The neglect of the Spanish government could place a million migratory birds making their way to the UK at risk.
Dredging of the Guadalquivir River, pollution, illegal water extraction and threats from mining have led Doñana World Heritage Site, Europe’s leading wetland, facing the risk of being placed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites in Danger. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee had requested a permanent commitment to cancel the dredging project. Failure to do so could see it becoming the first EU natural World Heritage Site to be placed on the list.
Today (1st December) is the deadline set by UNESCO for Spain to report on progress in addressing threats to Doñana National Park in order to keep the site off the in danger list. However according to a WWF assessment, the country’s government has failed to cancel the destructive dredging of the Guadalquivir River, the backbone of Doñana National Park, as requested by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
Doñana is one of Europe’s few outstanding wetlands, and the continent’s most important location for migratory birds. The thousands of birds that are flying from the UK to spend the winter in Doñana National Park will find the marshes almost empty of water this year. The site harbours over 4,000 types of plants and animals, including threatened birds and the world’s rarest feline species, the Iberian lynx. In addition to its environmental value, the park provides for the wellbeing of 200,000 nearby residents, with jobs from fishing, farming, research and ecotourism.
The Spanish government has failed to address any of the other major industrial threats facing the World Heritage site, including unsustainable and illegal agricultural water use, mining and natural gas operations. WWF-UK estimates that more than 1,000 unauthorised wells, 1,700 suspicious irrigation ponds, and 3,000 hectares of illegal farms are stealing water from the Doñana wetland World Heritage site. In addition to drying out, the wetland is becoming increasingly polluted and infested with invasive species of plants and fish. Populations of rare birds, dragonflies, and other animals are declining as a consequence.
The situation of water is also the biggest concern of the international bodies that look after Doñana’s conservation, both for UNESCO and for the European Commission, which is about to take Spain to the European courts because of mismanagement of water in the Doñana area.
The Spanish Government has made a choice to risk receiving the first “in danger” listing for an EU natural World Heritage site
Chris Gee, WWF-UK Senior Campaigns Manager, #SaveOurHeritage said:
“It is worrying that almost a million UK birds could suffer because of Spain’s failure to permanently cancel all plans for dredging. People and wildlife rely on Doñana being properly managed and protected. Failure to act by the 1 December deadline to report to the UN agency demonstrates this is currently not the case. The Spanish Government has made a choice to risk receiving the first “in danger” listing for an EU natural World Heritage site. The new government of Spain must act fast and permanently cancel the dredging if they are to avoid the potential shame of an ‘in danger’ listing from the World Heritage Committee next July.”
WWF is also alarmed at plans for Mexican company, Grupo Mexico, to reopen a nearby mine that caused an environmental disaster in 1998. The accident killed 30,000 kilograms of fish, and cost €380 million to clean. UNESCO’s position is that oil, gas and mining exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status[i], yet Spain continues to pursue perilous gas and mining projects in and near the site.
Juan Carlos del Olmo, CEO of WWF-Spain commented:
“For too long, authorities in Spain have ignored science, disregarded international treaty obligations, disobeyed UNESCO decisions, defied EU regulations, and resisted public opinion”.
The 21-member World Heritage Committee will determine Doñana’s fate at its next meeting, scheduled for July 2017.
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