Cabezo de Cope

Tortuga mora
Greek tortoise in Cabo Cope.

Location:

Coast of the municipality of Águilas, at the southern end of the province of Murcia.

Characteristics of the area of action:

The project is to be initially developed in an area of almost 270 ha, including the whole limestone hill known as Cabezo de Cope, and a substantial part of the land between the road leading to the coastal village of Calabardina and the watchtower Torre de Cope, as well as several hectares to its left. However, the project is to be further expanded towards the environs of the Marina de Cope, as well as the waters lapping its shore.

Description, value and uses:

Cabezo de Cope is part of the regional park Cabo Cope y Puntas de Calnegre, occupying an area of 2,665 ha, shared by the municipalities of Lorca and Águilas. The Lomo de Bas acts as the park’s boundary to the north and east, while the west and south are lapped by the sea, with 17 km of coastline.

© ANSE
Cabezo de Cope in the background, as seen from Marina de Cope © ANSE
Like many other areas on the Mediterranean coast, the stretch of coastline between the bays of Mazarrón and Águilas is under tremendous pressure due to urban development and intensive agriculture, often in the form of plastic greenhouses. In that context, Cabo Cope y Puntas de Calnegre, including the coastal plain Marina de Cope, is a unique exception of great environmental and scenic value. The protected site comprises a large stretch of Mediterranean forest, beaches, cliffs, a saltmarsh area, ravines and fossil dunes.
Cabezo de Cope is part of the Special Protection Area Sierra de la Almenara, Moreras y Cabo Cope, and has been designated as a Site of Community Importance: Calnegre SCI and Cabo Cope SCI. Cabo Cope and its surroundings have an outstanding geological and geomorphological importance – home to one of the best three Pleistocene outcrops in the Iberian peninsula, including tropical marine fauna, as well as detailed representations of the changes in sea levels and climatic events from the upper Pliocene up to the Holocene.
From the point of view of current fauna, the Greek tortoise and Bonelli’s eagle, both endangered species, are of particular interest, as well as the Eurasian eagle-owl or the peregrine falcon. We can also find bird species that are typical from semi-arid habitats or steppes, like the crested lark, the Lesser short-toed lark, the stone curlew, the Sardinian warbler or the rare trumpeter finch, which is listed as a threatened species in the Iberian peninsula. Among marine species, the site is home to Audouin’s gull, Scopoli’s shearwater and the European shag. As far as mammals are concerned, foxes, rabbits, genets and wild boars are common.

The amphibians and reptiles that can be found on the site include the natterjack toad, Bedriaga’s skink, the ocellated lizard, the Montpellier and horse shoe whip snakes, the spiny-footed lizard and the Spanish psammodromus, among others.

The littoral zone is also home to a wide range of fauna, associated to habitats like cliffs and Neptune grass meadows, which surround the cape in the area of Marina de Cope and Calabardina. There, one can find mostly sedentary species like dusky groupers, spiny lobsters, sciaenids and moray eels, and molluscs such as cowries and ormers, but also marine mammals like the common bottlenose dolphin.

There are historic landmarks in Cabezo de Cope and its surrounding area, scattered throughout a good part of the protected site. One of the most remarkable is the watchtower Torre de Cope, built in the 16th century, which bears testimony to the traditional purpose of the site.

Among the direst threats this protected wildlife site has been under, there was an attempt from the company Iberdrola to build a nuclear plant in the 70s, and the approval of a large-scale urban development project (AIR de Marina de Cope) in the 2000s. The latter was an initiative promoted by the regional government and the councils of Lorca and Águilas to rezone the area, build a marina and other infrastructures and allow for further urbanisation and the complete touristification of the area. Both projects were met with the opposition of environmental organisations (first Grupo Ecologista Mediterráneo, then Prolitoral, Ecologistas en Acción and ANSE), many members of the public and some public representatives, and both were eventually stopped.

Iberdrola Inmobiliaria, together with an association of landowners, lodged an appeal against the court ruling that took down the initiative AIR Marina de Cope. In the spring of 2020, they were still waiting for the Spanish Supreme Court to rule on that appeal.

Cabo Cope
© ANSE

Area: around 270 ha.

Project description, objectives and actions:

The main aim of the project is the conservation and protection of Cabezo de Cope and its surrounding area. By purchasing the land, we want to promote the approval of a land-use plan that protects the regional park Cabo Cope y Puntas de Calnegre, as well as the creation of a Marine Protected Area for its littoral zone. Also, we will propose the designation of a Flora Micro-Reserve for the endangered Phoenician juniper scrubland in the eastern and northern-eastern hillside, which has been listed but not yet designated as such by the regional government.

As far as conservation is concerned, we need to establish rules and regulations for the public use of the area in coordination with the regional government – among other things, public access to the site needs to be managed to avoid a negative impact on the fauna, particularly when certain species are breeding; damage to native fauna like the Greek tortoise needs to be prevented; and waste generated by intensive agriculture and the area’s visitors needs to be collected on a regular basis.

In the areas that are easier to access and closer to the road from Calabardina to Torre de Cope, actions could be taken to attempt ecological restoration and encourage the growth of indigenous species of shrubs.

A small, old olive grove still survives on old croplands next to the road, offering the opportunity to recover a unique habitat, home to rare species like the rufous-tailed scrub robin.

The land the ANSE Foundation has acquired includes a traditional home that could become a small environmental management and interpretation centre for Cabezo de Cope and the rest of the park, from which activities to monitor and manage wildlife and natural resources in the site could be promoted.

Duration (start date and anticipated completion date): The project started in March 2020, when ANSE bought several plots of land from Sareb (formerly owned by Bankia). The duration of the project is unlimited.

Funding: ANSE’s own funds, WWF and private donations.

Land stewardship and conservation strategies: Promoting the final approval of a land-use plan that preserves the protected wildlife site, as well as the rest of Marina de Cope and Calnegre. Working towards the designation of a Marine Protected Area for Cabo Cope, La Marina and Puntas de Calnegre. Promoting a Natura 2000 site management plan (SCI, SPA). Working towards the creation of a Flora Micro-Reserve. Working towards the EEA’s classification of the site’s landmarks as natural monuments.

We intend to promote stewardship agreements with other landowners in Marina de Cope, so urban development projects are permanently dismissed and conservation and recovery of the site’s biodiversity and landscapes become the main priority, going for a different approach to agriculture and tourism that is compatible with the site’s protection status.

We encourage the administrations at the local, regional and national level, the public, and any companies and associations that feel so inclined, to participate in the different areas and at the many stages involved in the conservation of the site.

Type of property agreement: Acquisition of around 270 ha by the ANSE Foundation.