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An image of a shelter built on La Maroma. SUR
Environmentalists raise concerns over 'serious impact' of hikers to Malaga province’s highest mountain
Environment

Environmentalists raise concerns over 'serious impact' of hikers to Malaga province’s highest mountain

At 2,064 metres above sea level La Maroma is often referred to as ‘the roof of Malaga’ and attracts large groups of people on a daily basis

Eugenio Cabezas

Axarquía

Monday, 18 March 2024, 21:29

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An environmental action group based in the Axarquía on the eastern side of Malaga province has filed a complaint with the sustainability and environment department of the provincial authority, La Diputación de Málaga, about the "serious impact" that what it describes as “mass” hiking is having on Málaga province’s highest mountain.

In its complaint, GENA-Ecologistas en Acción claimed that “there is not a day of the week when there is not a large number of visitors at this place, increasing at weekends, when sometimes 50 people can congregate in a small area" The mountain is popular among hikers and nature lovers as at 2,068 metres above sea level it is popularly known as ‘the roof of Malaga’.

The organisation is calling on the Diputación to adopt measures to curb the impact of tourism. It has asked for “occasional surveillance, especially at weekends and holidays in the area around La Maroma and to make it clear that it is a protected and monitored area” and that “actions have consequences”.

Large groups

The influx of visitors is such that, according to GENA’s spokesman Rafael Yus, "Some of these excursions are organised by hiking clubs or associations, others by sports clubs, others on the initiative of a group of friends and others by official invitation from the park management".

Yus argued that large organised groups of hikers cause damage to the mountain and are "totally unnecessary and counterproductive for the biodiversity of the natural park, whose conservation should prevail over its promotion as a sports track, especially if such activities are not harmless and cause a significant environmental impact, mainly through the lifting of stones, trampling of vegetation, dumping of rubbish and noise emissions".

Yus said that people remove stones to create shelters “piling them up until they reach a sufficient height to cut the gusts of wind,". He pointed out that although overnight stays in the natural park are forbidden, the ban is not enforced.

Biodiversity

He also believes that "another motivation is to build stone mounds or cairns" to mark routes up the mountain. These small mounds of stones can be seen at regular intervals of 10-20 metres, to indicate the path to follow to reach the peak.

“This procedure is totally unnecessary and the proof of this is that it has never been needed," Yus said. Finally, the biologist warned of the impact on the remains of paleogeomorphology interest, "as the position of the stones is key to the interpretation of the periglacial period in La Maroma during the last ice age".

The biggest problem with moving stones, according to Yus, is that “all that biodiversity is exterminated when we take a stone, separate it from the ground and pile it up with other stones in this stupid habit of making cairns”. The biologist went on to say, “The stones are not only stones, but they generate a microhabitat of great importance for the survival of the biodiversity of the sierra.”

Wildlife on La Maroma; a stone mound built by hikers SUR
Imagen principal - Wildlife on La Maroma; a stone mound built by hikers
Imagen secundaria 1 - Wildlife on La Maroma; a stone mound built by hikers
Imagen secundaria 2 - Wildlife on La Maroma; a stone mound built by hikers

Yus pointed out that “all species are interrelated in complex food webs in which the elimination of one species means the loss of a source of food or control of populations. Nothing is left unharmed when we interfere with the biology of the species living under the stones”.

Another problem caused by the hikers, according to GENA, is the trampling of vegetation. “This is another Achilles heel of protected natural sites open to the public,” Yus said and pointed out that “there are two main types of hikers: those who follow a single established walking trail, and those who find it very boring and prefer to cut their way along a new trail”.

The problem with forging alternate trails Yus pointed out is that “other trails open up and where there used to be one there are now two, three or even more because there will always be a hiker who wants to show off his or her mountaineering skills.”

Rubbish

Yus argued that there is in fact no clear path to the peak of La Maroma so “this trampling is done simply because there is no awareness of the damage caused by trampling the vegetation, which is accentuated in those activities that involve running and even more so in those that are done at night, inexplicably authorised by the Junta de Andalucía, which is unaware of the impact that this type of activity has on the vegetation". Yus added that there are several native species on La Maroma, some of which are vulnerable or in danger of extinction.

Regarding the presence of rubbish, "many visitors are conscientious and do not leave any rubbish and take it with them in their backpacks, but others consider that while they don’t leave packaging, it is OK to leave left-over food including fruit peelings and unfinished sandwiches for the animals. “It is true that food scraps can be eaten by animals, but not all of them and they are not all animals can digest” the food left by humans, he highlighted.

GENA is also calling for written information on how to behave in a protected natural environment, to strictly prohibit bivouacking and to carry out nighttime inspections and to fine offenders who are found to be staying overnight in La Maroma.

The organisation is also calling for a strict ban on lifting stones, “whether for bivouacking or for the construction of stone cairns” as well as to warn people to keep quiet and not to leave any kind of rubbish. Finally, large excursion groups should not be promoted, according to GENA.

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