SPAIN’s network of highly protected National Parks is set to expand in the coming weeks as Malaga’s Sierra de las Nieves is one step away from gaining the coveted status.

On Monday, a draft bill was approved that will now be taken to the next ministers meeting to be submitted to the National Park’s Committee for final approval.

The aim of the bill is to forever protect the 23,000-hectare area that covers eight different municipalities; Benahavis, Istan, Monda, Ronda, Tolox, Yunquera and El Burgo.

If the bill is approved by the heads of the National Park Association, the Sierra de las Nieves will become Spain’s 16th National Park and Andalucia’s third.

Plans for the park have been promoted for decades, with local councils pushing for the categorisation in order to protect the unique and rare species of animals and plants that call the area their home.

Specifically, environmental groups are keen to protect the Spanish Fir tree that grows in abundance in the area.

Only found in areas of Cadiz and Malaga, the genetic variant of the Fir has specially adapted to survive a drier and warmer climate.

Alongside the Fir, various Oak species, Junipers and Pines dot the landscape and line the numerous water courses that run through the park.

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The Sierra de las Nieves is a popular breeding ground for the rare Golden Eagle

Birdlife is also abundant in the untouched forests, with nesting Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Bonelli’s Eagles, Eagle Owls and Cuckoos, as well as water birds such as the Kingfisher and the Golden Oriole.

The rivers are also home to the last remaining collection of the Iberian Crab plus mammals such as the mountain goat, pine martin and Roe Deer.

In the rules surrounding National Park categorisation, all construction is prohibited as the land will be classed as ‘protected undeveloped land’.

This will mean that permanent structures, as well as wind farms, pylons and roadways will be prohibited.

It also means that hunting, fishing, commercial logging and mining are also banned.

The park will have to overcome one more hurdle before it reaches National Park status, as chiefs and environmental groups are concerned that the draft bill doesn’t include areas such as the nearby Sierra Bermeja.

The board considers the Sierra Bermeja an area of natural and socio-economic interest thanks to its proximity to the provincial capital and as it stands, the current 23,000 hectare plot of the las Nieves isn’t sufficient to obtain acceptance.

“Some valuable spaces have been left out of the park’s scope,” said Theo Oberhuber, campaign coordinator for Ecologists in Action and NP board member.

However Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, is confident that the bill will pass.

“The next creation of the national park is great news, especially for the people, with so much determination and patience, have insisted that the places where they live acquire the highest category of conservation,” she said.

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