for agriculture and fighting malaria. Watermills along the wetland were destroyed, but attempts to grow anything in the reclaimed wetland soils proved ineffective, due to high soil salinity. In 1973, in order to preserve a small spot of what the wetlands had been, the Spanish government declared a National Park, with the name of Parque Nacional Las Tablas de Damiel and an extension of some 1.000 Ha. This was later increased to 1.928 Ha in 1981. An area formerly desiccated, Las Cañas, was recovered, albeit not restored to its pristine plant vegetation in its whole extension. All the river people were gradually removed. Human activities in that catchment have greatly increased from 1970 onwards. Irrigation agriculture evolved dramatically in the 80’s, well beyond sustainability of the water resource, and strongly impairing the quality of surface water entering TDNP. A terminal dam was also built in TDNP in 1987, increasing water and pollutant retention in the wetland, part of which arose from strong plant production promoted by nutrient-enriched water. Thus, TDNP became a hypertrophic environment that, due to the aquifer overexploitation, often lacked water. 1986 was the last year of groundwater out-welling. Some years later, the Spanish government promoted a water transfer plan to get some flooding water from a nearby catchment, but the efficiency of those transfers was greatly variable as a result of illegal water abstractions and high soil porosity in some areas over which the transferred water travelled, and, in some years, there was not enough water to be transferred. The wetland was nutrient enriched for decades, but its closing by a dam in 1986 and the increase of wastewater inputs from 1975 onwards greatly impaired its water quality. Earlier it was common to have wetland water in the Guadiana area of the wetland where salinity was not high. The wetland suffered an intentional fire in 1986 that eliminated more than 100 ha of cut-sedge vegetation and its underlying peat. In 2009, a self-combusted, natural fire has been triggered, burning peat in other wetland areas, but chances to extinguish it are pretty low, unless a strong water input is supplied, which, according to Spanish government plans, might occur early in 2010.

Research Topics: 


  • Floodplain wetland
    Aerial view of Las Tablas de Daimiel wetland
  • Intensive experimentation
    FACE facility at Las Tablas de Daimiel
  • Las Tablas de Daimiel floodplain wetland
    The cut-sedge "Cladium mariscus"
  • Carbon fluxes observation
    Eddy covariance measurements in the wetland


Latitude: 39.132826000000
Longitude: -3.692048000000