Whether it’s bio-abundance, biodiversity or you’ve got a specific target species in mind, Spain is a top ecotourism destination in Europe. From visible migration and raptor watch to brown bears in the Catalan and Iberian lynx in Andalucia, Spain not only boasts some of the best wildlife tourism experiences in continental Europe, but also some top ethical tour companies, too. These eco-friendly travel companies are leading the way in minimising the environmental impacts of their work, specialising in education, research, charitable donations, land restoration and more.
Here, we highlight the Spanish tour operators you can find on Blue Sky Wildlife and the conservation work they do.
Inglorious Bustards take environmentalism to new heights with their outstanding tours of the Straits of Gibraltar and beyond, bringing you birding and migration spectacles along the whole East Atlantic flyway journey, through Europe and North Africa to south of the Sahara. Managed by a conservationist couple, they are deeply aware of the environmental impact of the activities associated with travel. Inevitably, wildlife watching, along with all tourism, encourages consumption of the planet´s resources. Inglorious Bustards channel their work into a positive outcome for the environment.
Photo credit: Inglorious Bustards, Short-toed Eagle
Inglorious Bustards have several charity partners, whom they work with on conservation, education and sustainability. Tours are designed to support local conservation initiatives such as scientific research into bird migration in The Straits and mangrove restoration in The Gambia. Trips have a strong sustainability focus, sourcing fresh food from local organic and extensively grazed farms and reducing meat consumption. They are constantly minimising their waste and single-use plastic, and work with accommodation partners to ensure they do the same. They are ambassadors for Viking Optical, an ethical optics company. They also champion carbon offsetting, by pledging to offset unavoidable carbon emissions through World Land Trust’s Carbon Balanced programme. By restoring threatened forest in key areas of conservation importance, CO₂ emissions are prevented and carbon storage enhanced. They balance all the CO₂ emissions associated with their staff flights and all in-country travel and accommodation associated with tours and encourage clients to do the same for their travel.
“We came into ecotourism from a conservation background, always with determination to benefit, rather than exploit, the wildlife we all love to see. With this in mind, we have worked hard to minimise any negative environmental impacts involved in taking people to places, and now we’re carrying out our vision – working with conservation partners to use ecotourism to create safe havens for migratory birds and other wildlife across the East Atlantic Flyway. We love showing people wildlife, and it´s even better if through their trip they can make a positive difference for Nature!”
– Niki Williamson, co-owner
Birding Tarifa specialise in tours around the Straits of Gibraltar for bird migration, Cadiz province and all Andalusia, Doñana National Park and Morocco. They were the first birdwatching tour company registered in Tarifa. A small team of between three to five people, a tour with Birding Tarifa is intimate and makes the most of highly knowledgeable staff with a strong personal commitment to protecting wildlife in the area. The company was founded with the ethos that they would give something back to nature; they wanted to be able to support conservation projects directly so have always diverted a percentage of their profits back into local conservation.
Photo credit: Manuel Morales Holgado, Birding Tarifa, La Janda Wetland
Birding Tarifa are members of an impressive number of conservation organisations, from local bird societies to ringing groups to SEO Birdlife. They support rescue centres and wetland restoration projects and teach birding courses for beginners. They take part in environmental education projects with local children, showing them bird ringing and helping them build their own next boxes. They’ve also directly worked with organisations to help specific species, like Montagu’s harriers, ospreys, greater flamingo, black-necked grebe, glossy ibis, slender-billed gull, red-necked nightjar, purple swamphen, white stork, black-shouldered kite, booted eagle, lesser kestrel and more, including ringing, satellite tracking and habitat creation. There biggest impact has been seen in the recovery of La Janda Wetland. It was the largest lake in the Iberian Peninsula until the 1960s, when it was drained for agriculture. Birding Tarifa work with local groups to help this precious site recover.
“As a business, nature conservation must and does play a very important role for us. Hunting is still popular in this part of Spain, while nature is not considered sufficiently important. As birding companies, we can demonstrate that people should look after nature rather than destroy it. More than 300 local people have attended our various courses, and some are working in nature conservation related jobs. Sharing our passion and reaching out to more people, especially the younger generations, getting them to develop a genuine interest in nature should be the duty of all nature lovers. Sustainable development is possible, and we work every day to achieve it. By choosing Birding Tarifa, our customers will be contributing directly to the preservation of nature as we regularly donate a part of our annual profit to several green organizations as well as develop our own nature conservation projects.”
– Manuel Morales Holgado, Owner
More than Birds
More Than Birds is a local wildlife company established in Lugueros (a tiny village with only 25 inhabitants) in 2013, in the heart of the Cantabrian Mountains, an area with big carnivores and over 150 bird species. They specialise in North-western Spain Wildlife Tours, particularly one-day trips looking for Brown Bears, Wild Cats and other endemic species to the area. A small, family-run company, More Than Birds comprises a small team of wildlife ecologists (including an abundance of PhDs and other qualifications!), with an outstanding knowledge of the local area. The owners, a husband and wife team, were both born and raised in the area. They also give a taste of authentic Spanish traditional, combining wildlife watching with local food and traditional accommodation.
Photo credit: More Than Birds, Cantabrian Mountains
“As a company, we seek to share rare and iconic wildlife of the Cantabrian Mountains to customers, while ensuring the utmost respect and ethics towards the targeted species. Helping wildlife lovers to have amazing experiences is what drives us. We want people to enjoy nature whilst being respectful towards it. The nature and wildlife of the Cantabrian Mountains is my cultural and family heritage, and I want to share it with people.”
– Manuel A. González, Owner
More Than Birds< are constantly gathering data on the species that they see and observe, particularly Cantabrian capercaillie and grey partridge, and the local brown bears. Their data makes up the backbone of research that is then published and ultimately used for conservation. They have also been involved in making documentaries on three iconic mountain species – wolves, brown bears and Cantabrian capercaillie. The Cantabrian Brown Bear research group benefits perhaps the most from the data; aiming to protect the bears and help them live side-by-side with people is a core research aim and the observations of More Than Birds are invaluable for long-term conservation. In combining the extensive field experience of biologists and local hospitality, the company works toward environmental awareness of the local people, educating the rural economy of the financial benefits offered by ecotourism to their region.
- National Parks in Spain: Important Wildlife Conservation Areas
- Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas in Spain
- Brown Bears: Not out of the woods yet
- Iberian lynx – Europe’s Conservation Success Story
Iberian Lynx Land
Iberian Lynx Land is a young Spanish nature tourism company based in the province of Jaen in the north of Andalusia – the greenest of Spain’s provinces with a third of its territory designated as protected natural space. They offer birding day trips, wildlife tours, Iberian lynx tours, tailor-made wilderness tours and wildlife photography tours.
Photo credit: Jose Luis Sanchez, Iberian Lynx Land, Spanish Imperial Eagle
As well allocating 10% of their profits to local conservation, Iberian Lynx Land are passionate about working with partners to support nature’s recovery in a direct way. As recognised environmental consultants, they collaborate with local groups to improve the areas where they operate and actively educate local authorities on wildlife issues, including land management. They work with some of the best private estates in the Sierra of Andujar, home to the Iberian lynx, golden eagle, Spanish imperial eagle, griffon vulture and black vulture. They work with the regional environmental governance, nature reserve authorities, park rangers, landowners and local people to foster a sense of collective responsibility and follow the Ethical Guide to Wildlife Photography. At the same time, they champion eco-tourism, demonstrating to landowners that wildlife can coexist with other activities and can bring in tourists – and their associated spending. They work with local people to teach them to appreciate the environment and wildlife, especially endangered species.
“I spent all my childhood in a natural environment, just on the banks of the River Guadalquivir, Northern Andalusia. My professional career has always been related to the conservation of protected and endangered species. I have worked with species such as Spanish imperial eagle, golden eagle, Bonelli’s eagle, lesser kestrel, griffon vulture, black-bellied sandgrouse, great bustard, Spanish ibex and small carnivores. Since 2010 I have run a nature tourism company – Sierra-Trek, and later in 2016 Iberian Lynx Land – leading wildlife tours and expeditions in Spain, Morocco and Ecuador. Along with responsible nature tourism Iberian Lynx Land’s pivotal values include education and conservation. I’m convinced that it is the only way to go, in what is known as “Nature Tourism”.”
– José Luis Sánchez, Managing Director
Lucy McRobert is a wildlife storyteller. Her first book, 365 Days Wild offers 365 ways to make nature part of your life every day. She is a columnist for Birdwatch magazine and has written for BBC Wildlife, Bird Watching, and the acclaimed Seasons. In 2015 she was placed 38th on BBC Wildlife’s first wildlife power list. Passionate about encouraging the next generation of nature conservationists, she co-founded the youth nature network, A Focus On Nature. She is also a keen birder and wildlife-watcher
Sponsored by the Spanish Tourist Office