The Laguna of La Janda
The Laguna of La Janda was for many years the largest inland wetland in Spain and in Europe. It was also the most important wetland from an ecological point of view, not least because it was used as a route by all migratory birds crossing the Straits of Gibraltar. La Janda’s rich biodiversity was due to its dense coverage of vegetation, the seasonal availability of shallow, fresh water, its strategic situation in the southernmost part of Europe, and its proximity to the African coast. It became a resting place for the millions of birds that made their obligatory migrations to Africa.
Normally covering an area of approximately 4,000 hectares, at times of maximum flooding La Janda increased in size to more than 5,000 hectares, filling smaller lakes in the area and becoming the most important wetland in Europe.
La Janda, like many wetlands in Spain, was drained for agricultural purposes in the middle of the last century. As a result, Spain suffered what was undoubtedly its greatest ecological disaster.
In spite of the extensive destruction caused by drainage, and the damage that continues to be inflicted, the few remnants of the former La Janda, together with the surrounding forests, still maintain a very special ecological relevance by providing refuge and shelter to a significant number of different species of wildlife and migratory birds. Around 2,000 migrating cranes (Grus grus) winter in the area, as do Spanish Imperial Eagles (Aquila adalberti), Harriers (Circus spp.), Black Storks (Ciconia nigra) and hundreds of White Storks (Ciconia ciconia). Unfortunately, resident bird populations, such as the Great Bustard (Otis tarda) and Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax) and other species, have now been lost. The canals in the former wetland still maintain small populations of breeding birds, mainly Herons (Bubulcus ibis, Egretta garzeta, Ardeola ralloides, Nycticorax nycticorax), Black Winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) and other aquatic birds.
Nevertheless, even given its enormous ecological significance, La Janda has not been declared a protected zone; nor have the competent authorities considered the possibility of a project to restore this unique and immensely valuable ecosystem.