More than 250,000 plants for the recovery of El Hito lagoon

In November it starts the revegetation campaign of the El Hito LIFE project, which includes the restoration of the salt marshes and salt steppes of the El Hito lagoon (Cuenca) through the planting of 250,000 native plants of high ecological value. Promoted by Fundación Global Nature, with the support of the European Union, the Regional Administration of Cuenca and Aramco Europe, about 40 hectares of land on the shores of this seasonal wetland of great importance for the protection of waterfowl, integrated in the Natura 2000 Network and included in the Ramsar List of Unesco.

The restoration of the lagoon’s flora is expected to double the area of the El Hito Lagoon salt steppes from 33.47 ha to almost 74 ha. These native plants are perennial, herbaceous or woody and are fully adapted to the extreme soil characteristics typical of saline habitats

Return the lagoon to its original state

The restoration campaign, whose implementation period runs from November 2022 to February 2024, is highlighted by the planting of albardine (Lygeum spartum) in priority areas of great potential for recovery. This species plays an essential role in the natural area of El Hito lagoon, as it forms a perimeter band that protects the basin from water and wind erosion. “Preliminary reports to date indicate that the lagoon suffers an intense process of siltation caused by the dragging of a large amount of agricultural sediments. The albardine area acts as a natural barrier that prevents the arrival of soil and organic material to the lagoon,” says Santos Cirujano Bracamonte, botany expert and part of Fundación Global Nature.

The aim of the revegetation campaign is to reinforce the priority habitats of the El Hito Lagoon, looking for returning the basin to the natural state it had in the 1950’s. “These plant communities were eliminated during the last century for their transformation into crop fields. Not surprisingly, these are areas that do not suffer significant waterlogging and are suitable for tillage, although not very productive due to their high salt content,” said Santos Cirujano

Representative plants of Mediterranean salt steppes

The revegetation plan also includes the recovery of other representative plants of the Mediterranean salt steppes, such as Limonium meadows, Microcnemun coralloides, Elymus curvifolius and other native species, some of them endemic to Castilla-La Mancha.

With the volume of plants to be planted during the first year, 50% of the objectives foreseen for the entire project will be reached. In addition, around 2,120 kgCOeq/ha will be fixed over the next 20 years, which represents a significant increase in the area’s CO2 capture capacity.

The steppe zones and the saline wetland of El Hito Lagoon constitute an oasis of extraordinary biodiversity, with valuable endemic species and highly threatened plant formations. To halt the decline suffered in recent years, El Hito LIFE project is working on the restoration and conservation of this emblematic nature reserve of Castilla-La Mancha.