EU court rules Spain at fault over degradation of Doñana

Posted on 24 June 2021

Spain has broken EU law in the Doñana National Park, the EU Court of Justice ruled today. This is due to the “excessive extractions of groundwater”, which infringe the EU Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive, the court stated. The judgment followed a complaint filed to the EU Commission by WWF-Spain.

The unsustainable extraction of water in the area of Doñana for the intensive cultivation of strawberries is doing severe damage to the biodiversity of a unique natural World Heritage Site. In the last 20 years, WWF-Spain has uncovered more than 1,000 illegal wells and over 3,000 hectares of illegal crops in the Doñana National Park. 


 “Spain’s inability to protect such a precious site as Doñana, which belongs to all Europeans and is a natural world heritage of all humanity is hugely damaging to our country’s reputation as an environmental leader,” says Juan Carlos del Olmo, Secretary-General of WWF-Spain.


WWF calls on the Spanish government and the regional government of Andalusia to prevent further damage to Doñana. The Regional Government of Andalusia — responsible for the management of Doñana, agriculture and spatial planning in the area — must urgently close all illegal farms.


“The seriousness of these damaging activities is shown by the fact that they break two pieces of EU legislation at the same time: the Water Framework Directive and Habitats Directive. We need a drastic political change to protect our natural world and it will ultimately depend on reaching the commitments on nature protection and restoration set out in the EU Biodiversity Strategy,” says Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF European Policy Office. 

This ruling came just as Spanish authorities opened public consultations over their River Basin Management Plans - which include the Doñana area - for 2022-2027, as required under the Water Framework Directive. In a report released earlier this month, WWF and the Living Rivers Europe NGO coalition analysed 13 draft River Basin Management Plans across Europe. It revealed that water abstraction was the water management topic where Member States perform the poorest. 


Only two draft plans out of 13 are on track to achieve the Water Framework Directive objectives by 2027. Spain must improve its new River Basin Management Plans to allow it to reach good water status by 2027. 

 Birds flying at Doñana National Park
Doñana National Park
© Diego López WWF España