Posted on 22 March 2022
With the future of Spain’s Doñana World Heritage Site at risk, twenty-three leading European fruit sector businesses, including retailers, fruit traders and fruit processing companies, joined the campaign to save one of Europe’s greatest wetlands.
On World Water Day, the companies are calling on the Andalusian regional government to abandon its plans to provide an amnesty for 1,900 hectares of illegal strawberry farms, which are illegally pumping groundwater from the aquifer that sustains Doñana and that has been declared officially overexploited.
Including Europe’s five biggest retailers, the companies all purchase substantial amounts of legal strawberries and other fruit from the region, and are concerned that the amnesty would sabotage efforts to develop sustainable agriculture around Doñana - undermining the local economy and the survival of Doñana itself.
“Major European retailers and fruit sector businesses have made it clear: this amnesty plan must not become law because it threatens the future of the irreplaceable Doñana wetland as well as the legal fruit industry that drives the local economy,” said Stuart Orr, WWF Global Freshwater Lead.
“European companies have now joined scientists, conservationists, the European Commission, EU Court of Justice, UNESCO, Ramsar and the Spanish government in condemning this plan," added Orr.
The companies - which include some of the continent’s largest food retailers, such as Aldi, Asda, Coop, EDEKA, Lidl, Migros, Sainsbury’s and Tesco (full list below) - signed a letter initiated by WWF that urges the regional government to reject the amnesty, close the illegal farms and fully implement the responsible agricultural plan - or "Strawberry Plan" - agreed in 2014.
The unsustainable extraction of water is the gravest threat to Doñana - a dynamic estuary that supports a wealth of wildlife from the endangered Iberian lynx to hundreds of thousands of migratory birds as well as unique Mediterranean wetland habitats. It also poses a serious risk to agriculture, which relies on groundwater for irrigation, especially as climate change is already making this dry region even drier.
“Doñana is part of our shared heritage and it is too important for people and nature to be imperilled by some illegal strawberry farms,” said Juan Carlos del Olmo, Secretary General of WWF-Spain. “Together we can safeguard Doñana, helping to boost biodiversity, build climate resilience and sustain a responsible fruit industry that benefits local farmers and European consumers. But only if the authorities scrap this appalling amnesty plan.”
Publication of the new amnesty law came six months after the EU Court of Justice issued a historic ruling condemning Spain for destroying Doñana due to “disproportionate groundwater abstractions”. It is also more than a year since UNESCO, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands issued 15 recommendations to safeguard Doñana.
The proposed law directly contradicts the Spanish government’s official endorsement of the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, which commits the country to taking urgent steps to reverse nature loss and create a nature-positive future by 2030.
Along with being World Heritage Site, Donana is a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, a Natura2000 site and a Spanish National Park.
European companies that signed the WWF-initiated letter - Aldi Nord, Aldi Süd, ASDA, Axfood, Coop Schweiz, Denner, EDEKA, Innocent Drinks, Kaufland, Lidl, Migros, Morrisons, Netto Marken-Discount, Orkla Foods Sverige, Rewe Group, Sainsbury’s, SPAR (CH), SVZ, Tesco, Valora, Volg, Waitrose and Worldwide Fruit