The Natural Park (Paraje Natural) is an expanse of land within the Sotogrande urbanisation that lies beside the estuary and the west bank of the Río Guadiaro, covering approximately 27 hectares. Within the boundaries of the reserve, there is a small lagoon with extensive reed beds and a few marshy areas that are all attractive to birds and other wildlife.
In 1999 the Andalusian Government spent 198,000 euros on the park and estuary, erecting fences, gates, boardwalks and a bird observation hide. At the same time a large-scale re-vegetation programme was undertaken to cover the areas of ravaged and barren land. Access within the park was restricted to elevated boardwalks with the intention of reducing human disturbance.
Unfortunately, during the past few winters the area has been subject to the battering of storms and the section of the boardwalk that extended along the beach towards the estuary was damaged several times. Repairs were attempted a couple of times, but the remaining sections of it were finally dismantled in the spring of 2010. The post and wire fencing installed between the lagoon and the beach was also destroyed by the elements and to date has not been replaced.
Just inside the park there is a bird observation hide that overlooks the lagoon, marshland and extensive reedbeds. This used to be freely accessible to the public, but owing to a spate of various abuses a couple of years ago, it now remains locked for most of the time. That makes it more difficult, although not impossible to get good views of the resident Purple Gallinules, and of any of the more ‘exotic’ visitors that may drop in. The only view I ever had of a Penduline Tit, a species that is known to winter here, was from the hide.
The river’s Estuary opens into the Mediterranean within the confines of Sotogrande, about 14 km north-east of Gibraltar. The Guadiaro estuary is the largest of three estuaries that combine to make this location ornithologically interesting; the other two estuaries being those of the rivers Palmones and Guadarranque,that flow into the Bay of Gibraltar. All are strategically placed to attract migrating birds that are moving along the Mediterranean coastline during spring and autumn. Some species choose to rest here before making the journey across the sea to Africa and others stay to over-winter.