Three years ago, the drought in Spain's most important wetland – the Tablas de Daimiel in the country's vast, largely arid, central plains – was so serious that just 39 acres remained flooded. Then, when a series of underground fires broke out in steadily drying peat banks, the Tablas' ecosystem looked set to be irreversibly destroyed.
Fast-forward to 2012 and, in an astonishing reversal of ecological fortune, the area of standing water in Spain's smallest natural park – a crucial resting point for millions of birds migrating between Africa and Europe – now totals 1,500 acres. And last week, for the first time in nearly three decades, part of the River Guadiana, for centuries the Tablas' principal water source, began to flow into the wetland again, something local guides had written off as impossible.
According to the newspaper El País, Aquifer 23, a vast natural underground network of water, is partly responsible for what some Spanish eco-bloggers have dubbed "the miracle of the Guadiana". Even if 2011 was an exceptionally dry year, the aquifer's size is so great that the rainfall from a very wet 2009 is only now being felt on the surface. The Tablas had also benefited, possibly, from a decrease in agricultural over-exploitation– thanks to a government programme of purchasing the water rights of thousands of the region's wells.
However, the WWF recently claimed that many wells continued to be used and now the programme has fallen victim to the latest austerity cuts. Tablas de Daimiel, an area also famous for its witchcraft, may yet need to conjure up a more lasting solution.