At this unique site, on the beautiful balearic island of Menorca, nature has been allowed to return – and many species are flourishing
In the face of the climate and nature crises, and with many wildlife species in decline, rewilding is offering hope, and is rapidly growing all around the world.
Rewilding is the large-scale restoration of nature to the point where it can take care of itself again. It's a powerful part of the solution for tackling climate breakdown and biodiversity loss, and can help reverse species extinction, while bringing all sorts of benefits for people – including improved health and wellbeing.
Rewilding aims to protect and restore a range of habitats, from native woodlands and heaths to peatbogs and grasslands. Dozens of large-scale projects in Britain have signed up to become part of the Rewilding Network, which is managed by the charity Rewilding Britain, and the impact of rewilding is rapidly growing across Europe, with Rewilding Europe working to rewild landscapes across the continent.
As well as reversing biodiversity loss and creating an abundance of wildlife, healthy ecosystems can help tackle climate change by sequestering millions of tonnes of CO2 every year.
Wild, natural spaces are important for us too. Rewilding can result in landscapes that provide us with clean air and water, flood defences, healthy soils, and food. And access to green spaces is vital for good physical and mental health.
Alongside large-scale rewilding projects, small-scale rewilding can have positive impacts too. In isolation, small sites can create habitats that benefit specific species or a range of wildlife. And when joined together, small areas become a larger network of green spaces that benefit nature, people and the environment.
Rewilding in Menorca
Tucked away in the centre of the beautiful Balearic island of Menorca is the small rewilding project of Pedrera de Santa Ponça.
For the past half-century, nature has gradually reclaimed this abandoned quarry site – resulting in a green oasis filled with life.
An easy-to-navigate path weaves through the towering quarry walls. Plants grow tenaciously here, with mastic, ferns, grasses and other greenery clinging to sheer rocky walls, and spilling out of every available crack and crevice.
Pine and fig trees line the path through the canyon floor, and there are carpets of rosemary and wildflowers. Towering rectangular caves have been formed by the previous quarrying activity, providing an ideal protected environment for nesting birds.
The quarry was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest by the Menorca Island Council in 2000, and is well off the tourist trail – so you may find you have the place to yourself.
We visited on a blisteringly hot day in mid-June, and were grateful for the cool, green spaces created by the plants, trees and caves. We were alone in the quarry, apart for a small group doing a yoga session in the shade of some trees. This peaceful place was an ideal spot for quiet meditation – away from the crowds of the coast, the only sounds were birdsong and the chirring of cicadas.
There was plenty of wildlife to spot on our visit, including a profusion of lizards, birds and butterflies. Menorca is home to more than 25 species of butterfly – and we spotted several, including holly blue, meadow brown and Cleopatra. The latter is a beautiful, bright yellow butterfly that's one of the most commonly seen species on the island.
Wild tortoises can often be seen lumbering through the undergrowth at Pedrera de Santa Ponça, although we weren't lucky enough to spot one on our visit (the picture above was taken a few days later, in the S'Albufera Natural Park in the north of the island). This is the Mediterranean tortoise – also called Hermann's tortoise – which can live for up to 75 years.
Mediterranean tortoise populations are relatively healthy on Menorca, but have a global conservation status of Near Threatened – a result of habitat loss and the illegal pet trade. The species is strictly protected by law, and Menorcan land owners are encouraged to create tortoise-friendly habitat – including by leaving gaps in garden and field boundaries so the animals can travel to feed and mate.
Pedrera de Santa Ponça is an excellent example of a small rewilding site, and illustrates how – when nature is allowed to return to sites such as these – the results can bring remarkable benefits to people and wildlife.
Pedrera de Santa Ponça is around 3km west of Alaior. There's a small parking area near the entrance to the quarry, or you can visit the site as part of a way-marked 7km hiking circuit from Alaior.
Green Adventures January 2023
Green Adventures is a non-profit online magazine sharing articles and news about nature, rewilding, history, culture and the great outdoors. If you like our content, please help keep us going with a small donation!