Doñana National Park is a natural reserve in Andalusia, southern Spain, in the provinces of Huelva (most of its territory), Cádiz and Seville. It covers 543 km2 (209.65 sq mi), of which 135 km2 (52.12 sq mi) are a protected area. The park is an area of marshes, shallow streams, and sand dunes in Las Marismas, the delta where the Guadalquivir River flows into the Atlantic Ocean. It was established as a nature reserve in 1969 when the World Wildlife Fund joined with the Spanish government and purchased a section of marshes to protect it. The eco-system has been under constant threat by the draining of the marshes, the use of river water to boost agricultural production by irrigating land along the coast, water pollution by upriver mining, and the expansion of tourist facilities. It is named after Doña Ana de Silva y Mendoza [es] wife of the seventh Duke of Medina-Sidonia.
The Doñana nature reserve includes both the Doñana National Park, established in 1969, and the Natural Park, created in 1989 and expanded in 1997, creating a buffer zone of protection under the management of the regional government. The two parks, national and natural, have since been classified as a single natural landscape. Due to its strategic location between the continents of Europe and Africa and its proximity to the Strait of Gibraltar, Doñana's large expanse of salt marsh is a breeding ground as well as a transit point for thousands of European and African birds (aquatic and terrestrial), and hosts many species of migratory waterfowl during the winter, typically up to 200,000 individuals. Over 300 different species of birds may be sighted there annually. Considered the largest nature reserve in Europe, several different scientific institutions have monitoring stations within its boundaries to ensure appropriate development of adjacent lands and conservation of the threatened species that inhabit it. The area was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994; in 2006 the park recorded 376,287 visitors.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, a herd of feral dromedaries roamed the area. They may have been introduced during the Moorish Conquest of Spain in the 8th century, or they may have escaped from a herd introduced by the Marquis de Molina as beasts of burden in 1829. By the 1950s, there were only eight individuals left, and these were threatened by poachers.
Doñana - Aerial view of Doñana National Park and surrounding areas
The geological profile of Doñana National Park reflects the development over several hundred thousand years of a deep aquifer and geomorphological features that have enhanced the biodiversity of the wildlife habitats presently found there. After the end of the last glacial period, the area was covered by freshwater and brackish marshes, ponds and sand dunes, with some marine intrusions caused by high-energy events such as tsunamis and large storms. A period of comparatively rapid rise in global sea level during the first part of the Flandrian interglacial was associated with the melting of the paleoglaciers, and reached its maximum level 6,500–7,000 years ago. At this time, Doñana National Park and the surrounding areas were flooded, and a lagoon, later called Lacus Ligustinus by the Romans, was formed. The pace of infilling of the lagoon has increased over the last 6,000 years, along with accelerated growth of sandspits and the creation of new inland marshes and wetlands. The extensive marshes of Doñana National Park now have a flat topography, with some inland depressions occupied by temporary or permanent wetlands, locally called 'lucios'. The whole area is protected by the Doñana spit, a wide sandy littoral barrier with mobile dune systems growing toward the southeast.