Dehesa: a unique ecosystem.
dehesa is an ecosystem which resulted from the transformation of the original Mediterranean
forest by humans over the course of millennia, with the objective of maximising
the diversity of its production without compromising the environmental
viability in the lifetime of the ecosystem.
speaking, the word “dehesa” originates from “defensa”, as it refers to terrain
with a physical boundary, reserved for livestock farming. However, in reality,
the term dehesa has greatly surpassed this single meaning.
dehesa is, then, a semi-natural, pastured forest. The end result is an
“agrosilvopastoral” system of savannah-like forest, made up of oak woods (Quercus
ilex and suber) and pastures, complex and multifunctional, which is not only
used for its farming and forest potential, but also for grazing, timber, fruit,
cork, hunting, fishing, charcoal, agriculture etc.) and where its many elements
interact beneficially in both ecological and economical terms.
also resilient, agrarian systems which have been able to adapt the productivity
of the medium to difficult edaphoclimactic conditions, such as poor soils and
extreme climate, which is of vital transcendence for the water cycle, the recycling
of nutrients in the soil, the regulation of temperature and the fight against
climate change, in all of which shepherding and transhumance play a vital part (link to CC of the MCNC
management of the dehesa hugely enriches the local biodiversity by creating
types of habitats, which would not be present in totally natural conditions,
that play host to a large variety of particular species of flora and fauna. For
example, the communities of herbaceous plants in the dehesa stand out for their
amazingly high number of species, which would be comparable to that of the
richest ecosystems found on planet Earth. Equally, they sustain a selection of
fauna which would not survive without the existence of the dehesa and pastoral
management. It is because of this that the EU considers dehesas as Special
Areas of Conservation (SAC) and the Habitats Directive demands they be
protected, as they are considered “Priority Habitats”. In the same way, the
dehesa is a paradigmatic ecosystem which contributes to the Mediterranean being
considered a biodiversity hotspot on a global scale.
dehesa also conforms a “cultural landscape”. This means that it is a fabulous
construction of social engineering which has its foundation in a huge accumulation
of knowledge, history, literature, folklore, gastronomy, craftsmanship and
religious and spiritual tradition, in which sustainability and culture go hand
dehesa is found exclusively in the Southwest quadrant of the Iberian Peninsula,
and spans almost 5 million hectares, the majority of which are part of Spain
while the rest are found in Portugal (where they are known as “montados”).
Dehesa de la Luz: Europe’s First Cultural Dehesa.
“Dehesa de la Luz” is situated in the municipality of Arroyo de la Luz, in the
province of Cáceres, which belongs to a region found in the southwest of Spain
known was Extremadura. It is the region with the largest expanse of dehesa in
the entire country.
dehesa is located between the World Heritage city of Cáceres, and one of the
most superb Roman constructions in Europe, the Roman bridge of Alcántara.
Dehesa de la Luz is the first “Cultural Dehesa” in Europe. This statement emphasises
that the dehesa is a “product of cultural engineering”, and that “the idea is
to give a global and integrated vision of the different elements that make up
the dehesa”: material resources and the production of goods, as well as commercial
and environmental services, various ways of exploitation, social relationships,
historical evolution, future perspectives, etc.
shows that the Dehesa de la Luz is part of a cultural context shared by the
entire Southwest of the Iberian Peninsula.
Cultural Dehesa: a Dehesa of emotions.
understand the idea of a Cultural Dehesa we wanted to offer the opportunity to
experience it in ways that trigger positive emotions, which allows us to
understand its meaning and purpose as a means of providing well-being to
idea stems a project based around interactive and formative tourism which
offers the following:
- A series of routes on which
the Dehesa de la Luz can be toured on foot, on horseback or cycling
through a sea of holm oak and cork trees.
- Getting to know the
management of the dehesa and the indigenous species in danger of becoming
- Fishing for tench and carp
in one of more than 20 ponds
- Birdwatching and observation
of local pond life.
- Visits to one of the
traditional local pottery workshops and creation of clay pieces.
- Visits to the local organic
orchards and vegetable gardens
- Night-time routes for
Setting of the Dehesa de la Luz:
in which the Dehesa de la Luz is located has been used since the neolithic
period as a grazing ground, conforming to the occupation of the Romans, the
Visigoths, the Arabs, and finally the Christian reconquest, which ultimately
consolidated the dehesa system, since pastoralism was their main method of
repopulating these areas of poor productivity with what small workforce they
Dehesa de la Luz would thus become part of the winter and autumn pastures for
the herds and flocks that migrated between the North and South of Spain. From
this process there originated 120,000 Km of drovers’ roads across Spain which
are still preserved today.
the Dehesa de la Luz is a sea of holm oak and cork trees which span 977
hectares in a perimeter of 18.6 km, where one can get to know the remarkable
natural and cultural wealth it offers.
Dehesa de la Luz is a mosaic of habitats, a product of the combination of two
key factors: its peculiar geomorphology and its agricultural and woodland management,
which generate various sources of refuge and nourishment for flora and fauna
alike. This mosaic is made up of pastures, wooded areas, scrubland, rocky
outcrops and aquatic mediums composed of over 20 seasonal streams and ponds.
The presence of artificial elements is also important, such as stone walls and
the ruins of ancient buildings, all of which serve as refuge for numerous
because of this that part of its surface is integrated into the Natura 2000 network
and has been declared a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
the diverse array of species of flora, there are an estimated 200 different
varieties of grasses, legumes and composite plants, just in the pastures. The
terrain’s relief and the frequency with which it is grazed by livestock create
an effect known as “the vaguada effect”, through which sediments and nutrients
are exported from the high zones to lower ones. These have their own
communities of plant and animal life.
soil pastures and those which are rarely grazed, one can find certain threatened
species, most notably various types of orchid, for example.
same way, the Dehesa de la Luz is home to an enormous number of animal species.
Over 30,000 trees occupy the Dehesa (roughly 600 cork tress and the rest holm
oaks), which, thanks to their huge range in ages and sizes, provide a key
stratum for the biodiversity of the area by creating the perfect habitat for thriving
communities of insects (such as nocturnal moths and diurnal butterflies) and
tree-dwelling species (such as the short-toed treecreeper, the wood nuthatch,
the golden oriole and the cuckoo). The ancient trunks of these trees, pocked
with orifices, serve as refuge for troglodyte species such as the tawny owl,
the blue tit and the great tit, as well as for various mammals, from rodents to
carnivores to reptiles, such as the ocellated lizard.
rocky habitat we can find numerous species of smaller mammals (rodents, shrews,
hedgehogs) and medium-sized carnivores, (badger, fox, genet, marten, mongoose
and weasel) as well as reptiles, such as various lizard species (the large
psammodromus and the iberian lizard, the Salamancan lizard and the ocellated
lizard) and various snakes (the Montpellier snake, the ladder snake and the
horseshoe whip snake).
abundant bodies of water of the Dehesa there exists a rich community of
amphibians (the common toad, the common midwife toad, the natterjack toad, the
Iberian water frog, the European tree frog, the Iberian ribbed newt and the
marbled newt) as well as reptiles which incorporate the water or surrounding
vegetation into their life cycle, such as the viperine water snake, the Spanish
pond turtle, Bedriaga’s skink and the Iberian worm lizard.
Dehesa de la Luz is also a hunting ground for large birds of prey and waders,
such as the black vulture, the Griffon vulture, the Egyptian vulture and
various species of raptors, like the Iberian imperial eagle, the short-toed
snake eagle, the booted eagle and the common buzzard, as well as the black
stork, the grey heron, and, during the winter, the common crane and the great
these species are threatened, and their breeding grounds are located in areas
of the sierra that are hardest to access, such as the neighbouring Sierra of
management of the dehesa is based on extensive farming of sheep and cattle.
From the milk of merina sheep, exquisite local cheeses are obtained. Some of
the sheep are indigenous breeds in danger of becoming extinct, such as the
black merina sheep, precocious merina sheep and the white Cáceres cow, as well
as the Cordoba donkey. There is also raising of various breeds of horse, owned
by the town council and local people.
the most notable characteristics of the Dehesa de la Luz is the abundance of
large granite rock formations, which are mostly found in the western side of
the estate. This, historically, has allowed settlers to build different
structures which have aided them in the management of the dehesa, such as
walls, barriers for containment, “bohíos” or huts useful not only for storage
but also biodiversity, as they are a sanctuary for numerous species. The dehesa
contains some beautiful buildings, semi natural, which integrate both nature
and manmade elements, resulting in the following:
(photograph by Susanne Schanbel of stone walls and
granite rock formations)
Also, theSedum caespititium, a plant which has adapted to lack of water, forms extensive
quilts of red over the rocks when springtime comes, creating an impressive
visual display of colour:
also Visigothic tombs which have been discovered carved into the rocks at
various spots in the Dehesa:
Spiritual values: Ermita de la Luz.
Dehesa is also a spiritual cradle, as it contains a hermitage where one can
find “la Virgen de la Luz”, patroness of the town from whom the Dehesa’s name
is derived. The building and current representation of the virgin are
substitutes for the originals, which were destroyed by incineration at the
hands of French troops in 1808 during the war of independence to great dismay
of the local people.
there is a popular pilgrimage held in the Dehesa to celebrate the return of the
Virgin’s statue to the hermitage after spending 9 days in the town’s church
during Easter. This pilgrimage is one of the most prominent local events and it
symbolises identity as well as a strong emotional tie between the community and
the Dehesa. In 2014, Pope Francis granted the Virgin and the Ermita de la Luz (Hermitage
of Light) the year of the Jubilee, which led to the Dehesa being visited by
thousands of pilgrims.
information can be found here:
Tourism office of Arroyo de la Luz.
email and contact phone number