What's in a name? Well, quite a lot actually! Manuel Palomero, who kindly alerted me the plans for these nine lagunas by sharing an article (see below) on Facebook, reminds me that the tag 'Lagunas de Lantejuela' is something of a misnomer. Despite the 'official name' being 'Complejo Endorreico de Lantejuela' and the one that appears in various documents and on maps, only one of the lagunas (Gobierno) is actually within the municipality of Lantejuela! Whilst it's true that all of the lagunas are strung out to the east of that village, none of the remaining eight lagunas are within that municipality; six are part of Osuna, one in Ecija and one in El Rubio. Logically, they could equally well (or even better) be called the 'Lagunas de Osuna' and some refer to the area as part of the 'Osuna Triangle'. However, since this is how they are widely known I'll refer to them by their usual title whilst flagging up this administrative complication (a more 'neutral' name for the area would be welcome!). It obviously makes sense to treat the area as one unit, so this split responsibility must complicate things and that's even before you consider competing local interests (military, transport, farming, hydrology, etc). So it's a delicate waters for a foreigner, and one with lousy Spanish at that, to dip his toe and, to mix metaphors, I apologise in advance for treading on anyone else's!
'According to a recently published article* a hundred tourists visit the Lagunas de Lantejuela a month which may seem a lot until you realise that it's only just over three a day. Moves to improve the facilities have been in progress for some time although the evidence on the ground, beyond a few notice boards, is somewhat thin. According to Juan Lora, the Mayor of Lantejuela, the Ministry of Environment is working on a draft plan involving a 'six-year action plan' involving research, conservation and tourism which is to be presented on 7th September. It is certainly very encouraging that this niche market has been recognised and that the authorities are looking at how birdwatchers and others can be encouraged to visit this much neglected area. All those involved in this project deserve commendation and praise. *See http://www.andaluciacentro.com/sevilla/osuna/lantejuela/6355/la-junta-trabaja-contra-reloj-para-tener-el-proyecto-de-la-reserva-de-lantejuela-el-7-de-septiembre)
One proposal is the expand the observatory (presumably at Laguna del Gobierno) and constructing more hides at the edge of lagoons (although it's not clear which ones). There are also plans to improve access (on foot and by cycle) to the restored Laguna de Ruiz Sánchez. This huge shallow lagoon is one of the largest in Andalucia (vying with Laguna de Tollos in Cadiz province for the second place after Laguna de Fuente de Piedra). It has the potential, if fully realised, to be one of the top birding destinations in the area.
As already noted this emphasis on 'eco-tourism' is to be welcomed but, whilst this is undoubtedly good news, previous experience inclines me to caution. Despite the best intentions, all too often, the reality has been unmanned and underused facilities which have often been designed with a bureaucrat's understanding of the needs of birding tourists. Now I rather doubt anyone with the slightest influence in this matter will ever look at this blog but in case they do so here are a few suggestions and comments (although as I've not been there for over 18 months some issues may now have been tackled).
a) Laguna del Gobierno is particularly important as, being fed by a water plant, it's one of the few lakes in the area that never dries up. Hence it's already a great site and one with paths and hides but it is seemingly always locked up like Fort Knox without any suggestions or information about how a visiting eco-tourist can actually visit the place. At the moment visitors are obliged to peer round the permanently locked hide through the roadside bushes and across the reeds to see the birds. If they're lucky and there's access to the flat roof of a large building (the 'observatory'?) just inside the outer gates. This gives a good, if distant, view across the reserve but this can be more frustrating than helpful since it allows the would-be visitor to more fully understand what it is they're missing!. It seems that the focus here is more on educating local children which, of course is great, but there's little point in promoting birdwatching/eco-tourism if you keep reserves locked up, fail to advertise when they're open or allow entry only for pre-booked groups.
b) Ornithological Route – it wasn't clear to me if this is supposed to be walked or driven but when I drove it I found it poorly signposted and sections in poor repair. A pity as it's a nice route.
c) Laguna de Ballestera – the track leading to the back of the reserve is terrific and much appreciated. Just what is needed. Good to find the signposting off the nearby road has been improved although when I visited the few ancient signs telling visitors it was a "military zone" were a little worrying! A hide here like the one at Campillos (see below) would be wonderful. Signs from here to Laguna de Pedro Lopez could be better as after a few hundred metres you reach a T-junction with no indication which way to go. Still this is a great start and something that can be developed with advantage.
d) Laguna de la Turquillas – please provide somewhere safe off road to park! A path or boardwalk and a raised hide would be good too. Some sources seem to suggest there's a path from here to Lagunas de Calderon – if so it needs way marking.
e) Lagunas de Calderon – it's very frustrating to see a large car park, benches and even a path here all securely locked up behind a large white gate. It's very worrying when, having parked inside the gates on seeing them open, you discover as you leave that the gate has a daunting sign reading 'Zona Militar -Prohibido el Passo'! There's no information board either which could indicate whether the track and car park are ever open to the public or where you can make enquires. This is a shame as with relatively little, inexpensive work this could site could be transformed. Once again it's a site that begs for the "Campillos treatment". Currently it's impossible to safely park off the main road so it would be wonderful if a permanently open viewpoint could be established affording views across both lakes.
f) Laguna de Ruiz Sánchez – huge credit is due to those involved for restoring this laguna. Whenever I've passed by that way it's been alive with birds. It's very good to hear that a 17 km greenway is planned here. Visiting birdwatchers would also appreciate a few signs and somewhere to park and, of course, some of those hides!
g) Hides are great but they are expensive and you can build more screens for the same price – birders are hardy types and can cope with a little rain, besides if you provide car parks they can shelter in their cars! Also if man power is a problem and they have to be locked, then they're not much use. Birdwatchers don't stick to office hours! In contrast, screens are always open to visitors. A tremendous example of a well screened hide which is open to the can be found at Laguna Dulce Campillos, Malaga.
It'll be interesting to see how this site develops as it's certainly got great potential. It's never going to be another Fuente de Piedra but being located near one of the best areas for steppe birds in Seville Province (Osuna) it has a lot going for it. Certainly, those arriving via Seville or Jerez airport to see the raptor migration across the Straits might be tempted to divert to this attractive site (particularly in spring) if it was better known. Since English is in many ways the 'lingua franca' of birdwatching some signs, pamphlets or information on the web in that language would be very helpful indeed. As I wrote this I was acutely aware of my lack of knowledge about the local situation and I do not mean to disparage the great efforts of those working locally but I hope that the view of an extranjero birdwatcher who loves and wishes to promote birding in Spain may prove usefully provocative!
About me ...
Hi I'm John Cantelo. I've been birding seriously since the 1960s when I met up with some like minded folks (all of us are still birding!) at Taunton's School in Southampton. I have lived in Kent , where I taught History and Sociology, since the late 1970s. In that time I've served on the committees of both my local RSPB group and the county ornithological society (KOS). I have also worked as a part-time field teacher for the RSPB at Dungeness. Having retired I now spend as much time as possible in Alcala de los Gazules in SW Spain. When I'm not birding I edit books for the Crossbill Guides series.