Conference Paper

Prioritizing the conservation of coastal dunes in Northern Spain

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Some general information regarding the main features of the coastal dunes in northern Spain is discussed to review the main problems that dune habitats are about to cope with. Key characteristics of the Cantabrian coast are highly dependent on the Cantabrian mountain range which runs parallel to the coastline following an E-W direction. It is the proximity of these mountains to the sea what results in small river basins that drop quickly and steeply, descending a significant distance, sometimes over 2600 meters, in a very short course of about 50 km. Rivers, on this scenario, purchase important erosive and transport of sediments capabilities. It is worth mentioning that while in the Cantabrian coast around 75 river basins have been reported, the rest of the Iberian Spain (more that 80% of the country surface) is drained by only 8 major river basins. It has been estimated that 38% of the dune systems in the Cantabrian region do not longer exist as a consequence of artificial landfills including urban, industrial and port areas. Despite the fact that about 1150 hectares are still occupied by dunes, most of them have been disturbed and their wild natural conditions drastically modified. In the past, non-native trees plantations together with urban planning programmes that reduced the dune area for building parking and recreational areas were in the top list of dune pressures. Nowadays, surge storms are in the first rank of the most shocking erosive processes that result in dramatic effects on the dunes. Linked to all this, Cantabrian dunes are also threatened by the tourism which, in summer, is associated to the beach recreational activities; something that should be added up to a regular population that reaches about 4 million people living in the provinces facing to the sea in the NW of Spain. As a consequence, in Basque Country, Cantabria and the Asturian Regions only about 292 hectares are still occupied by dune habitats 2110, 2120 and 2130*; meaning about 16% of the dune habitats occurring in the Atlantic Bioregion in Spain. The remaining 84% of the Atlantic Spanish dunes are located in the Galician Region. Considering also that the Cantabrian dune systems widespread along 49 small river mouths in a coast where rocky cliffs are dominant, there is no doubt about the needs of prioritise the conservation of such fragile. Since the European coastal dunes neither actually experience the same decreasing rates in the Atlantic bioregion nor have the same extension, a sort of prioritization should be considered when defining conservation policies. The conservation status, extension, nourishing river basins and intrinsic recovery capabilities, among others, should be assessed before defining the protection measures that might be adopted in order to slow down or mitigate the loss of biodiversity associated to the loss of dune areas. Life+ARCOS project is aimed to improve and hopefully restore the conservation status of ten dune systems in northern Spain.

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