“Doñana is a very sensitive ecosystem and it is urgent to close the illegal wells” | Climate and Environment

Robbert Casier, specialist of the UNESCO natural heritage unit.
Robbert Casier, specialist of the UNESCO natural heritage unit.

The specialist of the UNESCO Natural Heritage Unit Robbert Cassier (Brussels, 1987) visited Doñana two years ago and marveled at its biodiversity. However, the largest World Heritage Site that the international organization treasures in Spain is now in serious danger, biologists warn. Unesco has reminded Spain two weeks ago that it must close the illegal farms that deplete the reserve’s aquifer, just the opposite decision foreseen by the Andalusian right, which seeks to legalize them. The moment is critical: this Wednesday, the parliamentary procedure begins -by way of urgency- of the legal reform that will allow the 1,460 hectares to be converted into irrigable land. Cassier wants to avoid at all costs that UNESCO arrives late to be able to warn Spain in time about the effects of the measure, and that the damage has already been done. If so, the possibility of including Doñana among the heritage sites in danger would be closer.

Ask. What would you say to the Andalusian politicians who promote the expansion of irrigation in Doñana?

Answer. Countries need to report on this type of measure before making decisions, so that UNESCO still has the opportunity to advise on it. And this seems not to have happened here. In addition, the proposal goes against one of our key requirements: to implement the strawberry plan. [que la derecha andaluza pretende alterar] with its original form, as it was in February 2020, to restore the health of the aquifer and the hydrological balance of the park. Now it seems that this plan will be changed and this goes against the requests of the World Heritage Committee and that is why we are so concerned and we have asked Spain for verifications.

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P. Are Andalusian politicians playing with fire?

R. Well, I can’t comment on the political aspects, but I think that if you read the recommendations of the World Heritage committee, they may not play with fire, but with water. Doñana is a very sensitive ecosystem and the application of the strawberry plan and all the other measures to close the illegal wells are urgent. Although this committee has also made it explicit that it be done and that it be done quickly, urgently, to protect the World Heritage Site and all its values.

P. What did you find when you visited Doñana two years ago?

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R. It is incredibly valuable for its wetlands, marine components and dunes, together with the natural environment and the different ecosystems. In addition, the value of migratory birds throughout the year is something truly exceptional.

P. What consequences would Doñana have if it were included on the list of Endangered Heritage?

R. Doñana was already proposed for this list a couple of years ago, but the committee rejected it. Looking at previous cases, the current measure puts the future conservation of the site as a World Heritage Site at risk, but including it on the list of enclaves in danger is one of the latest mechanisms and does not happen immediately. Doñana will be reviewed by the next World Heritage committee in June 2023.

P. What must happen to be included in this list?

R. Well, much more information should arrive first and there is a mission to verify all the information and a dialogue with the Spanish government in parallel, because the ecological balance of Doñana is very delicate.

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P. Does UNESCO know that the Andalusian Parliament’s proposal is scheduled to be approved before the summer?

R. Yes, and in this specific case we have our procedures and we can only confirm with the Government of Spain [no con la Junta andaluza]. Spain must send a report on the state of Doñana before December, and in June 2023 it will be evaluated by the committee.

P. What other consequences can have the inclusion in the list of Heritage in Danger?

R. Normally, this inclusion triggers a process to eliminate the threats that have put the enclave in danger and is done under the umbrella of UNESCO. A plan is usually drawn up with the national government and all stakeholders to quickly restore the values ​​of the site in question. Some first world countries also provide funds to ensure the conservation of the site and these actions help generate attention and contribute to removing it from the list of endangered heritage.

P. Have you verified in previous cases what effects the enclaves suffer?

R. There are not many studies in this regard, but we can assume that heritage listed in danger will attract fewer tourists or a different type of tourist. People associate the place with practices that are not sustainable and that harms them. Obviously, the inclusion is also very striking and does not remain in the local press, it has a worldwide diffusion.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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