Menorca nature and wildlifeMenorca is one of the most pristine islands of the Western Mediterranean. Created a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1993 in recognition of its wide diversity of landscapes, the island has an area of 700 kilometres square kilometres in which can found nearly all of the natural habitats which exist in the entire Mediterranean. The Biosphere nomination cites the high number of endemic species of flora and fauna, and the traditional agricultural methods which demonstrate a harmony between Man and Nature. This combination of unspoiled coastline with pristine beaches and dune systems, and the lovely interior of the island, with its canyons, caves, lush woodland and pastures which in spring are covered in wild flowers seem to have little changed for many years.
Today, with 19 areas of special interest and 5 natural reserves and parks, which include the marine reserve off the north coast, and natural park of S’Albufera des Grau on the eastern end of Menorca, the island has many diverse and interesting places to visit for nature lovers which can be easily accessed by visitors and residents alike.
One of the most significant and important features of the Menorcan landscape are the barrancs – sinuous deep ravines and canyons which run from the central part of the island to the southern coast. Cut deep into the limestone rock by rainfall over the millennia, the dry river beds now are an ideal habitat for many kinds of plants, from wild orchids to olive trees and figs. The walls of the canyons are honeycombed with caves and sheltered niches for nesting birds, many of which are migratory visitors which come to the island each year from the African mainland. Peregrines, Egyptian vultures and booted eagles are a common sight, and on the coast resident osprey hunt in the placid waters close to the coast.
S’Albufera des Grau Natural Park
One of the most important areas to see the wide variety of habitats is in the S’Albufera des Grau Natural Park, an extensive area of wetlands, protected farmland and coastline on the eastern end of the island close to Maó. The very creation of the park is emblematic of the Menorcan people’s determination to conserve their beautiful island for a large part of the park in the 1980s was intended to be a luxury resort of villas, swimming pools and golf courses. Determined opposition by local people finally held sway and today the park attracts many visitors and local residents drawn by the lovely beaches and the wildlife, in particular the many visiting migrating birds which nest here.
First opened in 1995, the park now covers an area of more than 5000 hectares and includes 5 small islands just off the coast. The park is still a working area and within its boundaries there are farms and also the remains of an old salt works which has been ingeniously adapted to blend into the wetlands and marshes.
There is a bewildering range of flora and fauna here, from turtles to the wild olive trees and holm oaks which form such an important part of the Menorcan landscape.
Numerous trails have been laid out within the park, and the well equipped center close to the road between Maó and Fornells has maps and literature on the varied diversity of habitat to be found in the park. At the village of Es Grau itself kayaks can be hired to paddle out into the areas of lagoons or along the rocky coastline here.
At the northern end of the park the lighthouse at Cap de Favàritx has magnificent views along the rugged northern coastline over the many hidden pristine beaches and rocky coves here. The newly reopened Camí de Cavalls – the old bridle path and coastal path patrolled by customs guards of the 18th century which extends around the entire island skirts the coastline of the park and is an ideal way for the serious walker to explore the beautiful unspoiled coastline here.
Flora & fauna
With a more temperate climate than other Mediterranean islands, due to its relatively low relief and exposure to sea winds Menorca has a huge range of flora, some of which are endemic to the island. The holm oak and the wild olive were at one time the dominant species of trees, but more recently woods of pine trees (pinus halepensis), introduced by Man over the past centuries have become more common than the native holm oak. In the sheltered barrancs – the ravines cut over the millennia by rainfall – lush microclimates provide the perfect habitat for flowers of all kinds, from foxglove to the omnipresent borage, rosemary, wild saffron and bright gladioli.
On the coastal zones lovely sea daffodils and other hardy marginal plants flower in the dog days of summer – and throughout the island numerous wild orchids grow in the woodlands and meadows in spring (there are more than 14 species of orchid on the island) with the delicate Autumn Lady’s Tresses (Orquídia de Tardor) flowering from August until November. The many trails through the interior of the island and the Camí de Cavalls which runs along the coast are ideal ways to both find flowers and watch birds, and with luck to see some of the fauna of the island, from the common rabbit through to the rare secretive pine marten and tortoises, the latter introduced during the Moorish occupation of the island nearly a thousand years ago before.
Find out more about Menorca bird watching