El Hondo Natural Park, a wetland with history
The disappeared lagoon of Elche occupied this place and some nearby towns, such as Dolores or San Fulgencio, until the 18th century.
El Hondo (or El Fondo) Natural Park was declared on December 12, 1988, and constitutes the second most important wetland in the Valencian Community, since it has a rich biodiversity that extends over an area of 2387 hectares, divided between the municipalities of Elche and Crevillent. It is listed as a Special Protection Area for Birds (SPA), a Site of Community Importance (SCI) and is included in the RAMSAR list of wetlands of international importance. Until the 18th century, El Hondo, together with the Natural Park of Salinas de Santa Pola and the environment surrounding both wetlands, was part of the Elche lagoon, which was drained by order of Cardinal Belluga, to obtain new farmland. In addition, in those times the wetlands were considered a source of diseases and epidemics, an additional reason to drain the lagoon. In some dried-up areas, new towns were built, such as Dolores, San Fulgencio, Catral, San Isidro and San Felipe Neri (today, part of Crevillent).
The current configuration of El Hondo consists of two main reservoirs: the Levante, built in 1923, with an area of 450 hectares; and that of Poniente, built between 1940 and 1942, whose extension reaches 650 hectares. In addition, there are different ponds and lagoons smaller that complement the whole, without forgetting the areas that remain permanently dry, that constitute the salt marshes; the areas always flooded, as are the main reservoirs, constitute the marshes; finally, we find the reeds in the surroundings of reservoirs, lagoons and ponds, the latter two being able to have a greater or lesser level of water depending on the season of the year. The 16 cubic hectometers from the Segura River, which can hold the two main reservoirs, are used to irrigate different farmland (about 40,000 hectares) located between the municipalities of San Juan and Orihuela.
Regarding fauna, around 40 species of birds that nest in the wetland have been cataloged, out of a total of 179 species that inhabit El Hondo at certain seasons of the year. The park is also the most important breeding site in Spain of the Marbled Teal (Marma-ronetta angusti-rrostris). Other species to be highlighted are the white-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala), the martinete (Nycticorax nycticorax), the purple heron (Ardea purpurea), the scythe heron (Ardeola ralloides) and others less present such as the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) or the eaglet lagoon (Circus aeruginosus). In El Hondo nest, extensively, the red duck (Netta rufina) and the common pochard (Aythya ferina). During the winter, the highest bird concentration rates are reached, surpassing 30,000 birds. It is also worth mentioning the presence of fish such as the mullet or the fartet (Aphanius iberus), which is endemic to the Spanish Mediterranean. As for reptiles, it should be mentioned the red tailed lizard (Acanthodactylus erythu-rus), for its abundance. Regarding flora, we find several types of vegetation depending on the habitat: marsh, reedbed and salt marsh. The reed is widely spread and, lesser extent, we find numerous groups of reed, salicornia, Limonium, scattered palm trees and eucalyptus, which was introduced by man, on the edge of the main channel, and whose shade relieves the visit to the wetland in the hottest months of the year.
There are four routes, differentiated by colors, to visit the natural park walking through different itineraries:
- Yellow route: It takes about 20 minutes, from the Interpretation Center, and is adapted for people with reduced mobility.
- Green Route: It surrounds the lagoons of El Rincón and El Saladar in about 1 hour.
- Blue Route: It is linear (16 kilometers), visit the Azarbes de Dalt and of el Conveni and is recommended for bicycles.
- Red route: It allows you to visit, with prior reservation, the Poniente and Levante reservoirs, in a linear route of 5 kilometers.
More information on the natural park web.