WWF: Amnesty for illegal strawberry farms would hand death sentence to Spanish World Heritage Site Doñana

Posted on January, 25 2022

* Amnesty would cover an area of illegal farms equivalent to 2,000 football fields
* The farms illegally pump water to irrigate their crops, drying up the aquifer that sustains Doñana.

Madrid (Tuesday 25 January 2022) – With countries racing to agree a new global deal this year to reverse the loss of nature, authorities in Spain are planning to pass a law that threatens one of Europe’s greatest natural wonders - the Doñana wetlands.

Proposed by the regional government in Andalusia and backed by several parties in the regional parliament, the law would provide an amnesty for 1,460 hectares of illegal strawberry farms in Doñana. Built on occupied public forest land, the strawberry farms illegally pump water to irrigate their crops, thereby drying up the aquifer that sustains Doñana.

“This shocking law would protect illegal strawberry farms rather than the irreplaceable Doñana wetlands, which are critical to restoring nature and strengthening climate resilience in Spain,” said Stuarr Orr, WWF Global Freshwater Lead. “It would also reward the illegal occupation, deforestation and conversion of public forest land into strawberry farms.”

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. Protected since 1969, after the government and WWF jointly purchased the wetlands, Doñana’s importance is underlined by the fact that it is not only a National Park but also a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and a World Heritage Site.
Publication of the new law comes 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 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 plan 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. 

“If the Spanish authorities do not halt this destructive law, it will send a very clear signal that the government is not serious about its pledges to halt nature loss and conserve critical ecosystems,” said Orr. “Worse, it will embolden others to illegally drain, divert, pollute and destroy the rivers and wetlands that sustain communities, economies and wildlife.”

WWF has been collaborating with partners to secure the future of the Doñana wetlands ever since the organization was created in 1961. A key focus of WWF’s work has been on ending unsustainable and illegal farming practices, including contributing to the development of the 2014 Forest Crown Plan or "Strawberry Plan". Intended to tackle the growth of illegal farms, the plan has never been implemented and would be fatally undermined by this new law. 

“We are calling on the authorities to do the exact opposite of this proposed law and focus instead on closing all the illegal farms and restoring Doñana, which will boost biodiversity and build climate resilience,” said Orr.

“Doñana is part of our shared heritage. It is too important for people and nature to be sacrificed for some illegal strawberry farms.”  

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