In a small but unique space on the plains of el Juncal stands the Bosque de la Niebla (Misty Forest), in about 80 hectares of the natural park’s 1,677 square kilometres. This forest, that dates to 1.8 million years ago, has an ecosystem which is quite different from that which predominates in the area. It is said to be one of the gloomiest, not to say magical, forest trails of southern Europe, and it contains plant and animal species which cannot be found in the vicinty.
Hundreds of scientific treatises have been written about the Bosque de la Niebla, clearly explaining the powerful reasons why this unique natural environment deserves protection. But is it really?
The hand of man is always behind the main assaults, and it seems that the authorities that must watch over its conservation – in this case, the Andalucian Regional Government – are not doing enough.
Apart from the forest fires that originate in the surroundings of this enclave every summer, the uncontrolled access of people and excessive overcrowding are creating problems in the ecosystem, as the ecologists of the Cadiz Association for the Defence and Study of Nature (Agaden in its Spanish initials) have been complaining for many years.
Javier Gil, a spokesman of the association, insists that there is a situation of neglect.
“Mr. Fornell, the director of the Park, promises us more surveillance, posters, locks and crowd control, because the flora and fauna are under threat. What we find instead are people who enter the forest without keeping to the paths, and cyclists who prefer to ride through the fields. There is no daily surveillance and, on top of it all , the Regional Government of Andalusia is responsible for facilitating publicity of the place. This is why a sensitive and unique ecosystem such as this is threatened by overcrowding.
Gil reminds us that, to enter the Bosque de la Niebla, you need an administrative permit that allows entry to a maximum of fifteen people, and that failure to comply can lead to sanctions. “But nothing is ever done on top of that, they allow sporting competitions to take place there.” The director of the Park; José María Fornell, recognizes that those who enter without authorization risk a fine of one hundred euros, although they always try to give a warning before imposing a fine.
But the ‘trespassers’ and irregular visitors do not pay attention to the warning posters, and the locks that prevent entry to cars are continually being destroyed. The clear lack of citizen collaboration leads Agaden to demand a more active presence of environmental agencies and The Civil Guard’s Nature Protection Service (Seprona in its Spanish acronym), “because this is not a closed place, but it is a unique place we should be proud of and protect from those who do not respect it.”
The management of the Los Alcornocales Natural Park recognises the existing conflict and has tried to put control measures in place but these have so far, have not proved to be as effective as expected. Javier Gil explains that people share routes and explanations on how to get to this place through social media. “Before, people wouldn’t go into the deep forest because they didn’t know the area and were afraid that they would get lost. This does not happen now.”
The Bosque de la Niebla is one of the most beautiful places nature has given us in the shadow of Los Alcornocales. It is a space that enjoys maximum protection for its unique environmental characteristics, which cover place in a dense fog for 245 days a year. This is due to the humidity that emanates between the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Strait of Gibraltar.
A misty cover with a certain halo of mystery enjoyed by many hikers and scholars of the species that populate the place, such as the moss, the ojaranzo, the ferns or the laurisilva, not to mention the flowering of mushrooms that are specially studied by mycologists from the area and from throughout the country.
In this time capsule there are species typical of temperate forests that can be seen on islands such as Madeira and the Canary Islands. Researchers come here to encounter species that they did not know they could study on-site in the continent of European.
Some of these species present in the forest appear on the List of Wild Species in Special Protection Regime of the Ministry of the Environment, as is the case of the ojaranza. As Javier Gil, spokesman for Agaden in Campo de Gibraltar, adds, many others are classified as in danger of extinction.
This is the case of the 18 species of bryophytes (non-vascular and terrestrial plants, such as moss), the ten types of pteridophytes (ferns) and the 25 classes of higher plants (with roots and tissues) present in this forest and which appear in different scientific catalogues of endangered species.