Flamingos soaring over shimmering water. The hum of crickets in the scorching heat of an Andalusian summer. An Iberian Lynx nursing its cub in a merciful patch of shade. For anyone who has visited or read of Spain’s iconic Doñana National Park, these are the images that come to mind.
But the underlying reality is dramatically different. Despite being a national park protected under the EU’s water and nature laws, having UNESCO World Heritage and Natura 2000 status, and harbouring one of the most important wetlands in the world, Doñana has been the site of destruction and degradation for the best part of a decade. The wetlands, one of Europe’s most important pit-stops for migratory birds, are being annihilated by aggressive, unsustainable and, in the majority of cases, illegal irrigation.
And all for the intensive production of strawberries and other red fruits, which require a lot of water to thrive.
For more than ten years, WWF Spain has carried out extensive monitoring, which has yielded a mountain of damning evidence that Doñana’s aquifer (the underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock that feeds the wetlands with water) is being bled dry by unsustainable agriculture. So far, WWF Spain has identified there to be at least 1,000 illegal wells scattered throughout the park and more than 3,000 hectares of illegal crops of strawberries and red fruits (such as raspberries, blueberries and blackberries) that are monopolising Doñana’s most precious resource.
Even more shocking than the blatant degradation of Doñana has been the lack of action by the government of Spain. For years, the pleas of civil society to stop the destruction of Doñana has fallen on deaf ears.
In the hope that someone would listen and stand up for Doñana, in April 2010, WWF Spain filed a complaint to the European Commission, which denounced the destructive and unsustainable abstraction of water in the Doñana area, and the repeated breaches of EU legislation by the Spanish authorities, the Ministry of Environment, and the Andalusian Government and municipalities. It took almost nine years for the Commission to finally decide in January 2019 to refer Spain to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over the serious deterioration of the Doñana National Park and for its failure to implement the EU Water Framework Directive and Birds and Habitats Directives.