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Cuenca del Asón - Biodiversity conservaation and recovery in the river basin of Asón

LIFE99 NAT/E/006333

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Contact details:

Project Manager: Carlos SÁNCHEZ MARTÍNEZ
Tel: +34942559119
Fax: +34942559119

Project description:


From source to estuary, the River Asón houses an interesting cross-section of ecosystems typical of the Cantabrian coast. It flows through habitats classified as of Community interest, including caves and rocks, peat bogs, beech and oak forests, Mediterranean holm-oak forests and gallery forests along its banks. These are the habitats of species of great interest such as Pyrenean Desman (Galemys pyrenaicus), wolf (Canis lupus), salmon (Salmo salar) and European bison (Bison bonasus). Downstream, where the waters from the river meet the sea, lie the Santoña salt marshes. This site is an important staging post on the migration route for hundreds of species of birds, which congregate there during the winter. Three sites representative of the valuable ecosystems along this river were proposed for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network. The principal threats to this site were pressure from human activities and over-use of resources: draining of the marshes, unauthorised shellfish farming, illegal fishing, poaching and the spread of exotic species. Inappropriate planning and management of tourism were having an adverse impact on conservation of some of these sites.


The objective is conservation of the entire Asón basin, by means of optimum management of the three sites in this project: the Montaña Oriental, the Rivers Asón and Gándara, and the Santoña salt marshes. With the support of local, regional and national institutions, a series of measures will be taken, co-ordinated by an NGO, including application of a management plan and conservation schemes for specific endangered habitats and species. An awareness-raising campaign will attempt to provide all concerned (local managers, local population and visitors) with the means to enjoy the amenity value of these sites without endangering their survival.


Technical studies were completed, authorisations obtained and management plans were prepared for the three sites.
A total of 25 Cantabrian chamois (Rupicapra pyrenaica parva) were reintroduced and seven young were born, bringing the total to 32 animals present at the end of the project.
Some 62 ha of land was bought (34 plots) and reforested with beech (Fagus silvatica) forest, and agreements were signed for the reforestation on an additional 23 ha. An agreement to lease 30 ha of holm oak forest was obtained. Agreements with hunting associations to lease hunting rights and create no-hunting zones were signed for 4 226 ha within the SCIs. Forestry management included planting of trees, protecting trees with photodegradable guards, creating fire breaks, and scrub clearance. As a result of this project work, monitoring showed that numbers of the following species had increased: wolf, European hare (Lepus europaeus), Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), common wood pigeon (Columba palumbus) and Golden eagle (Aguila chrysaetos). Fencing was erected at the entrance to a cave, which was being used for sheltering livestock, to reduce disturbance to several colonies of two Habitats Directive Annex II bat species (Rinolophus ferrumequinum and R. hipposideros). Since its installation, the colonies have increase from 12 to 22. Three dams were to be removed on the Asón river – but this was revised to the building of fish passes instead. These were not established in the project duration although the necessary permissions were obtained. After an environmental impact assessment and hydrological studies, 12.5 ha of the Montehano salt marsh was re-flooded and 13 ha of exotic species, such as Eucalyptus, were removed. Surveillance patrols managed fire risk and hunting, as well and ecological monitoring. An interpretive centre was set up and outreach included school children, farmers, fishermen, hunters, tourists and cavers. In addition to the land the project purchased, a further 63 ha were ceded by councils and associations for restoration and conservation.
At the end of the project, the Foundation obtained an Interreg IIIB [Interreg is an EU-funded programme, IIIB deals with transnational co-operation involving national, regional and local authorities] project (“Waterwaysnet”) to allow the awareness-raising and habitat investigation actions to continue.
The broad awareness-raising campaign has reached women’s associations, schoolchildren (12 schools, 1 500 students in 2000-2001), the general public, farming and fishing unions, sports associations (cavers), tourism-related institutions. In all, some 35 institutions have been informed about the project.


Environmental issues addressed:


Habitats - Freshwater


introduction of animal species‚  renaturation‚  public awareness campaign‚  land purchase‚  management plan‚  river basin development‚  protected area‚  reforestation‚  controlled hunting zone

Target EU Legislation

  • Water
  • Directive 2000/60 - Framework for Community action in the field of water policy (23.10.2000)
  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • Directive 92/43 - Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora- Habitats Directiv ...

Target Habitat types

  • 1130 - Estuaries
  • 1140 - Mudflats and sandflats not covered by seawater at low tide
  • 1310 - Salicornia and other annuals colonizing mud and sand
  • 1320 - Spartina swards (Spartinion maritimae)
  • 1410 - Mediterranean salt meadows (Juncetalia maritimi)
  • 7120 - Degraded raised bogs still capable of natural regeneration
  • 8310 - Caves not open to the public
  • 9340 - Quercus ilex and Quercus rotundifolia forests

Natura 2000 sites

SCI ES1300002 Montaña oriental
SCI ES1300007 Marismas de Santoña, Victoria y Joyel
SCI ES1300011 Río Asón



Coordinator Fundación Naturalez y Hombre
Type of organisation NGO-Foundation
Description The ‘objectives of the Fundación Naturalez y Hombre are:


Project reference LIFE99 NAT/E/006333
Duration 01-MAY-1999 to 01-NOV -2004
Total budget 1,233,905.50 €
EU contribution 616,952.75 €
Project location Cantabria(España)


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Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version