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Andalucian regional authorities strike temporary deal with Spanish government and pause voting on expanding irrigation area.

Nestled in the heart of southern Spain lies the breathtaking Doñana National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994. The site is a crucial stopover for millions of migratory birds every year, is home to most of the endangered Iberian lynx, and sprawling with fauna and flora. But, these wetlands face an existential threat from illegal water irrigation practices that wreak havoc on their delicate ecosystem. 

In the last 30 years, water supplies have plummeted due to illegal water extraction for fruit and berry crops, and this is being exacerbated by the climate crisis.  

Last year, Andalucía’s conservative-led regional government revealed its intentions to expand the irrigable land around Doñana by 800 hectares. By doing this, they would effectively legalize the wells that have already been illegally dug there by farmers.  

According to experts, over 1,000 illegal wells have been dug near the park, with some farmers using powerful pumps to extract water from the wetlands. This causes significant damage to the area’s natural habitats, impacting plant and animal species alike.  

A report issued earlier this year by Spain’s National Research Council highlighted a distressing statistic: 59% of Doñana’s large lakes had not reached full capacity since at least 2013. The report described the region as being in a “critical state.” For the past two years, the main permanent freshwater lagoon of Doñana has completely dried up in spring. 

Our Partner in Spain, SEO/BirdLife has been fiercely campaigning alongside other environmental groups to stop the destructive plans of the Andalucian government.  

On the 3rd of October, Andalucia’s regional president, Juan Manuel Moreno, announced that an upcoming vote on the plans to increase the amount of irrigable land around Doñana is temporarily suspended, and could be taken off the table completely. This depends on the government’s approval of a 350 million euro investment in “economic and social development plans” in the county where Doñana is.  

Asunción Ruiz, Executive Director of SEO/BirdLife, comments: “This is great news. We cannot go against science, violate established international commitments towards environmental legislation, and ignore the citizens calling for the protection of Doñana. Doñana is going extinct, and the approval of this law would have been a death blow for this wetland. Common sense has prevailed and we hope the regional authorities and the government will cooperate to find science-based solutions for Doñana. This means we need a plan that supports sustainable agricultural developments in line with the green transition, the regenerative hydrology, adaptation to climate change, and the conservation of nature, and social justice.” 

picture: Yves Adams

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