The Natural Park of Sierra de Maria Los Velez (official website and maps) is part of a larger limestone mountain range and a haven for wildlife in an otherwise arid part of the Almeria Province. The northern slopes are cooler, more humid and with dense vegetation whilst the southern slopes are dry and home only to plants that can withstand poor soil and extremes of temperature.
There are two World Heritage sites in the park – Cueva de los Letreros and La Cueva del Gabar, both caves containing well-preserved prehistoric paintings.
Trees and forest include the Laricio Pine on the north-facing slopes and Aleppo Pine, some of which are more than 100 years old. There are also Gall Oaks and Maples. Undergrowth and shrubs include Gorse, Hawthorn, Prickly and Phoenician Juniper, Barberries, Rockrose, Rosemary, and Lavender.
Status: Natural Park – 1989
Size: 22,000 hectares
Mammals include Wild Boar, Badger, Weasel, Polecat, Genet, Wild Cat, Hedgehog, Shrew, Vole, Dormouse, Red squirrel, Rabbit and Hare.
Birds of prey seen in the area include Short-toed, Booted and Golden Eagles, Goshawk, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Peregrine, Lesser Kestrel and Eagle Owl. Other birdlife includes Red Choughs, Rock Thrush and Blue Rock Thrush, Crag Martin, Alpine Swifts, Crested Tits, Goldcrests, Long-tailed Tits, Short-toed Treecreeper, Hoopoe, Meadow Pipits, Crested, Thekla, Short-toed and Calandra, Skylark, Woodlark, Stone Curlew, Little Bustard, Black-bellied Sand Grouse, Warblers including Reed warblers and Nightingales.
Reptiles include Ladder and Montpellier Snakes and Ocellated lizard. Among the amphibians are Common toad and Natterjack toad. The Spur-thighed Tortoise which lives to the south of the Sierra is in danger of extinction and there is a breeding centre for these in the north of the park at Las Almohallas.