Garajonay National Park
Garajonay National Park
Natural Spain Europe And North America Island Of La Gomera, Province Of Santa Cruz De Tenerife, Canary Islands

La Gomera lies to the west of Tenerife, and is one of seven islands that make up the Canary Islands archipelago off the north-west coast of Africa in the Atlantic. The island is accessible by ferry from Tenerife. The park can be reached by road from the island's major towns and villages.

The 1812 Constitution abolished the estates of the nobility and transferred ownership and administration of the forests to the municipal governments. The forests were declared public property and appeared as such in the last Register of Public Property listing dated 1879. The park encompasses San Sebastian, Hermigua, Agulo, Vallehermoso, Valle Gran Rey and Alajero mountains. It consists of an eroded plateau and gently sloping central terrain whose steep sloping escarpments comprise uneven steps that extend as far as the park boundaries.

La Gomera is the only island in the Canaries that has not experienced an eruption in recent times. Thus, ash and lava fields have been eroded away leaving mature soils formed from horizontal basalts cut by a series of ravines (barrancos ). The local landscape is further characterized by volcanic dykes and domes (roques ), examples of the latter being Agando, Ojila, La Zarcilla and Las Lajas in the south-eastern sector of the park.

The park harbours one of the largest continuous areas of laurisilva (laurel) forest, a habitat that has almost disappeared from southern Europe and North Africa. Almost half of the remaining forest in the Canary Islands is included in the park. In spite of being biologically diverse, a large proportion of the flora (25%) and fauna (50%) is endemic, and many species are considered to be nationally threatened.

Principal vegetation types are influenced by altitude and geographical orientation, and lushness is maintained as a result of mist, condensed water vapour and the island's numerous streams and springs. The most important feature is the laurel forest which occupies about 70% of the park and is dominated by Laurisilva canaria . Other predominant and native species found within this forest type include palo blanco, viñatigo, til and the shrub layer. The western boundary consists of an extensive heath land with bog myrtle, heather, mosses and lichens. Rockrose and tabaiba spurge also occur here. Some 450 floral species have been recorded, of which 81 are endemic to the archipelago, 34 are endemic to the island, and eight are restricted to the national park. This type of subtropical vegetation resembles that found in southern Europe during the Tertiary period, but has largely disappeared from Europe due to climatic changes, and has been replaced by sclerophytic and xerophytic species. Its distribution is now limited to a few sites in Macronesia (eastern Atlantic island groups), and even here is largely in an altered and highly reduced state. In keeping with island ecosystems, the fauna is impoverished, but with a high degree of endemism. Mammals and herpetofauna are poorly represented;only four native species of bat occur. Two species of bird, white-tailed and dark-tailed laurel pigeon, are endemic to the Canaries and on La Gomera are largely restricted to the park. In all, 27 bird species and almost 960 invertebrate species have been identified and of these, about 100 are endemic.

The island was colonized by the Spanish in the 15th century, and became an important intermediate port between Europe and America in the 16th century. A notable cultural heritage is the whistle language, developed by the local people to communicate over long distances.

There are no settlements within the park, but approximately 16,000 people live on the island, depending on agriculture, fishing and tourist activities for their income. Several settlements are located at the park boundary. Local people continue to use certain park areas that are traditionally associated with annual fiestas or pilgrimages. Other traditional uses, such as fuel collection and cattle raising, have been reduced.

A genetic rescue programme for plants at risk of extinction was initiated in 1984, followed in 1991 by a plan to recuperate some of these species. A research programme was recently prepared and proposes to carry out a thorough inventory in those areas that have experienced some degradation, as well as conclude flora, fauna, hydrology and climatic studies already under way. External research projects must first be approved by the park's Board of Trustees.