Friday, March 24

Wetland recovery dries up due to bureaucratic hassles

Flamingos in a humid. / UN

World Wetlands Day

ECOSYSTEMS Land ownership makes it difficult to restore key gaps in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions

Jose A. Gonzalez

With 2022 already filed, it’s time to take inventory. In the second year of the Decade for Restoration, “we still haven’t rolled up our sleeves,” warns Ana Carricondo, head of Conservation programs at SEO/BirdLife at the
World Wetlands Day that this year, precisely, is dedicated to its restoration. The health of the more than 300,000 hectares of wetlands, according to the Ramsar Convention, is “a bit regular,” he adds.

The overexploitation of resources and water pollution are the main ills of these large lagoons that are drying up drop by drop. “We must not forget climate change that has modified the rainfall regime that causes longer periods of drought,” explains the spokesperson for the ornithological NGO. “Wetlands must be saved,” warns SEO/Birdlife. “This year does not happen,” she adds.

On the waiting list, some patients are more seriously ill and others are more critical. The most repeated: Doñana, the Mar Menor, Las Tablas de Daimiel or La Albufera de Valencia. But there are others that are more forgotten, such as the La Janda lagoon (Cádiz), the Antela lagoon (Ourense) or the Mar de Campos (Palencia); although the list is bigger.

These last three were cited by the third vice president and minister for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, Teresa Ribera, in February 2022. “We must start before 2030 the restoration of the main wetlands that have been lost in the recent past and achieve in this period the recovery of at least 20,000 hectares of wetlands,” he announced.

These are data from Spain, but at a global level they are also worrying. About 85% of the wetlands present in 1700 had been lost by the year 2000, much of it drained for conversion to built-up, agricultural, or other “productive” uses. “Its disappearance, three times faster than that of forests, poses an existential threat to hundreds of thousands of animal and plant species,” denounces the United Nations. “No more time can go by,” warns Carricondo.

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“It can be restored and recovered, but a lot of vocation is needed,” warns Amanda del Río, deputy director of the Global Nature Foundation. “We managed to flood the Mar de Campos lagoon in Palencia,” she adds. It is not the only example: «There are others such as «the Black and White Marshes in Astillero and the Las Llamas park in Santander (Cantabria); the Tancat de la Pipa (Albufera de Valencia); Riet Vell and El Clot (Ebro delta), and the El Oso lagoon (Ávila)”, recalls Ana Carricondo.

In many of these cases, returning your space to nature is the solution. “Luckily they are systems that respond quite quickly to restoration and conservation actions, because water is a medium that quickly reacts,” explains Carricondo. But “it’s not just putting it there, you have to have a balance and that there is plant functionality in that ecosystem.”

Bureaucratic problems

Just as each clinical case has a diagnosis and a recovery process, the restoration of wetlands also. “The Black and White Shipyard Marshes had a lot of debris and a lot of cleaning up. In the case of El Oso in Ávila, it was just a matter of being able to stop using certain lands for agriculture to allow them to flood again, ”says Carricondo. “There is the conflict in the use of land and water,” adds the director of the Global Nature Foundation.

A war inherited from another decade and even another century, specifically from the 20th century. The history goes back to 1918, points out Francisco José Abellán, graduate and doctor in Law from the University of Alicante. “It is the Cambó Law, but it has the nineteenth-century legislation of 1866 and 1879 as its starting point,” he adds. At this time, public interest was focused on eradicating wetlands for two reasons: “Promotion of the agricultural economy and health,” Abellán details.

A regulation that was in force until 1985 and its consequences are still in force in some parts of the Spanish geography. “It promoted the drying up of wetlands and granted that publicly owned land to individuals and companies that participated in that drying up,” warns the doctor of Law. This problem was found by the foundation directed by Amanda del Río. “We had to buy the land in the Boada and Pedraza lagoons, both in Palencia, and we have restored them,” she warns. “We have been able to, but not in the Janda lagoon (Cádiz).”

800 kilometers from these those of Boada and Pedraza in the middle of the 20th century there was a lagoon. “Rather several,” says José Manuel López, president of the Friends of the Laguna de la Janda Association. A sheet of water of some 4,000 hectares that included the Cádiz municipalities of Vejer de la Frontera, Benalup-Casas Viejas and Tarifa and that was “the largest inland wetland in Spain,” says López. It was until 1964 when it dried up under the Franco regime. “The process did not come to fruition and the State reverted the concession and the return of the wetlands to the public domain,” explains Pedro Brufao, doctor in Administrative Law at the University of Extremadura, in a case study on this lagoon. “There are already several sentences that agree with us and say that there have been 60 years of occupation of those lands outside the Law,” López replies.

At present, these lands are dedicated to agriculture by “large landowners and companies that are already multinationals and do not even have their headquarters in Andalusia,” warns the president of the association. According to López’s calculations, there are more than 6,000 hectares of public ownership for private use. “The Junta de Andalucía is the one that has the obligation to ensure the integrity of this patrimony and in the event that it does not exercise those powers, the State could secondarily exercise its own,” he points out. However, the petitions have not yet been heard. “We will go to Justice, but we do not expect it to be resolved before 12 or 15 years,” laments López.

And the water?

Spain is the country with the third most hectares of wetlands in the world, but only 12% are in good condition. “We must end the theft of water, particularly in Daimiel, Doñana and Mar Menor to save these ecosystems,” warns the WWF organization. Since 2018, the Guadalquivir Hydrographic Confederation has closed almost 300 wells in the Doñana area.

“Wetlands are not just big duck ponds that can be restored with waterworks and pipelines bringing water from other places. They are complex ecosystems, which provide multiple benefits to society and whose restoration requires, in the first place, reducing the pressure that has led these valuable ecosystems to their current state of degradation. For this reason, the main tool to restore our wetlands is to put an end to water theft and return it to the natural environment”, denounces Teresa Gil from WWF.

In a report dated 2006, the former Ministry of Agriculture recognized the existence of 510,000 illegal wells in the national territory. “Now they can be more than double,” say the NGOs. «The lack of water in iconic wetlands such as Daimiel, Doñana or quality water such as in the Mar Menor cannot be solved only by injecting thousands of euros into restoration actions, if we do not first end the main problem that threatens their survival: theft of water and its overexploitation”, responds Gil.

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