The pandemic and mobility restrictions have accelerated the overcrowding that the most popular natural areas in Catalonia have suffered for years. From the Delta de l’Ebre to the Pica d’Estats, and from La Mola or the Montseny to Cap de Creus, the municipalities and managers of the protected areas are making decisions to regulate the influx. The watchword is not to prohibit, but to restrict and order. Above all, access by private vehicle, because moving cars away minimizes the effects on ecosystems, geology and improves the experience of the visit. They also agree that, beyond the pandemic, the restrictions have come to stay.
To cite a few examples. This week the Cap de Creus Natural Park and the Cadaqués City Council announced that they will veto cars and enable shuttle buses. In the Delta de l’Ebre, the Ràpita City Council will regulate access to the Trabucador bar. In the Vall Ferrera, a parking reservation system will be enabled in La Molinassa, from where the Pica d’Estats is attacked. In Sant Llorenç del Munt, they plan to pay for parking at Coll d’Estenalles. In Queralbs, the idea is not to allow the track to go up to Fontalba, where the car is left to go up to Puigmal, if the parking lot is full. The Monsant will control the capacity in Margalef, because 10,000 more people attend the climbing area than it can support. The overnight stay in campers will also be ordered. And attached to Barcelona, Collserola assesses whether it sets barriers to pass, by capacity, schedules or users (cyclists and pedestrians).
They are decisions of town councils and natural parks (managed by the Generalitat or the councils). Those responsible remember data that illustrate the collapse. 30% of the Catalan territory are protected areas and 10%, natural parks. 80% of the total is privately owned and largely with economic activity. During the pandemic, parks have, in the most exaggerated case, multiplied the number of visitors by seven: from 50,000 to 400,000 in the case of the Serra de Marina, a space close to Barcelona (on Santa Coloma, Badalona and Tiana ). Of the 13 managed by the Generalitat, six doubled the number of visitors in the strongest months.
The general director of Environmental Policies and Natural Environment of the Generalitat, Ferran Miralles, admits about the overcrowding: “It is an evidence and it worries us a lot”. The influx is so great, he explains, that for the first time not only those who take care of the environment are on alert: “Also the territory, which has owners, neighbors and farmers who perceive a certain incomprehension and incivility.” Because in addition to more people, visitors with a new profile approach nature, “with another culture of approach to nature.” Miralles reviews how, in a territory historically frequented by hikers, “a public that seeks a more sporting and playful practice” has been incorporated in recent years. And with the pandemic, a third profile that has turned to the mountains in the absence of alternatives due to mobility restrictions.
With this scenario, the priority for the Government is to manage “motorized access with private vehicles”, a chapter that includes motorhomes and vans, which by spending the night in nature impact an ecosystem that even in high season enjoyed a truce at night. Next summer “the effort will focus on enabling new parking areas, not allowing it at other points [como en determinadas pistas forestales], and in getting tougher with surveillance ”, which is in charge of the Rural Agents and the Mossos.
Miralles affirms that the restrictions “have come to stay” and compares the process of vetoing the car in natural spaces with pedestrianization in cities: “The centers have closed, it has cost, but everyone ends up celebrating it because the experience of the visit improves ”. The Generalitat also explores the hiring of guards or informants, thinking about the guards that the parks had had and who began to disappear when creating the body of Rural Agents. Another route that does not necessarily limit, but is understood as very beneficial, are the guided visits to the parks: the public leaves knowing and appreciating the environment more.
The Government, and also the Diputación de Barcelona, are also studying a communication campaign to explain that the medium has values to protect and owners. They are especially concerned about the massive and not always respectful use that last summer was made of rivers and pools, where it is difficult to regulate accesses or bathing. Also the municipalities have put the batteries within their powers. And here come the ordinances to manage the passage to certain areas or to set public prices for parking, which allow paying for surveillance or maintenance.
In the Barcelona Provincial Council (which manages ten parks alone or in consortium), the coordinator of Natural Spaces, Jordi Padrós, highlights the lack of awareness about the fact that most of the protected territory “is privately owned and has economic activity, forestry, agricultural or livestock; and you have to respect it, don’t open fences, don’t carry loose dogs, don’t go off the beaten track… ”. “The owners accept that you enter without asking permission, but they ask for respect,” he sums up. “The pending issue is a parking system that allows warning of their occupation before arriving. If we have untidy spaces, we lose the value that we are going to seek when visiting them ”, he considers.
The one who has been witnessing the increase in visitors to the mountain for years is the Federation of Hiking Entities of Catalonia (FEEC). “Before all this we were already there, we even have a representative in each park to defend the rights of the group,” claims its president, Jordi Merino. He is in favor of “not prohibiting access, but it is orderly and regulated”, with counters, controls or applications. And he cites the case of the “dissuasive car park under study in Saldes, prior to Pedraforca, with a mini shuttle bus to the current car park”. Merino is committed to training and information, “because not everyone has a mountain culture or the natural environment.” Also so that people learn “to leave prepared, well equipped, having looked at the route, the weather forecast”. FEEC itself has published a code of good mountain practice for mountain bike users.
Unprotected and collapsed enclaves
Beyond natural parks or protected areas, in recent years and months specific enclaves have also become overcrowded (caves, pools, trees) that word of mouth and the loudspeaker that are social networks have spread. From the Center for Territorial Sustainability, Llorenç Planagumà warns of the problem posed by the overcrowding of these spaces that do not have the umbrella of active management: “It is worrying because the Town Halls are small and have no management capacity.”
Examples of these places, Instagram meat, which have been overwhelmed from day to morning, are Morro de l’Abella, in Tavertet (Collsacabra); or the Rocks d’en Riera, in Torrelles de Llobregat (half an hour from Barcelona), or the Toll de l’Olla pool in Farena (Serra de Prades). In Torrelles, explains Laia Peidro City Council Environmental Technician, they had to veto access in 2019, “close the track and the place to stop the crash by means of an ordinance; and then ask for help from the Provincial Council to restore it and a study on its future management ”.
Planagumà believes that just as in urban public space we talk about load capacity, the concept is applicable to the natural environment. And he cites three factors to measure it. First, “the impact of the presence of people and vehicles on biodiversity; second, “the erosion of the land they produce.” And a third “psychological aspect, for the visitor himself, whether or not he enjoys the place where he goes to enjoy nature; and for the neighbors the impact that visitors produce ”. Planagumà introduces another debate: the danger of stigmatizing the figure of the “Sunday man”, the person who can only go out into nature one day. If he does, it is because he does not have more free time, he warns.
From the Alba Sud center for studies on tourism and its effects, the researcher Ernest Cañada adds that the pandemic, by stopping international mobility “has put us in front of the mirror of the limitations of our infrastructures to be able to access nearby natural spaces ”. “And rebound highlights the lack of tourism policies designed for the local population, only as a mechanism to subsidize receptive tourism companies, but nothing designed for the needs and rights of citizens.”