The town of Besalú, perched on a small hill overlooking a wide meander of the river Fluvià, enjoys a privileged natural location straddling the Mediterranean Sea and the last peaks of the Pyrenees.
The river itself, the holm oaks, the riparian forest and the fields and allotments form a mosaic of habitats that is home to an important diversity of species of flora and fauna. We can highlight the white flowers of the snow lily that appear next to the river in the middle of winter, the great egrets and herons that fly slowly over the waters, the otters, Iberian green frogs or water snakes that live in the same waters, and songbirds such as the oriole or the nightingale or the great and lesser spotted woodpeckers that breed in trees and shrubs along the river.
Besalú enjoys a privileged natural location, straddling the coastal plains that extend inland from the Mediterranean and the final foothills of the Pyrenees, of which the Mare de Deu del Mont (1,124 m) is predominant and rises imperiously just north of the village. Despite being a fairly small town, the river Fluvià, the holm oak groves and fields and other spaces transformed by man form a mosaic of habitats that houses a diversity of species of remarkable flora and fauna.
To the south of the village, a large meander of the river embraces a flat and fertile land, sustained over the centuries by sediments left by the floods of the river. On its banks grows a lush riparian forest of poplars, willows and alders. At the end of winter, in the undergrowth, before the trees regain their leaves, flowers appear, such as the snow lily Galanthus nivalis and the purple toothwort Lathraea clandestina, a strange purple flower plant without a stem that parasitizes the roots of the trees. Later, the bright yellow lily Iris pseudacorus decorates the banks of the river itself. In late summer, the large yellow flowers of the Jerusalem artichoke Helianthus tuberosus, whose roots are edible, dominate the ecotone between the water and the forest.
The river is a natural corridor that allows many animals to travel long distances. In winter, great egrets and herons fly slowly over their course, and cormorants arrive to feed on carp and settle there for several months. Spring, on the other hand, is a time of passage for migratory birds, which often deviate through the Fluvià valley to search for the sea before continuing their journeys to the north, and gliding species such as the osprey and the white stork. A few occasionally spend the night on the roofs of the village and they are regularly observed by the river and in the valley. In April, thousands of small songbirds arrive, such as the nightingale, the common chiffchaff, the wryneck and the oriole, which join the sedentary species such as the blackcap, the Cetti’s warbler, great and lesser spotted woodpeckers, or tits to create a lush soundscape in the early hours of spring mornings.
In the same waters, otters feed, which, following reintroduction into the Aiguamolls de l’Empordà in the 1980s, are already breeding again in the river Fluvià. They coexist with green frogs, water snakes and American crayfish, the latter an invasive species that has become a prey much appreciated by otters. There are two more species introduced by human action, the American mink, often seen on the banks of the river in the same village, and the coypu, a large semi-aquatic rodent that has recently settled in the dam area.
As for invertebrates, there are river skaters, which glide across the surface of the water, and dragonflies such as the damselfly Platycnemis latipes or small pincertail Onychogomphus forcipatus, which stop on the pebbles in the middle of the river, are good indicators of water health status. In the clearings or on the ground of the path of the “green ring”, the lesser purple emperor, a butterfly with reflections of metallic tones on the wings, can be seen resting in the sun.
In the summer, barn swallows and house martins, as well as common swifts and crag martins, are ubiquitous in the sky over the village. They make their nests under the roofs or inside empty houses or in the holes in the older walls. And on the old bridge, many tree sparrows nest, while in the waters below you can see little grebes, moorhens and even the kingfisher. The presence of two medium-sized birds of prey, the black kite and the booted eagle, are increasingly noticeable, flying over the town centre; the first is a scavenger and eats any remains or dead animals, while the other probably preys on the birds that inhabit the woods by the river.
Finally, the allotments are a valuable space where many small birds feed, especially in winter. You can find groups of goldfinches, chaffinches, many black redstarts and robins, some cirl buntings or dunnocks, groups of starlings and the collared dove, a species that has been established in the village for the last twenty years.