Spanish plan to legalise water-guzzling strawberry farms threatens Doñana nature reserve

Posted on 21 January 2022

Doñana in Spain is one of Europe's most iconic natural reserves and is home to an amazing variety of plants and animals, including the endangered Iberian lynx.
Yet this Natura 2000 and Unesco site is under threat from illegal water use, for which the Spanish government was condemned six months ago by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). 

Despite the ECJ ruling, and despite the Spanish Ministry of Ecological Transition and organisations like Unesco categorising Doñana’s aquifer as “overexploited”,  the Andalusian regional government is set to debate a proposal to decriminalise 1,460 hectares of illegal strawberry farms around the reserve. These farms -  the equivalent of 1,400 soccer fields in size - represent more than 85% of the currently illegally irrigated land drying out the ground and endangering Doñana’s biodiversity. In the last 20 years, WWF-Spain has unveiled more than 1,000 illegal wells that are overexploiting the aquifer that feeds Doñana National Park: 

“Legalising the farms that are destroying Doñana would make a mockery of the European Court of Justice, breach the Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive and cause irreversible damage to Doñana’s flora and fauna,” says Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF European Policy Office.  “Breaching EU laws should have consequences. The European Commission must enforce them.” 

WWF wrote a letter to Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for the Environment, to raise this alarm on the imminent threat that puts the Doñana National Park at risk and call on the European Commission to ensure that Doñana is protected as required by EU law.