Doñana: Fifty years since WWF’s landmark conservation achievement

Posted on 28 December 2013

WWF joins the people of Spain in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the purchase of Doñana’s Biological Reserve.
Gland, Switzerland – WWF joins the people of Spain in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the designation of Doñana’s Biological Reserve. WWF’s purchase of the land helped set the organization on the path to protect priority places and species around the world.

Located where the Guadalquivir River reaches the Atlantic Ocean, Spain’s Coto Doñana is considered one of the most valuable wetlands in Europe. The region is a sanctuary for millions of migratory birds and endangered species, including the imperial eagle and Iberian lynx.

The original plan to save Doñana came from Spanish biologist José Antonio Valverde in the late-1950s. Luc Hoffmann and other early WWF leaders visited the marshes during their “Doñana Expeditions” and supported Valverde’s campaign to protect the area.

“Thanks to the vision of pioneers like Hoffmann and Valverde, today we can still take pleasure in the beauty of Doñana,” said Juan Carlos del Olmo, chief executive officer of WWF-Spain.

For centuries, Doñana was famous for its rich wildlife habitat, but more recently the marshes were thought to be an origin of disease. Plans to dry out Doñana along with other Spanish wetlands caught the attention of WWF during the first days of the organization’s existence.

On December 30, 1963, after two years of negotiation, WWF agreed to the purchase of 6,794 hectares of Coto Doñana. The sale saved Doñana from destruction and transformed the region into the first biological reserve of Spain.

Two years later, the land was handed over to the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), which established Doñana’s Biological Station. Doñana and another region purchased by WWF, Guadiamar Biological Reserve, were transformed into the Coto Doñana National Park in 1969.

While Doñana remains protected, the area is still under threat. Mining, farming, tourism and infrastructure development all pose serious dangers to the area.

“Half a century after it was saved from being dried up, many threats are putting at risk the future of our most emblematic wetland,” said del Olmo, “the dredging of Guadalquivir River, the plans to store natural gas under its surface, or the illegal wells, remind us that the fight to preserve Doñana is not over yet.”

WWF is actively working with local groups to ensure that Doñana remains a vital stopover wetland for migratory birds well into the future.
The Iberian Imperial Eagle is a bird known as a symbol of strength and power and also represents nature conservation and biodiversity in Portugal and Spain.
© David Santiago
A group of Greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) in a marsh, at sunset, Coto Doñana National Park, Andalucia, Spain.
© Jorge SIERRA / WWF-Spain
Greater flamingos, Coto Doñana National Park, Spain
© Jorge Sierra/WWF-Spain