Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria (INIA)
Available online at www.inia.es/forestsystems
Forest Systems 2012 21(3), 398-404
Game Reserves in Spain: the public management of hunting
M. Pita Fernández1, S. Casas Bargueño1, J. Herrero2, *, C. Prada1 and R. García Post3
1 Ega Consultores en Vida Silvestre SLPU. Sierra de Vicort 31 1ºA. E-50003 Zaragoza, Spain
2 Área de Ecología. Departamento de Ciencias Agrarias y del Medio Natural. Escuela Politécnica Superior de Huesca.
Universidad de Zaragoza. E-22071 Huesca, Spain
3 Conselleria de Infraestructuras, Territorio y Medio Ambiente. Servicio de Caza y Pesca Continental.
Francisco Cubells, 7. E-46011 Valencia, Spain
In Spain, Game Reserves (GR) are territorial public hunting management units that cover 3.5% of the country and ~ 10%
of the Natura 2000 Network. The first GR were established in 1966 and by 2011 there were 49. Their primary purposes
were to promote wild ungulate populations, their sustainable use, and to provide social, economic, and recreational benefits
to local communities and hunters, generally. During the 1980s following a political federalization process, GR became the
responsibility of regional governments and their role has never been evaluated, even though the political, rural ecological,
and administrative frameworks underwent substantial changes. In this paper, we present a review of the state of GR in 2011,
identify their successes and problems, and provide recommendations for the future. The GR have been fundamental to
sustainable hunting and the protection of wildlife, particularly, game species. Currently, their virtues are not widely ap-
preciated and they do not receive sufficient financial and human resources to meet their objective fully. We propose sev-
eral initiatives that might improve the use of existing resources and increase the profile of these publicly managed areas.
Key words: wild ungulates; Natural Protected Areas; Natura 2000 Network; sustainable hunting.
Reservas de Caza en España: la gestión pública de la caza
Las Reservas de Caza (RC) constituyen una figura de gestión cinegética pública del territorio en España. Abarcan el
3.5% del territorio y ocupan aproximadamente el 10% de la Red Natura 2000. Su declaración comenzó en 1966, y desde
entonces no ha cesado, llegando en la actualidad a las 49 RC. Fueron creadas esencialmente para la promoción de las
poblaciones de ungulados silvestres, el aprovechamiento ordenado de este recurso y la satisfacción social, económica y
recreativa de las comunidades locales y de los cazadores en general. Quedaron fuera de la tutela del estado tras su des-
centralización a partir de principios de los años ochenta del pasado siglo, y su función en conjunto no ha sido nunca
evaluada, al tiempo que el panorama político, rural, ecológico y administrativo ha sufrido profundos cambios. Este ar tículo
pretende ofrecer una panorámica actualizada de la situación de las RC a principios del siglo XXI, evaluar sus logros y
problemática actual, así como proponer algunas actuaciones para el futuro inmediato. Las RC han sido pioneras en el
aprovechamiento sostenible de la caza y de gran utilidad para la protección de la fauna en general y las especies cinegé-
ticas en concreto. Actualmente no gozan del reconocimiento popular, y no reciben los recursos necesarios económicos y
humanos suficientes para seguir cumpliendo su función adecuadamente. Se proponen una serie de medidas para aprove-
char mejor los recursos disponibles y poder dar a conocer a la sociedad el valor de estos terrenos de gestión pública.
Palabras clave: ungulados silvestres; Áreas Naturales Protegidas; Red Natura; caza sostenible.
* Corresponding author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Received: 31-10-11. Accepted: 09-10-12.
In general, populations of wild ungulates in Europe
have recovered during last decades (Apollonio et al.,
2010). With some exceptions (e.g., García-González
and Herrero, 1999), the populations of the vast major-
ity of species have increased in number and range
(Gortázar et al., 2000), primarily, because of socioeco-
nomic changes associated with the abandonment of
rural areas, increases in the tertiary economic sector
and agricultural mechanization. Consequently, forests
have increased, naturally and articially, and environ-
Game Reserves in Spain
improvement. In all but two of the GR in Spain, big
game hunting is the primary objective. The other two
were designated for the promotion of waterfowl and,
therefore, we evaluated those, separately.
The cartography of the GR was derived using a GIS
and the original maps of each GR.
Questionnaires were sent to the managers of each of
the GR (n = 49) and 40 (82%) replied; however not all
of the questions on all of the forms were answered.
Following state Law 37/66, the rst GR was estab-
lished in 1966. In 1973, Law 2/73 brought about the
establishment of additional GR. Since the 1980s, and
following the federalization process, a third period of
establishment occurred (Table 1).
Area covered by GR in Spain
By 2011, GR covered 3.5% of Spain (Table 1).
Among 45 GR (92%), 53% have increased and 31%
have decreased in size. Four % municipalities contain
GR, with some regions reaching up to 31% (Cantabria),
25% (Asturias) and 15% (La Rioja) (Fig. 1).
Human resources and budget
Among the personnel (n = 399) at the GR (n = 40),
63% worked full-time and 37% worked part-time, and,
on average, there were 3.6 employees /10,000 ha–1. The
general trend has been for the change from hunting
rangers to non-specialized ones. Seventeen of 37
(75.5%) GR did not have a specic budget, and of those
that did have one the average represented 4.4 € ha–1.
Protected Areas and management
of neighboring areas
Forty-eight of the 49 GR, at least partially, lie
within a Protected Area (PA). Some of the PAs have
been completely (Sierra Nevada and Daimiel), par-
mental conditions for those species have improved. In
Spain, however, at the beginning of the 1960s there
was a massive rural exodus from the country to the
large industrial areas, and some territories that pro-
vided exceptional conditions for supporting game hunt-
ing were declared public hunting grounds; i.e., Game
Reserves (GR), which were managed by the state gov-
ernment (Ortuño and de la Peña, 1976). They were
designed to promote game hunting, control poaching,
provide economic benets to local communities, pro-
mote hunting tourism, and aid the recovery of wildlife
populations, which has been successful in sub-Saharan
Africa (Lindsey, 2007). Despite the importance of hunt-
ing in Spain, one of the countries with a higher hunting
demand worldwide (Hofer, 2002), however, the impor-
tance of GR in nature conservation and the sustainable
use of natural resources has not been thoroughly
This paper provides a review of GR in Spain, iden-
ties their achievements, and proposes actions for their
success in the future.
Materials and methods
In April, 2011, the rst meeting on GR was held in
Cofrentes, Valencia, (Spain), which provided a gen-
eral overview of their state and allowed us to make
direct contact with most of the technicians associated
with the country’s GR. They provided information
about specic aspects of the GR including the date
when they were established, size, legislation, admin-
istrative data, natural attributes, and management
practices. Thereafter, we executed the rst phase of the
Project Cycle Management and Logical Framework
(European Commission-Europe Aid, 2001), which is
used in the design of environmental projects (Atauri
and Gómez-Limón, 2002). We developed a problem
tree based on the hierarchical organization of the cause-
effect relationships among the various problems faced
by each of the GR (Fig. 2), which formed the basis of
an objective tree, that included operational objectives,
intermediate results, and general objectives. In turn,
we created a plan in which choosing the correct meas-
ures identies the correct operational objectives, which
lead to intermediate results before achieving the ulti-
mate management objectives as identied by the initial
problem analysis (Fig. 3). That approach permits an
evaluation of the state of the GR and provides a basis
for the development of appropriate strategies for their
M. Pita Fernández et al. / Forest Systems (2012) 21(3), 398-404
tially (Viñamala), or simultaneously (Picos de Europa)
converted into National Parks. Some of the GR overlap
other PAs, particularly Nature Parks, Sites of Com-
munity Importance, and Special Protection Areas (all
of which form the Natura 2000 Network), Biosphere
Reserves, and Ramsar Sites. GR cover ~10% of the
terrestrial Natura 2000 Network, and 77% of the area
of the GR lies within the Natura 2000. There are ex-
tensive territories of neighboring or almost neighboring
GR management (Fig. 1 and Table 1) such as the Can-
tabrian Mountains (590,287 ha), the Pyrenees (344,774
ha), the Sierra de la Demanda, Urbión, and Demanda
Cameros (297,996 ha), Sonsaz (68,461 ha), and Els
Ports de Tortosa-Beseit (28,741.25 ha).
The ecosystems within the GR have been included
in important networks, particularly, Natura 2000, that
was created to protect nature. Comparatively to pro-
tected areas National Parks, the later occupy 0.8% of
the country; 11.8% is part of PA areas sensu lato, and
7.8% are Nature Parks (Europarc-Spain, 2010), while
GR are 3.5%.
All of the large game species in Spain are hunted:
wild boar Sus scrofa, red deer Cervus elaphus, roe deer
Capreolus capreolus, fallow deer Dama dama, Iberian
Game Reserve Year
1 Cazorla-Segura 2003 65,057
2 Cortes de la Frontera 1973 12,306
3 Serranía de Ronda 1970 29,754
4 Sierra de Tejeda y Almijara 1973 20,398
5 Benasque 1966 23,913
6 Els Ports de Tortosa - Beseit* 1966 1,529
7 Garcipollera 1994 5,742
8 Los Circos 1966 25,294
9 Los Valles 1966 36,354
10 Masías de Ejulve - Maestrazgo 2007 3,980
11 Montes Universales 1973 49,778
12 Viñamala 1966 45,062
13 Aller 1989 22,352
13 Cangas de Narcea 1991 10,581
14 Caso 1989 30,794
16 Degaña 1966 8,716
17 Ibias 1991 8,225
18 Picos de Europa 1970 3,865
19 Piloña 1989 5,491
20 Ponga 1989 20,953
21 Sobrescobio 2001 6,792
22 Somiedo 1966 88,335
23 Sueve 1966 8,300
24 Saja 1966 180,186
Castile - La Mancha 63,860
25 Serranía de Cuenca 1973 6,675
26 Sonsaz 1973 57,185
Castile and Leon 546,014
27 Ancares Leoneses 1973 36,342
Game Reserve Year
28 Fuentes Carrionas 1966 49,471
29 Lagunas de Villafála 1986 32,675
30 Las Batuecas 1973 21,513
31 Mampodre 1966 31,400
32 Riaño 1966 78,995
33 Sierra de la Culebra 1973 67,340
34 Sierra de la Demanda 1973 75,167
35 Sierra de Gredos 1970 37,216
36 Sierra de Urbión 1973 115,895
37 Alt Pallars-Aran 1966 106,661
38 Boumort 1991 13,097
39 Cadí 1966 49,448
40 Cerdanya-Alt Urgell 1966 19,003
6 Els Ports de Tortosa-Beseit* 1966 22,908
41 Encanyissada 1986 908
42 Freser-Setcases 1966 20,200
43 Cíjara 1966 24,243
44 La Sierra 2001 13,010
45 Os Ancares 1966 7,792
La Rioja 106,934
46 Cameros-Demanda 1973 106,934
47 Sonsaz 1973 11,276
48 Sierra Espuña 1973 14,183
49 Muela de Cortes 1973 36,009
6 Els Ports de Tortosa-Beseit* 1966 4,304
Table 1. Game Reserves and regions in Spain in 2011
*: Els Ports de Tortosa-Beseit GR lies within Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia.
Game Reserves in Spain
wild goat Capra pyrenaica hispanica and Capra
pyrenaica victoriae, Cantabrian chamois Rupicapra
pyrenaica parva and Pyrenean chamois Rupicapra
p. pyrenaica, aoudad Ammotragus lervia, mouon Ovis
aries, and wolf Canis lupus signatus. Small game spe-
cies include rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus, red partridge
Alectoris rufa, grey partridge Perdix perdix, red fox
Vulpes vulpes, woodcock Scolopax rusticola, and hare
(Iberian hare Lepus granatensis and European hare
L.europaeus). In the GR (n = 39), the most commonly
hunted species were wild boar (97%), roe deer (69%),
red deer (61%), chamois (59%), fallow deer (41%),
Iberian wild goat (31%), mouon (13%), and aoudad
(2%). As many as six large game species and small
game species are hunted in a single GR. In some GR,
only a single large game species is hunted, and the
average is 3.3 large game species. Considering the
original species that motivated the declaration of every
single GR, in almost all of the GR, the number of spe-
cies of wild ungulates has increased.
Population monitoring and hunting quota
In most (82%, n = 40) of the GR, the populations of
wild ungulates are monitored, primarily, using total
counts and, to a lesser extent, the kilometric abundance
index, distance sampling, and hunting battues. Some
~18% of the GR monitor the populations of small game
species. In addition, some of the GR monitor endan-
gered species such as bearded vultures Gypaetus bar-
batus, brown bear Ursus arctos, and capercaillie Tetrao
urogallus. Large game hunting quota accomplishment
(n = 25 GR) is 78%, with 90% of red deer and 56% for
roe deer. Currently, there is not hunting quota for wild
Large game hunting methods
Within the GR (n = 39, 81.2%), the most common
hunting methods are, in order of importance: battues,
still hunting, and waiting. Battues are most commonly
used to hunt wild boar and are not used to hunt aoudad
and chamois, which are pursued using a still hunt. Ibe-
rian wild goat and wild boar are hunted using a waiting
method. In the vast majority (80%) of the GR, hunting
plans are used.
Damage compensation and poaching
In 2009, damages totaling 185,063 € were reported
(n = 20, 41%), which affected 12 GR. Damages occurred
in all of the GR and most of these were to agriculture.
In some GR, compensation is paid for losses caused by
wolf predation on livestock and, in some cases, com-
pensation is made for losses caused by collisions with
automobiles. In the GR (n = 38), poaching is viewed as
a moderate (73%), major (18%), or minor (9%) problem.
14 22 13 15
31 32 28
Castile and Leon
Figure 1. Location of Game Reserves in Spain in 2011.
M. Pita Fernández et al. / Forest Systems (2012) 21(3), 398-404
Figure 2. GR problems. Non-continuous lines indicate external conditioning.
Lack of a proper
Lack of coordinated and
(coordination GR – PA)
Management based on limited
information focused on trophy hunting
sex ratio Ungulate
for trophy hunt
Social and economic
Lose of identity
Figure 3. Management objectives for GR in Spain.
Proper management model
General objectivesIntermediate resultsOperational objectives
for coordinated and
GR – PA)
Establish management measures
based on accurate information and
focus on territory management
sex-ratio Stabilize ungulate
Reduce conﬂicts with
Lack of predators
in trophy hunt
Achieve social and
Game Reserves in Spain
Capacity building, assistance, divulgation,
In 85% of the GR (n = 39), the personnel training
and in general capacity building through different
courses (n = 39, 80%) is undertaken (e.g., biology of
game and endangered species, new technologies, ani-
mal health). In 83% of the GR (n = 33), management
received technical assistance from consultancy con-
tracts (51%), public enterprises (42%), or both.
The work done in the GR (n = 25, 51%) has been
disseminated through popular publications (16%) and,
primarily, a combination of divulgation with reports
and scientic publications (68%). Public participation
in the management decisions at the GR (n = 36) in-
cludes advisory boards, through which all of the inter-
est groups are represented (hunters, farmers, landown-
ers, regions, and municipalities) (57%).
The survey detected 23 problems, two of which were
external to GR management (rural abandonment and lack
of predators), and three that were of a general nature
(ecological, socioeconomic unsustainability, loss of
identity and function), The main problems that affected
the daily management of the GR included the lack of
human and material resources, poaching, limited public
understanding of the existence and role played by GR,
and compensation for damage caused by game species.
Other problems included the risk of epidemics, the de-
terioration of ecosystems, and persistent conicts be-
tween the objectives of the GR and human activities. In
addition, the lack of understanding by the human popu-
lation has led to a social rejection that causes their loss
of identity and role in society (Fig. 2 and 3).
The high proportion of questionnaires that were
returned by the GR provided a sound basis upon which
to assess the status of the GR in Spain. The establish-
ment of the GR, which was inspired by the need for
nature conservation and the wise use of natural re-
sources, has represented an important reference in the
management of forests, game hunting, and biodiver-
sity. In that regard, the GR continue to play an impor-
tant role, but unfortunately, this is not well known in
Spain or elsewhere. Most of the wildlife populations
that were targeted for recovery have recovered and,
some have expanded their range (Gortázar et al.. 2000).
The GR have bodies that represent pioneering expe-
riences in human participatory processes level in ter-
ritorial management and an important example for
protected areas. In addition, they monitor wildlife
populations and develop hunting plans, which provide
the basis for the management of game species. Some
GR and hunted protected areas have provided important
long-term data series (García-González et al., 2004;
Marco et al., 2011) and valuable research on the effect
of hunting on wildlife populations (Milner et al., 2006;
Coltman et al., 2003; Rughetti and Festa-Bianchet,
2011). Furthermore, the GR have provided benets to
landowners (Domínguez et al., 2011) as in other simi-
lar territories (Harris and Pletscher, 2002), and rela-
tively inexpensive access to hunt.
In most cases, the overlap between PA and GR has
not led to the elimination of GR and, usually, the design
of the PA has followed or taken into consideration of
the existing GR, which had led to a certain degree of
The main problems that affect the GR are the lack
of human and material resources, poaching, limited
public understanding of the existence and role played
by GR (i.e., their visibility), and compensation for dam-
age caused by game species, which is one of the main
emerging problems in the management of populations
of wild ungulates in Europe (Apollonio et al., 2010). In
the GR in Spain, the non-accomplishment of hunting
quotas illustrates the difculties in insuring that these
quotas are met and the need for specialized personnel to
enforce them. Today, the original objective of promoting
hunting must be balanced against the need to constrain
it, which is a significant issue elsewhere in Europe
(Apollonio et al., 2010; Putman and Moore, 1998).
The dissemination of the work done in GR is not
sufcient to inform the public of the importance of GR;
therefore, it should be increased following, for instance,
the example of Protected Areas, which in Spain receive
at least 26 million € per year (Europarc-E, 2010).
The complexities of managing GR, the need for ac-
curate information on the abundance and population
trends of game species, and a shortage of permanent staff
in the GR are the main reasons why enterprises and
consultancies are called on to participate in the monitor-
ing of wildlife populations. This information is crucial
for management and represents the main technical and
scientic information developed by GR. Some socioeco-
M. Pita Fernández et al. / Forest Systems (2012) 21(3), 398-404
nomic information is produced (Domínguez et al., 2011),
even if this aspect is relatively new, in spite of its im-
portance together with biological data for a correct
management (Gordon et al., 2004).
The main original objective of the GR, to promote
populations of game species, has been accomplished. In
the last decade, new objectives have had to be developed
from within a different political, socioeconomic, and
natural context. GR represent important economic invest-
ments for the regions and if they are retained, they
should have the objectives and resources that are consist-
ent with contemporary views of nature conservation and
the sustainable use of natural resources. An appropriate
framework might be an Action Plan for GR that aims to
achieve ecological, economic, and social sustainability
within the context of ecosystem services (Balvanera
et al., 2006; Costanza et al., 1987).
This paper was the result of two projects by MP and
SC as part of their Specialist in Protected Areas M.Sc. of
the Inter-university Foundation González Bernáldez in
collaboration with Europarc-Spain. We thank all of the
technicians of the GR who completed and returned
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