Laguna de Pitillas, Navarra






East Atlantic flyway


WLI Europe


Name of organisation

Ostadas Environmental Education Society

Funding support

Government of Navarra (Spain)

Number of staff


Overall aims of the centre

To inform and make the general public aware of the values of the place and its problems. To inform and raise awareness among the local population.

Description of the centre

Situated on a hill overlooking the lagoon, the observatory is an ideal vantage point for watching the birds present in the various areas of the Nature Reserve. By means of a set of panels and diverse graphic and audiovisual material, the visitor receives extensive information about the ecological characteristics of the lagoon, mainly about aspects related to water birds. Likewise, the history and origin of the wetland is explained. There is a set of guides and optical material (binoculars and telescopes) available to visitors with which they can identify the birds that come to the Pitillas Lagoon at some point in their life cycle. Around 14,000 visitors distributed as follows: 19% school children, 8% other groups and 73% individuals.


The Pitillas lagoon has an extension of about 300 hectares located in the municipality of Pitillas. A small extension corresponds to the municipality of Santacara.


Like so many other wetlands in Navarre, it has a natural origin but has subsequently been modified by human action. In fact, there is documentary evidence of the construction of a medieval dam as early as the 16th century. The oldest documents date back to 1348.

The reservoir must have been used since ancient times to accumulate water for irrigation, as a pasture area and hunting ground and belonged for centuries to the reigning monarch. In recent times, at the end of the 1960s, Navarre's natural heritage was on the verge of losing its most significant wetland when the Pitillas town council decided to proceed with the drying out and ploughing of the lagoon and to begin cultivation.

The decision, in addition to being a natural disaster for the community of plants and animals that had settled in the area for centuries, also proved to be unfortunate from an agricultural point of view, as the extreme dryness of the area and the high salinity of the land meant that cultivation was not very productive.


The resounding failure of its drying up prevented such a regrettable loss and the Provincial Council agreed with the people to rent it out for 20 years and declared the enclave a Hunting Refuge in the form of a Biological Station. The new situation led to the closure of the gates that dried it out and the pond gradually recovered its stability.

For years and in the process of recovery ecological imbalances were produced with the first appearance of enormous quantities of amphibians that were distributed in an ostensible way all over the shore. Later there was an exceptional presence of water snakes and numerous predators began to take advantage of this unexpected source of food and stabilised the populations of the different species.

Year after year the vegetation has been colonizing the original free water space creating an extensive reed bed and drastically reducing the free water surface, which is now scarce. By means of the Foral Law 6/87 of 10/4/87 of Regional Urbanistic Norms for the protection and use of the territory (BON nº 49 of 20/4/87) the raft was incorporated into the recently created network of protected natural spaces of Navarre with the figure of Natural Reserve and lost its definition as a hunting refuge.

For years there were problems of poaching that gradually subsided with the increased awareness of society. In the same year, the area was physically demarcated. A plan for its use and management was drawn up in 1991 and in 1996 its protection zone was defined. Several others have been superimposed on this initial protection figure. In 1990 it was declared a Special Protection Area for Birds (SPA) in accordance with the European Birds Directive.

In 1996 it was proposed as a Ramsar site and included in the list definitively in autumn 1997. In January of the same month it was also included in the Inventory of Wetlands of Navarre.


The origin of the raft is endorheic. Endorheic basins are very characteristic areas of the Ebro River depression and have traditionally been interpreted as depressions in the terrain that collect run-off water and have no natural outlet through streams or ravines. They tend to be very saline soils.

In modern times, a different explanation has been given for some formations of this type, which have been interpreted as outcrops of water tables or aquifers that carry numerous saline components with them when they evaporate on the surface, which are later crystallised on the surface by evaporation.

The different areas could also have a mixed geological origin. According to what has been explained so far, the Pitillas lagoon has a shallow depth, no more than 2 metres in normal filling conditions.


The Pitillas lagoon has a well-developed marsh community that includes a dense reed bed of Phragmites australis surrounded by a border of Scirpus and Juncus. On the margins of the lagoon there is a transition towards plants adapted to steppe conditions and often also tolerant of the high salinity of the soil.

Zoology. The ornithic community

The lagoon stands out above all for the richness and importance of its bird community. Without doubt this is partly due to the greater effort devoted to the study of this group of animals given their ease of observation.

In any case the diversity of species that populate the wetlands and, in particular, the Pitillas lagoon is remarkable. The database of the Ornithological Yearbook, plus the author's observations, raise the number of bird species to over 100, which represents almost a third of those that can be observed in the Region. The lagoon stands out for the continuous presence, and we must assume the possible reproduction, of the bittern.

There are also important colonies of other birds such as the royal and imperial herons installed in the dense reed bed. Another reason why the wetland was catalogued as being of international importance was the presence of several species of chicks.

The lagoon is the most relevant site in the community for the Marsh Harrier both in winter, when it becomes its main roost, and during nesting, also the area with the highest density in Navarre. During the winter, the lagoon regularly hosts a group of geese. For the gosling, the lagoon is a resting area of paramount importance in the pre-marital flight.

All the usual species of ducks and waders have been observed in this enclave and often in significant numbers. It would be tedious and not the purpose of this brief summary to list them all.

Criteria for the inclusion of the Pitillas lagoon in the Ramsar list of wetlands
- Regular presence of the bittern with proven nesting behaviour of at least one year.
- Regular presence of Little Crake.
- Presence of a very significant percentage of the wintering Marsh Harrier population.
- Increasing importance of the breeding colony of Grey Heron and Purple Heron.
- Importance in the migration of water birds.

Work Areas

Main CEPA work area

Some actions developed (in a schematic way)
Quarterly newsletters, website.
Planning, design and development of programmes for public use: interpretation and signage.
Planning and proposals for public use.
Attention to the general public and organised groups.
Preparation of educational materials.
Work with the local population.
Celebration of world days.
Attention to the management plan of the LIC-Work with the local community.

Top three successes

- Awareness in general: the change in the perception of wetlands in general on the part of Navarre society has varied positively since the inauguration of the Visitor Centre Observatory in 1998.
- Through an interpretive programme, a change in the behaviour of the visiting public has been achieved which negatively affected certain birds during the breeding season.
- The public use of such a small space has been planned in such a way as to facilitate the enjoyment of visitors while
the values of space are protected.

Top three challenges

Our future challenges are twofold:
Improving work with local populations. Participation.
Encouraging work with environmental volunteers around specific habitat improvement projects.


Interpretation techniques

Creating signage; site information; Producing written materials; Using audio-visual tools; Developing nature trails

Visitor centres

Running a visitor centre


Engaging the local community;

Education and communication

Early years education; Delivering adult education; Developing resources / materials


Project planning.


Alberto Jimenez
Cristina Alfonso
Montse Jimenez
Ostadar Society.
Avda. de Zaragoza, 35 1º ooficina i 31005 Pamplona-Navarra
Tel.: 34 948 15 00 12

Website address:    

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