El Rocio (dpa) – The air this spring morning is cool and clear, it smells of wild grass, and in the distance some 50 deer graze peacefully, among white spoonbill birds, a kite soars high in the sky above the isolated cork oak.
Participants of one of the many expeditions to Europe’s largest wetland, Doñana National Park on the Costa de la Luz in southern Spain, are excited.
But the idyll in the pastel morning light is deceptive. Because here in Andalusia an ecological catastrophe is taking place, to which strawberry consumers in Germany also contribute. High water consumption in the “red gold” cultivation areas contributes to the desiccation of the natural paradise. Now, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Donana is also caught up in the Spanish campaign. Municipal elections and, in many autonomous regions, regional elections will be held on May 28.
Legalization of illegal cultivation areas
Andalusia’s ruling conservative People’s Party, with the votes of the populist right-wing party Vox, has introduced a law aimed at legalizing illegal farming areas. The EU Commission immediately threatened Spain with heavy fines for violating environmental laws. The left-wing central government in Madrid accused the PP of irresponsibility and declared a constitutional complaint. The row has so deepened that EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has had to defend Environment Commissioner Virginius Sienkevicius against accusations that the People’s Party has sided with the government in Madrid.
PP argues that according to their plan, the area should not be expanded until the central government implements the long-promised infrastructure projects for surface water supply. Additional groundwater should not be withdrawn. Juanjo Camaro, an expert with the WWF Environmental Foundation, shakes his head. “There is not enough water for many strawberry fields, neither ground water nor surface water,” he says. In addition, the surface water is in no way intended to replace the approximately 1,000 illegally drilled deep wells.
Without water, animals and plants would die
Meanwhile, Doñana’s natural paradise continues to be destroyed. Important wintering grounds for migratory birds and home to many rare animals such as the Iberian lynx, golden eagle, flamingos, storks, gray herons, brown glossy ibis or night herons as well as endangered aquatic creatures almost completely dried up in the spring. . In fact, there must be thousands of lakes this time of year. But without water, animals and plants die and their habitats are irretrievably lost. Landscapes of jungles and steppes are shown.
“The water table has dropped to a depth of five to six meters in places,” says tour guide Nacho Camino, using the tip of a discarded deer antler to draw a simple outline in the sandy soil for spooked nature lovers: a line of the earth’s surface, just below the undulating line of the water table. .
Fears of water shortage
One of the reasons is drought, which affects not only Andalusia, but almost all of Spain. Scientists have long warned that climate change increases the likelihood of such extreme weather events. “Now we have a water situation in the spring that we usually only have in the middle of summer. And then it’s going to be awful,” Nacho fears.
The massive consumption of water to grow strawberries as well as blueberries and raspberries around the natural paradise exacerbated the situation disastrously. 80 percent of the fruit is exported, including to Germany. About 4,500 cubic meters of water is needed for berry farms per hectare and year, says Manuel Delgado, spokesman for the Almonte Growers Association. The wells, through which large amounts of water are drawn from the national park, are up to 60 meters deep.
“There has to be a balance between conservation and agriculture,” said Kamaru of the WWF, which has been fighting to protect wetlands for more than 20 years. “If there were only about 10,000 hectares of legally irrigated land in the area, there would have been enough water left for Daniana.” But farmers have illegally dug wells in recent years, from which water is pumped for about 1,600 hectares of farming areas, and are equally illegal. “These additional withdrawals will kill the national park,” Kamaru fears. According to the Water Authority, hundreds of these wells have already been closed, but farmers are simply digging new ones.
“Things will get better.”
There are very different answers to the question of how this can be achieved in a constitutional state. According to Camaro, some of the farmers in the area have simply expanded their legal areas a bit, following the motto, “It’s all right.” He noted that “if a farmer who illegally extracts water suddenly drives a bigger car and can afford to buy a vacation home by the sea, the neighbor will do the same.” Delgado mentioned something similar. “They did what they wanted,” he says. “They quickly cleared a piece of the forest at night and then planted new strawberry fields.” This is not the case in Almonte, but further west towards Huelva it is.
A local farmer’s spokesperson sees it differently. “We only represent legally operating companies,” says Julio Díaz of the Farmers’ Platform. He knows nothing about illegal wells. The central government is to blame for the misery, which has not built the promised infrastructure to direct surface water from other regions to strawberry plantations. And for these omissions by the government in Madrid, farmers who don’t work hard must now be punished by having their water withdrawn. “When the surface water mains are finally built, we will shut down all the wells here,” Diaz says.
sharp criticism of politics
Concerned about the reputation of Donana strawberries, growers’ spokesman Delgado says the controversial rationing law is an election maneuver ahead of local elections on May 28. “The traditionalists are strong here at the municipal level and make up most of the mayors,” he says. PP and Vox both hope that the law will win the votes. After the election, Delgado believes the project will simply disappear into a drawer.
Alvaro Bernat does not share this optimism. “Climate change will end the cultivation of strawberries and other fruits in this region one way or another,” says a student of environmental protection and forestry at the University of Huelva. Because of the rising temperatures, fruit cultivation will migrate more and more north, to France, for example. And as the water table drops below the Doñana, seawater will infiltrate. “At the latest, when the salt water comes out of the well, it’s here,” he says.
© dpa-infocom, dpa: 230516-99-705413/4
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