Mass tourism threatens the conservation of the ancient chestnut grove of El Tiemblo, in Ávila. “It’s insane, it’s like Gran Vía”, alerts the spokesperson for the Salvemos el Castañar platform, Ana Reviejo. This week, the Ombudsman has admitted to processing his complaint in which he demanded the necessary measures to make the use of the space compatible with his survival. This forest is at least 3,000 years old and is part of the Iruelas Valley Natural Reserve: it is a Special Bird Protection Area (ZEPA) and is part of the Natura 2000 Network. The City Council estimates that 4,616 people accessed the chestnut grove from El Tiemblo only in autumn 2020, when there are access controls by the local administration.
The neighborhood organization requires a more “active” management of the area, more effective to “preserve” the area and “live from it” through guided tours. Another idea that is launched is the construction of wooden paths to prevent tourists from damaging the forest floor with their “trampling”.
“The forest is losing soil. In some places it is frankly marked. The weight is crushing the soil and the rainwater does not enter so easily. The area will gradually deteriorate and the trees will die due to the lack of soil,” he warns the professor and researcher in natural resources Juan Francisco Gallardo, who proposes to install a wooden flown path or “at least” symbolic wooden fences “that prevent people from going anywhere.”
El Castañar de El Tiemblo has also been contemporaneous with hundreds of historical events, such as the conquest of the Roman Empire on the Iberian Peninsula or more recent events such as the arrival of Columbus in what he believed to be the Indies. Historically it has been said that the Romans brought chestnut trees to the Iberian Peninsula and that these trees were not native. The chestnut tree shows the opposite.
The investigation ‘Unraveling the naturalness of chestnut (Castanea sativa Mill.) Forests in central Spain’ (Vegetation History and Archaeobotany) it establishes the origin of the chestnut grove of El Tiemblo at least 3,000 years ago thanks to the pollen preserved for millennia in a peat bog, which is a semi-marshy area very close to the surface where the sediment soaked in oxygen-free water remains.
According to the main author of this article, José Antonio López-Sáez, he took samples of this bog twenty years ago and when he has returned now he has not found it, although he points out that there are other bogs near the area that are preserved. In any case, López-Sáez focuses on the risk run by the “relict forest” and its “floristic and faunal courtship”, such as daffodils, orchids and newts. “If there were educational routes, there would be control and visitors received training, they would learn,” he suggests.
In addition, from the Salvemos el Castañar platform they warn of the state of El Abuelo, a centenary chestnut tree. Although it is fenced, there are many people who jump the fence to take a picture next to the tree or even climb its branches. Others take a lot of chestnuts, although they are not even good. “We call them ‘dirty chestnuts’ because before they were fed to dirty people [cerdos]”adds Ana Reviejo.
The alternative, points out this botanist, will be that the ancient forest ends up being turned into an urban park of chestnut trees “like the retreat.” “Nobody intends to harm it, but the fact is that we harm it. It is a clear example of how we have to change our relationship with nature,” adds the sociologist with a degree in Social Anthropology and professor of Environment and Society at UNED. López-Sáez rejects tourism that does not control people picking up a flower “because it’s pretty” or an amphibian “because it’s pretty” because those actions damage the environment.
Emilio Luque signed – along with other researchers who attended a course on climate change at UNED this year – a letter to various members of the regional and local Administration to show their “concern” for the “future” of this natural space.
The mayor of El Tiemblo, Henar González, explains to this newspaper that several technicians from the Junta de Castilla y León are analyzing the chestnut situation: forest health reports, reports on the transit of people and on the impact of livestock on the castañar, a tradition that defends. “The cattle use of the chestnut tree comes from our ancestors. It is necessary to reconcile the cattle use with the use of the area,” he bet.
José Antonio López – Sáez also focuses on “cattle pressure”. “We must regulate access to bicycles and livestock because the impact is brutal,” qualifies this researcher, who is committed to mapping sensitive ecosystems and “greatly limiting the passage of livestock.”
The mayor highlights the work that is being done at the moment in El Castañar: in autumn – the high season – there is access regulation on weekends and long weekends such as October. A maximum of one hundred vehicles is allowed to enter simultaneously and each one must pay six euros for parking. Each person, in addition, must pay two euros.
The council is studying the possibility of lowering the capacity in the forest and seasonally adjusting the high season. It is also working on “improving the tourist offer” with the Guisando bulls, the fountains walk, informational QR codes in El Tiemblo or the increase in passable paths through the mountains.
As explained by the councilor, agents of the Local Police, Seprona and some environmental agent “go” through the chestnut grove to “take a look” and ensure compliance with the rules and at the entrance there is an “informant” from the Board who hands out informational brochures on the standards.
“There is not enough vigilance because there are not enough environmental agents”, indicates the biochemist Salvador Sánchez Carrillo, who mainly works in very damaged spaces such as Las Tablas de Daimiel. Sánchez Carrillo points out that the chestnut tree has a “good” figure of protection and remains a “small redoubt” that has been preserved “quite well”, although “there is a lack of resources.” “Communities, in general, dedicate as little as possible to the environment. More resources should be put in place, because we cannot pretend to come to fruition with a single agent,” he exemplifies.
Both the platform and several researchers asked by this newspaper are committed to a management similar to that of Hayedo de Montejo, in Madrid: it requires a prior appointment and all visits are guided, to praise the natural resources that the space has. “I understand that guided tours can be more expensive, although people would not jump over the fences out of respect for the guide,” says Juan Fernando Gallardo, who specializes in the study of chestnut trees.
If administrations and tourists do not act soon, these scientists fear that the space will be irretrievably deteriorated. “If no action is taken, the chestnut grove does not have much future and biodiversity is going to go to hell”, Juan Fernando Gallardo ditch.