The slideshow introduces Donana National Park with a portfolio of photos by Peter Howard from a visit in June 2019. Most of the park is closed to visitors, so the photos illustrate features of the adjacent ‘natural parks’ where visitor facilities are provided and the wider landscape in which the park is located. Public access to the park is only permitted along the beach, or through participation in two guided tours. One of these is a 4-hour excursion by 4-wheel drive 25-seater bus along the beach and back through the dunes, skirting the southern edge of the marshes, while the other involves a boat trip along the main channel of the Guadalquiver River, which serves as the eastern boundary of the park. Neither of these tours offers the opportunity to see the core area of the park, or the main body of wetlands on which its world heritage listing is based.
The slideshow starts with views into the wetlands from the park fenceline, south of the small town of El Rocio. A busy main road here serves as the western boundary of the park, with two natural parks lying to the west of the road. One of these, at Acebuche, is connected to the national park via an overhead ‘wildlife bridge’ (shown in the slideshow), but habitat connectivity between the world heritage site and adjacent natural parks is otherwise rather limited as the road is securely fenced. The next part of the slideshow illustrates the coastal and dune formations that mark the long stretch of beach along the park’s southern boundary from the coastal resort town of Matalascanas. Back-tracking along the western boundary, the tour passes through the intensively cultivated lands to the north of the park, where extensive irrigated agriculture, canals and pumping stations are prominent features. The presence of so much water-dependent agricultural activity so close to the park boundary raises doubts over the impact of upstream and ground-water use on the long-term maintenance of world heritage values in the Donana wetlands.
The Centro de Visitantes Jose Antonio Valverde is located on the northern boundary of the park, and provides one of the best opportunities to see congregations of wetland birds. From here the slideshow tour returns to the western side of the park, stopping at the Acebuche Visitor Centre with its boardwalk trails, and numerous birdwatching hides strategically positioned along the wetland margins of the ‘natural park’ (unfortunately rather short on water and birds at this time of year!). Here efforts are underway to restore the naturally-occurring Mediterranean scrub vegetation, removing the planted Stone Pines that dominate much of the landscape. The slideshow continues with a visit to La Rocina visitor centre and adjacent areas, taking in the Palacio del Acebron, and finishing with some photos of El Rocio town. The town sits on the edge of the park, and a wide esplanade, studded with binoculars enables visitors to see some of the flamingos, geese, ducks and wading birds that use the shallow waters, mudflats and flooded grasslands here.