How EU susbisides are wasted on environmentally harmful activities
Some investments under the Portuguese Rural development plan have been highly negative for the environment and biodiversity of rural areas. For example, from 2008 to 2010 more the EUR 226 Million were invested in the Alqueva dam irrigation development. This mega-project irrigated more than 100,000ha of high natural value permanent pastures, montados and cereal fields in the Alentejo region (some of these inside protected areas) leading to the destruction of valuable habitats and replaced by intensive farming.
The lack of awareness of developers and agriculture administrative bodies has furthered many project proposals to change arable and pasture land into intensive olive plantations in the past five years. In 2010 EUR 42 million were invested in 11 large agro-business companies to install new intensive olive groves inside Natura 2000 sites like Campo Maior, Torre da Bolsa or São Vicente and Cuba. Intensive olive groves are highly productive but unsustainable industrial farming, with substantial negative impact on soil, water and biodiversity.
These examples illustrate how EU money can severely damage the environment turning a blind eye to the socio economic potential of investing in nature.
How EU funds can be invested into future benefits
Pico da Vara / Ribeira do Guilherme is a Natura 2000 site in the Azores, home to many endemic species including the Azores bullfinch which is one of the most endangered bird species in Europe. The site is critical also for the provision of valuable ecosystem services. The vegetation cover provided by the site aids the recharging of the aquifer and assures water availability in dry periods. It also plays an important role in regulating water flows and protecting against flood and landslide risks. Between 2003 and 2008, a LIFE Project enabled the restoration and enlargement of the habitat, by removing invasive plant species and replanting native species. The size of the Natura 2000 site was tripled. By the end of the project, the population of the bullfinch had increased from just 120 pairs in 2003, to 500-800 pairs in 2008. It had simultaneously helped protect the provision of ecosystem services and created over 25 full-time equivalent jobs in the local area for four years.
This is a very good example of how EU funds can be invested in sustainable development with benefit for nature, society and the economy. But it also shows the importance of sustaining them in time.