The Sierra Nevada National Park(official website and maps) is the second highest massif in western Europe, after the Alps. There are more than twenty peaks over 3,000 metres in altitude, the highest of which, at 3,481 metres, is Mulhacen. The habitat ranges through exposed rocky summits, deep gorges, fast rivers and about fifty glacial lakes, the highest one at 3,146 metres is Laguna de Altera although the last of the glaciers melted at the end of the 20th century. This is Europe´s most southerly glacial landscape where lichens grow on the exposed soil over 2,800 metres.
The Sierra Nevada is one of the largest protected area in Andalucia and has been considered a natural beauty spot since the time of the Moors. We know the area through its fame as a skiing resort but to the Moors it was known as The Mountains of the Sun.
The Sierra Nevada, along with the Canary Islands, have the highest variety of vegetation in Spain. Sierra Nevada holds 2,100 species and subspecies of recorded flora, 116 of which are threatened and 66 endemic. This amounts to two thirds of the total list for Andalucia and a quarter of the plants listed in Spain.
Above 2,000 metres there are pseudo-alpine, humid pastures which are covered in snow for a great part of the year and represent one of the most fragile and exclusive ecosystems of the massif known as “borreguiles” containing a great vegetal biodiversity. The fragile balance is seriously threatened by the excessive grazing of livestock and by climate change.
Trees in the park include the Iberian Mountain Pine, Holm Oak, Pyrenean Oak, Chestnut, Gall Oak, Poplar Alder, Willow, Ash, Elm, Wild Olives and Maple.
Provinces: Granada & Almeria
Status: Biosphere Reserve – 1986, Natural Park – 1989, National Park – 1998
Size: 172,000 hectares
Mammals include the Spanish Ibex, Wild Boar, Fox, Badger, Wild Cat, Weasel, Beech Marten, Genet, Garden Dormice and Wood Mouse and this is the southern most habitat for the Snow Vole.
Birds of prey include the Golden Eagle, Booted and Bonelli’s Eagle, Peregrine, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Goshawk and Griffon Vulture. Other birdlife seen is the Alpine Accentor, Red-billed Chough, Northern Wheatear, Black Redstart, Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Short-Toed Treecreeper, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Wood Pigeon, Turtle Dove, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Firecrest, Goldfinch, Jay, Hoopoe, Wren and various warblers.
There are various amphibians and reptiles, and trout in the rivers. The Betic midwife toad, a species only found in the mountains of southern Spain, is on the Red List and marked as vulnerable. Also found is the Common Toad, Iberian Green Frog, Spanish Painted Frog, Natterjack Toad, Fire Salamander, Ladder Snake, Southern Smooth Snake, Horseshoe Whip Snake, Ocellated Lizard, Iberian Wall Lizard and Spiny-footed Lizard. And 120 recorded butterfly species.