Doñana National Park in Andalusia, southern Spain, is at risk of being added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger. Years of poor management and water extraction are threatening to completely dry out the natural reserve.
Doñana National Park is strategically located between the continents of Europe and Africa, and its large salt marshes are a breeding ground and transit point for 4,000 bird species, as well as the endangered Iberian lynx, the world’s rarest feline. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.
But Europe’s largest nature reserve is now at risk of losing its World Heritage status and being added instead to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger.
According to analysis conducted by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, years of harmful industrial activities, such as dredging, mining and gas storage, are threatening to completely dry out Doñana. Water reaching the wetland has decreased by 80 per cent, while an estimated 1,000 illegal wells and 3,000 hectares of illegal farms are also contributing to unsustainable water use.
Doñana has lost over 80 per cent of its natural marshes since the beginning of the 20th century, and illegal and unsustainable water use in recent years is reducing biodiversity and drying out lagoons. These activities are also affecting the region’s ability to provide jobs and generate income. As WWF explains, 70 per cent of the strawberry’s produced in Spain, the fifth largest producer in the world, are from Doñana.
WWF, which commissioned the study, accuses the Spanish government of failing to safeguard the site from harmful industrial activities despite Doñana being protected under international law.
“Doñana is at a crossroads, either the Spanish government adheres to the international commitments it has made to safeguard this vital area that provides benefits to the entire world, or it allows it to be exploited to the point of no return,” said WWF-Spain CEO Juan Carlos del Olmo.
Doñana is protected by almost every conservation designation, says WWF, including national park, Ramsar site, Natura 2000 site, UNESCO Biosphere reserve, and World Heritage site.