Doñana emergency: European Commission must stop destructive law

Posted on April, 24 2023

Today EU Environment Commissioner Sinkevičius will meet with a delegation from the regional Government of Andalusia to discuss a Law proposal which would further deteriorate the iconic wetlands of Doñana national park.
Although the park is already under much strain from illegal water extraction, the law would allow the expansion of the area of irrigated crops in the water-scarce area of the Doñana national park, which as a Natura 2000 site is protected under EU law.

WWF calls on the European Commission to urge the Andalusian government to withdraw the Law proposal, in order not to add to the degradation of the precious ecosystem of Doñana. In addition, the Commission must continue demanding compliance with the European Court of Justice ruling, including closure of all illegal farms and increased efforts to conserve Doñana.

“If the Anti-Doñana law is approved, it would mean rewarding criminal behavior by legalising illegal farms and multiplying the value of their land up to tenfold as irrigated land has a higher price. This would enrich those who illegally occupied the forest land, and have profiteered by stealing a public good such as water from an already overexploited aquifer,” said WWF-Spain's CEO Juan Carlos del Olmo.

On 12 April, the regional Parliament of Andalusia voted to apply an emergency procedure to approve the Law proposal, ahead of regional elections on 28 May 2023. If adopted, the law will retrospectively legalise farms which were built without any legal land or water permits, and causing much damage to the park, including forested areas. This will increase the irrigated land, although the Court of Justice of the EU ruled Spain at fault in 2021 for “excessive extractions of groundwater” in Doñana.

A new scientific paper released in April 2023 shows that 59.2% of the Doñana pond network was lost between 1985 and 2018, primarily because of human activities. The disappeared pond area has been colonised by terrestrial vegetation, affecting the original fauna and flora - and in particular amphibians, reptiles, odonates and aquatic plants. Ecosystems protected under the EU Habitats directive, such as heathlands or dunes, have seen their conservation status degrade significantly as they can only thrive if the aquifer - the porous rock or sediment saturated with groundwater  - is  in good condition.

If adopted, the law will increase the pressure on this World Heritage Site, allowing illegal farms to continue stealing water from the aquifer and legalising the transformation of hundreds of forest and dryland hectares of high value for biodiversity into crops under plastic.
Note to editors:

The Law proposal modifies the Special plan of the Crown Forest of Doñana (Strawberry plan) approved in 2014. WWF is asking the regional government of Andalusia to fully apply the Strawberry plan as it was approved in 2014 and to close all the illegal farms.

The Doñana pond network includes many habitat types protected under the Habitats directive, such as the Mediterranean temporary lagoon, the humid intradune depressions, or heathlands. There is also a cork oak forest which is highly degraded and have high centenary oak mortality due to a significant drop in the water table.
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