Protecting Spain’s Coto Doñana wetlands

Geographical location:

Europe/Middle-East > Southern Europe > Spain

Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus)
© WWF Spain / Luis Suarez


Considered one of the most valuable wetlands in Europe, Spain’s Coto Doñana, located where the Guadalquivir River reaches the Atlantic Ocean, is a sanctuary for millions of migratory birds and endangered species like the imperial eagle and Iberian lynx. However, mining, farming, tourism and infrastructure development all pose a serious threat to the area.

WWF’s work in Doñana focuses restoring agricultural land back to original wetland and conservation of the Iberian lynx, one of the last two remaining populations in the wild.


Doñana is essentially the delta of the Guadalquivir river, an area of 280,000 hectares in the southwest of Spain, in which a mix of land and water, man and nature, has created an immensely diverse environment. Marshlands, natural beaches, dune systems and a variety of forests and bushlands constitute a sanctuary for 6 million migratory birds and for endangered species like the Iberian lynx and the Imperial eagle. But Doñana is also the home of 200,000 people who have shaped the landscape, for better or worse, since their first settlements. Doñana constitutes, for that reason, is an ideal example of how sustainable development is possible, albeit not easy. This is the challenge facing WWF.

Active involvement of WWF in Doñana began in the 1960s, when the organization became the owner of a significant part of the Coto Doñana and promoted the creation of the National Park, the first of a series that have made of the area one of the most prized reserves in Europe.

Since the Aznalcollar mine tailing dam collapse in 1998, which flooded the Guadidamar riverflat and farmlands with toxic sulphide slurry the work of WWF has expanded to tackle issues outside Doñana National Park. These include mining, farming, tourism, pilgrimage and infrastructure development, all of which can pose a serious threat when poorly managed


1. Implement a vision for the conservation and intelligent use of Doñana in a European context.

2. Demonstrate intelligent use of ecosystems within the framework of protected areas and rural development.

3. Demonstrate effective partnerships within WWF and among local, national and international organizations.

4. Assess the policy and economic factors affecting land use and recommend changes to support conservation.


WWF is following up the restoration of the Guadiamar river and the Aznalcollar mine after the spill, as well as the restoration of the surface hydrology of Doñana National Park. WWF volunteers also deliver conservation results restoring local wetlands and rivers.

WWF’s own property in the marshes is acting as a pilot site for intelligent management of wetlands, with results being implemented across the whole protected area.

In parallel, water problems around Doñana are being identified and tackled either directly, with the help of volunteers, through partnerships or requesting action from the authorities. In that sense, WWF is focusing on promoting a sustainable use of the land - mainly regarding agriculture - which also implies the participation of the local population through discussion forums, as well as building capacity for that participation.

The results achieved in Doñana are used by WWF to influence European policies and regulations.

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