Andalucia signs death warrant for Doñana – Spain’s most important wetland

by Lorraine Williamson
You don´t touch Doñana

SEVILLE – The Andalucian parliament has approved the bill to legalise previously illegal irrigation in and around the Doñana National Park. The Junta is doing this despite fierce opposition from the EU, the Spanish government, scientists and environmental groups. 

The proposal can be finally approved by the plenary session of parliament in May or June at the latest. The proposal reorganises and expands irrigation in the area depleted by overexploitation and drought. In fact, 1,400 hectares of land illegally extracting water from the aquifer will be legalised. The regional government thus meets the strawberry growers in the area who are facing difficulties in growing strawberries due to the lack of water resources. 

The PP and Vox parties supported the bill, but it was opposed by the PSOE-A, Por Andalucía and Adelante Andalucía parties. 

EU and the Spanish government are against 

The EU has threatened economic sanctions if the measure is approved, citing a violation of a European Court of Justice ruling. Furthermore, the Spanish government has vowed to defend the park and may refer the matter to the Constitutional Court. 

No permission for the abstraction of water from the aquifer 

The government of Andalucia defends that, despite the expansion of irrigation, it will not authorise the extraction of water from the aquifer in the protected Doñana. This has been depleted by illegal wells, drought and the tourist resort of Matalascañas. In addition, the right to irrigate new hectares will be granted through surface water coming from the transfer of the Odiel-Tinto-Piedra demarcation. A job that the State should take on according to the Junta. 

“Flagrant Violation” 

Brussels, which has already fined Spain for this reason, considers the expansion of irrigation a “flagrant violation” of the European Court of Justice ruling. This requires the protection of this nature reserve of inestimable ecological value. 

The Spanish government has warned that it will take all necessary measures to “defend” Doñana. In this context, the Spanish press already speaks of an ‘article 155’. With this article, the Spanish government can deploy all necessary resources to restore constitutional order in a Spanish region. 

Ahead of Andalucia’s vote, Ecological Transition Minister Ribera harshly accused Andalucian President Juanma Moreno Bonilla of doing “huge damage” to Andalucia and Spain through his “arrogant rule”. 

‘Origin of Doñana strawberries will be questioned’ 

“Distribution chains across Europe will question the origin of the Doñana strawberries because they will not know how to differentiate between legal and illegal,” Ribera added in an interview with La Sexta. The minister also warned that the Commission could even block Spain’s access to European funds. 

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Related post: Conscious consumers want less and less Spanish strawberries 

“You Don’t Touch Doñana” 

Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez (PSOE) reacted from a celebration event in Burgos. He accused the PP and Vox of denying scientific evidence and the climate emergency. “Doñana is the heritage of the Andalucians, of all Spaniards and you don’t touch Doñana,” he said. He also pointed out that Andalucia has denied and ignored European legislation and the European Commission’s warnings. 

One of the most important wetlands in Europe 

The Doñana National Park is a very important natural area and one of the most important wetlands in Europe. UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Site. Doñana is an important habitat for numerous species of wildlife, including migratory birds that breed and winter there annually. The park is also home to endangered species such as the Iberian lynx, the Spanish imperial eagle and the Andalucian terrapin. The park encompasses a wide variety of landscapes, including wetlands, dunes, forests, and beaches. 

Half of the lagoons had already gone 

Half of the lagoons in Doñana have already disappeared. In the latest study published in the scientific journal Science of The Total Environment, the data shows that the decline of the Doñana Lagoon system is widespread. It has been verified that 59% of the largest lagoons in Doñana have not been flooded since at least 2013. 

These changes are largely related to the temperature and precipitation of each year. However, the expansion of cultivated areas and the built-up area in the tourist town Matalascañas and the golf course play an important role. 

Related post: How Andalucian Benidorm is putting an end to wetland Doñana 

Droughts are frequent in Mediterranean systems. The problem arises when there is a succession of years without filling the lagoons. Then the vegetation disappears and they are colonised by terrestrial vegetation. That means that the lagoons disappear completely and so do the habitats. 

Three lagoons in the protected area that acted as permanent and did not dry up in summer are no longer so. For example, the lagoons of El Sopetón and La Dulce, which were only occasionally dry, now regularly dry up. The situation of Santa Olalla, the largest permanent lagoon in Doñana, was extreme in the summer of 2022 when it completely dried up. 

Related post: Brussels threatens sanctions against Spain for mismanagement Doñana 

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