This week we travel to the province of Cuenca to discover the Laguna de El Hito Nature Reserve, located between the municipalities of El Hito and Montalbo, which in 2022 celebrates 20 years since its declaration.

With a surface area of 572 hectares, this endorheic lagoon (which has no outlet to the sea), with a high concentration of salt in its shallow, temporary waters is an obligatory stop for thousands of cranes that for weeks have been leaving their spring-summer quarters in northern Europe to head for warmer lands to spend the winter.

In the best years, around 10,000 cranes gather here, together with other species such as flamingos and a wide variety of ducks, which have made it a wetland of great importance in La Mancha steppe-lands, as attested by the fact that it has become part of the exclusive Ramsar Wetlands network.

The cranes are accompanied by flamingos and a diversity of ducks in the water, but the cereal steppes surrounding the lake are also of great importance for species such as the Little Bustard, which has seen an alarming drop in numbers in much of Spain and Europe.

In terms of flora, and due to its high salinity, the Laguna de El Hito is home to very rare plant communities, with several protected species.

In today’s episode of Protected Lives we discover Yolanda Rozalén, mayoress of the small village of El Hito in Cuenca since 2019.

Like so many other small towns in inland Spain, in the 20th century El Hito suffered the exodus of many families to the cities in search of new opportunities.

Yolanda, passionate about her land, wanted to return to her roots to become a teacher and also to work in politics to improve the lives of the residents of El Hito.

In this chapter, our protagonist tells us about the partnership of the municipalities of El Hito and Montalbo, the regional administration and Fundación Global Nature to protect the Laguna del Hito and its biodiversity. All together they are building an alternative future for this village of 180 inhabitants, which is seeking to reinvent itself to overcome the threat of rural depopulation that is looming over many villages of the Spanish interior.