1Geomorphosites are often important elements of Natural Protected Areas (NPAs) and may be valued both as structural and functional elements of the natural system and for their social values in relation to their location. Natural protected areas are designated as a result of a wide range of natural and cultural values that define a landscape, a natural environment, an ecosystem or a habitat. The conservation and study of the geomorphic values of NPAs may be approached from three viewpoints: as the infrastructure of habitats and ecosystems, as the landscape in general, and as an intrinsic value of the natural environment. Up to now the first view has been dominant and has resulted in a failure to consider geomorphic features as elements of value for conservation, investigation and management. In light of the second approach, geomorphosites have now been redefined in the framework of the cultural landscapes with which they are interrelated and which they affect. M. Panizza (2001) and M. Panizza and S. Piacente (2003) have indicated how three similarly interrelated factors: environment, history and philosophy or culture, must be taken in account in the study and assessment of geomorphosites. In this sense, the geomorphosites represent cultural, economic, tourist, educational and environmental resources involving a multiple assessment especially useful to NPAs. Moreover, with respect to regional or national inventories, NPAs have their own characteristics when it comes to defining geomorphosites because the interest is centred locally on their detailed territorial and cultural relationships. The protected areas in this way acquire heritage value.
2The Picos de Europa was declared a National Park in 1918, the first in Spain, due to its historical, landscape and geomorphic values: limestone mountains and glacial landforms around the glacial lakes of Enol and La Ercina. In many respects it marked the starting point of the Spanish conservationist movement and has been a symbol for mountaineers since the first ascent of Naranjo de Bulnes in 1904, effectively heralded as the beginning of rock-climbing in Spain. In the Picos de Europa National Park, pioneering studies in conservation mainly assessed geomorphological aspects (Pidal and Zabala, 1918; Delgado Úbeda et al., 1932). The assessment of the ecosystems and species present in the Picos de Europa area formed the basis for its extension in 1995 to include the high mountain region of the three massifs of Picos de Europa. Landscape highlights are dominated by geomorphic elements over human or biotic ones, and although they are pre-eminent in the Picos de Europa National Park, they have not been introduced into either the management of the area or educational or promotional publications. They are, for instance, absent from recent nature guides describing natural landmarks and excursion itineraries.
3The Picos de Europa is a limestone massif with a unique geographical identity located to the north of the Cantabrian Divide (fig. 1). It covers an area of 500 km2 and is divided into three massifs: the Western or Cornión Massif, the Central or Urrieles Massif, and the Eastern or Ándara Massif. Environmental factors determine the organisation of the territory, but land use has profoundly transformed the natural landscape both in the valleys by agriculture and in the high areas by mining and tourism.
Fig. 1 – Location of study area and hypsometric map.
Fig 1 – Localisation de la région d’étude et carte hypsométrique.
4The relief of the Picos de Europa derives from its original geological and morphostructural characteristics, but is also the result of fluvial and torrential erosion, Quaternary glaciers, karst processes and active periglacial morphodynamics in the high mountain areas. Upper Carboniferous limestone is predominant, while sandstones, shale and quartzite conglomerate are also present to the south. The relief is defined by hogbacks facing north and fronts towards the south, forming a succession of morphostructures striking from east to west. The lithological changes result in an important morphological contrast between the calcareous massif and its surrounding valleys. Glaciers covered the massif during the Last Glacial Maximum. The most relevant and common landforms are glacial and karst, which are mutually modified. The imprint of Pleistocene glaciers is still clear and widespread, but the glacial landforms are now reworked by karst, nival and periglacial processes. The high mountain landforms have been studied by several authors since the 19th century. This work is based on more than 35 scientific papers on the geomorphology of the Picos de Europa (morphostructural, karst, glacial and periglacial studies by Spanish, French, German and British researchers) and includes our research on Quaternary and Little Ice Age glaciers and on periglacial geomorphology.
5Scope for the cultural assessment of geomorphic elements and sites has recently been established (Panizza, 1992; Panizza and Piacente, 2003; Piacente and Poli, 2003). Currently, the relationship between human and geomorphic topics is closely related to landscape analysis, and assessments of geomorphic features at local and regional scales have been carried out mainly in relation to international and national geological heritage (Barettino et al. 2000; Martínez de Pisón et al. 2003; Reynard and Pralong, 2004). There are also studies of environmental impact assessment on geomorphic sites with quantitative contributions and works applied to territory management (Panizza and Piacente, 1993; Rivas et al. 1997; Cendrero and Panizza, 1999; Panizza, 2001; Giusti and González, 2002; Coratza and Giusti, 2003).
6The methodology applied to the Picos de Europa National Park is based on the geomorphological mapping of the NPAs, a basic tool for the inventory of all the landforms and processes present in the study area and their spatial relationships. The map allows the identification of individual or representative sites earmarked for assessment. The aim of the methodology of analysis of geomorphosites in NPAs and at a the local scale is the achievement of maximum objectivity in the analysis of geomorphic elements from a scientific point of view and the inclusion of added values and those of use and management subject to a greater social, historical, personal subjectivity. The assessment of geomorphosites cannot be made by means of statistical parameters or mathematical formulae since, as A. Cendrero (2000) observes, we are faced with intangible values. Nevertheless, it is necessary to develop a method that could be as objective as possible, which would allow comparative assessment. The distinction between singular and representative geomorphosites leads to a better understanding of the resource.
Fig. 2 – Geomorphological sketch of Picos de Europa central massif.
Fig. 2 – Esquisse géomorphologique du massif central du Picos de Europa.
1: crest and ridge; 2: scarp; 3: river; 4: lake and pool; 5: glacier cirque; 6: glacier trough; 7: rock bar; 8: overdeepened basin; 9: infilled overdeepened basin; 10: glaciokarstic depression; 11: moraine; 12: till; 13: abraded surfaces; 14: lateral complex; 15: fluvioglacial terrace; 16: glacier diffluence; 17: rock glacier; 18: relict ice, 19: snowpatch; 20: protalus rampart; 21: debris slope; 22: straight slope; 23: cemented stratified debris; 24: solifluction lobes; 25: sheet solifluction; 26: debris flow; 27: doline; 28: cave; 29: karren,; 30: karstic spring; 31: stream sink; 32: polje; 33: ponor; 34: landslide; 35: rock fall; 36: avalanche couloir; 37: fluviokarstic gorge; 38: National Park boundary. Numbers in circle refer to geomorphosite numbers in table 5.
1: arête et éperons; 2: escarpement; 3: ruissellement concentré; 4: lac; 5: cirque glaciaire; 6: auge glaciaire; 7: verrou; 8: ombilic; 9: ombilic remblayé; 10: dépression glacio-karstique; 11: moraine; 12: till; 13: roches moutonnées; 14: moraine latérale; 15: terrasse fluvio-glaciaire; 16: diffluence glaciaire; 17: glacier rocheux; 18: glace morte; 19: névé; 20: moraine de névé; 21: tablier d’éboulis; 22: versant réglé; 23: éboulis ordonné; 24: loupe de solifluxion; 25: coulée de solifluxion; 26: éboulis fluant; 27: doline; 28: cavité; 29: lapié; 30: résurgence karstique; 31: perte; 32: poljé; 33: ponor; 34: glissement; 35: éboulement; 36: couloir d’avalanche; 37: canyon fluvio-karstique; 38: limite du Parc national. Les nombres dans des cercles font référence aux nombres du tableau 5.
Table 1 – Geomorphosite descriptive card. Example of assessment and management procedure.
Tableau 1 – Fiche descriptive d’un géomorphosite. Exemple de processus d’évaluation et de gestion.
Fig. 3 – Detailed geomorphological sketch and interpretative view of Lloroza glacier complex (geomorphosite No. 7).
Fig. 3 – Carte géomorphologique détaillée et vue interprétative du complexe glaciaire de Lloroza (géomorphosite N° 7).
1: crest and ridge; 2: wall; 3: scarp; 4: rivers; 5: lake and pool; 6: rock bar; 7: moraine; 8. till; 9: glaciokarstic depression; 10: abraded surface; 11: glacier diffluence; 12: erratic block; 13: rock glacier; 14: debris talus; 15: debris cone; 16: debris flow; 17: avalanche couloir; 18: sheet solifluction; 19: solifluction lobes; 20: rock fall; 21: doline; 22: cave; 23: karren.
1: arête et éperon; 2: paroi; 3: escarpement; 4: ruissellement concentré; 5: lac; 6: verrou; 7: moraine; 8: till; 9: dépression glacio-karstique; 10: roches moutonnées; 11: diffluence glaciaire; 12: bloc erratique; 13: glacier rocheux; 14: tablier d’éboulis; 15: cône d’éboulis; 16: éboulis fluant; 17: couloir d’avalanche; 18: coulée de solifluxion; 19: loupe de solifluxion; 20: éboulement; 21: doline; 22: cavité; 23: lapié.
7A three-layered evaluation has been established based on geomorphological mapping (fig. 2) and on geomorphosite cards (fig. 3, tab. 1). Once an inventory of landforms, processes, and landform systems in the study area has been carried out, the geomorphosites are analysed, assessing for each the intrinsic value of each element or shape, alongside its added value and its use and management value. Those three categories of assessment are defined as follows:
8Scientific or intrinsic value are based on geomorphic topics, allowing a more objective and thorough knowledge of the site. Landforms and landform systems are analysed and assessed by means of the enumeration of intervening elements in the morphogenetic system. A maximum of ten individual elements are used for each site to obtain a significant parameter between 0 and 10. The total value is 100, but is expressed between 0 and 10 for ease of comparison with the scale used for added and use values (tab. 5).
9Cultural or added value are based on the consideration of cultural and environmental elements affecting and enriching the intrinsic values (tab. 3). The maximum value is 70, but will be expressed between 0 and 10 (i.e., scaled down by dividing by 7) for ease of comparison with intrinsic and use values (see tab. 5).
10Use and management value are territorial components and the potential for use of geomorphosites are assessed. From a detailed knowledge of intrinsic and added values along with fieldwork (location, geomorphological mapping and images), the potential for use and management are evaluated. Three categories are used: high (2 points), potential for use while guaranteeing conservation; medium (1 point), potential for use with suitable management; low (0 points), impossibility of use without suitable management and possible serious deterioration (tab. 4). The cultural and use values are prone to a more subjective approximation and so are assessed separately. For intrinsic and added values a binary scoring system is used (present =1; absent =0), without subjective weighting of one over the other. For use and management, a semi-quantitative scale of values is established. The results of the assessment are threefold. An alphanumerical evaluation of the three elements allows the comparison of the importance of each attribute in the assessment and management of the geomorphosite. In this way, the manager can assess the intrinsic and added values, alongside those concerning use and management, for all the geomorphosites of the NPA, and bring out their spatial distribution. The points from 0 to 10 of the first two categories allow an immediate comparison of the dominant (natural or added) values, therefore providing the context in which the management of the different types of use and conservation apply.
Table 2 – Scientific assessment of geomorphosites.
Tableau 2 – Évaluation scientifique des géomorphosites.
Table 3 – Cultural or added-value assessment of geomorphosites.
Tableau 3 – Valeur culturelle et valeurs ajoutées de géomorphosites.
Table 4 – Use and management values assessment of geomorphosites.
Tableau 4 – Évaluation des valeurs d´usage et de gestion des géomorphosites.
Table 5 – Results of geomorphosite assessment in the Picos de Europa.
Tableau 5 – Résultats de l´évaluation de géomorphosites du Picos de Europa.
11A total of twenty-two geomorphosites were identified in the central massif of the Picos de Europa (tab. 5), including singular elements (3), representative elements (3), singular places (3) and representative places (13). Geomorphosites of medium intrinsic value predominate, while six have a high value – No. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 13 – and four a low value (tab. 5). Geomorphosites with high and medium intrinsic values make up 82% of the total, while only four had low values (18%). These characteristics summarize the natural geomorphological value of the Picos de Europa National Park on a regional (Cantabrian Range) and national scale.
12In terms of added value, low-scoring geomorphosites are predominant (15) against only four of high value (No. 1, 5, 6 and 12). As this is a high mountain area its level of occupation is sparse, and thus human use and added value of the geomorphosites of the Picos de Europa are consequently low. The dominance of the natural landscape, the inaccessibility and low historical human occupation of the high mountain geomorphosites mean that their cultural content is also low. Nevertheless, in terms of their natural value, some have high added value deriving from their scientific, educational, cultural or historical potential, to which are added the strong landscape and aesthetic content. These factors favour the presence of a mountain culture, “mountain emotion”, which in scientific, artistic (literature, painting, history) and sporting activities.
13Regarding its values of use and management, the percentage of high-scoring geomorphosites is outstanding (14 in total, making up 64%: No. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17 and 19), while six sites are of medium value and only two are evaluated as low (tab. 5). This shows the potential of the NPA as a resource, although we must take inaccessibility into account as an insurmountable barrier to the use of some geomorphosites. Their potential needs to be understood not just for tourism but also for educational and cultural purposes. Contrasts are observed between two types of geomorphosites: while most geomorphosites experience low stress levels from visitors, others in the most frequented areas (such as Vega de Urriello and Cares) are under stress from visitors and offer low potential for use. This pressure mainly arises from the excessive numbers of visitors (hikers and 4x4 vehicles) in peripheral areas (Áliva, Lloroza, Vega de Urriello) against the high potential for use of the remainder, which is, in all cases, hindered by inaccessibility. The existing impacts are numerous and are concentrated around the most visited tourist destinations and itineraries. They must be taken into account in the management policies.
14Regarding the relationships between the three assessment parameters, four large groups of geomorphosites can be defined (tab. 6). A final overall assessment shows three groups of geomorphosites, among which a core of seven individual sites stand out for their overall value. These three groups are, in descending order of value, the following: high (No. 6, 5, 9, 8, 1, 13 and 7); medium (No. 15, 14, 16, 2, 10, 12, 17, 11, 3, 4 and 18); and low (No. 20, 19, 21 and 22). These last four are of lesser interest due to their thematic specialisation (caves) and inaccessibility. All the geomorphosites in the National Park have high landscape and ecological value.
Table 6 – Assessment and management orientations of geomorphosites of Picos de Europa.
Tableau 6 – Évaluation et orientations de gestion des géomorphosites du Picos de Europa.
15In this work we carried out an inventory and assessment of twenty-two geomorphosites of the central massif of Picos de Europa in the Picos de Europa National Park, all of which were classified according to intrinsic value, added value and use and management value (tab. 5). Relationships among the three categories allow the differentiation of four main types of geomorphosites (tab. 6): (i) high intrinsic and added values with medium or low use value; (ii) medium-high intrinsic, added and use values; (iii) medium-low intrinsic and added value with high use value; and (iv) low intrinsic, added and use values. From a use and management potential point of view, we established three value groups: high, medium and low. These classifications and typologies take into account the geomorphological values of the Picos de Europa National Park, and to incorporate the geomorphological values in the management and conservation policies. In the National Park high levels of human pressure (tourism, hiking, 4x4) on sites of medium and high intrinsic value have been observed. The impacts of tourist activities on geomorphosites is concentrated around the itineraries and resorts. This contrasts with low levels of pressure on geomorphosites of high intrinsic value in poorly accessible areas. The poor accessibility of some of the geomorphosites of high value may assist in the task of conserving them, but the most accessible must be carefully managed if irreversible impacts are to be avoided.
16The method adopted for the analysis and assessment of geomorphosites in NPAs allows the establishment of intrinsic, added and use values of each geomorphosite selected. It also decribes how to make a comparative assessment of the geomorphosites of the National Park. The methodology proposed in this work would certainly facilitate the assessment of geomorphosites in NPAs, but could also represent a useful educational and management tool.