5 July 2017, Krakow, Poland: The efforts of campaigners to inform experts on the UNESCO World Heritage Committee of the threats faced by Doñana, a rare and outstanding wetland in Europe, has ensured that requests on Spain to protect the site were maintained.
The Spanish government and other committee members moved today to relax what is asked of them, which would have created an uncertain future for Doñana. In a campaign win for WWF and other conservation bodies, Spain was forced to end plans for dredging the river, and WWF now calls on Spain to keep to this promise and build on it, as there is much more to do.
The Committee recognised that current levels of water abstraction from the aquifer, if continued, would threaten the outstanding natural value of the site. If cared for, Doñana need not face a future on the ‘in-danger’ list, which remains a risk.
Doñana is one of Europe’s few outstanding wetlands, and the continent’s most important location for migratory birds. The site harbours over 4,000 types of plants and animals, including threatened birds and the world’s rarest feline species, the Iberian lynx. In addition to its environmental value, the park provides for the wellbeing of 200,000 nearby residents, with jobs from fishing, farming, research and ecotourism.
WWF has been calling on the Spanish government for many years to protect and recover Doñana’s water sources. Specifically, it must:
● Cancel definitively dredging of the Guadalquivir River
● Eliminate the 1,000 illegal wells, and 3,000 hectares of illegal farming fields as per the land use plan of the Andalusian government
● Prohibit all mining and gas projects that could threaten Doñana
“Spain now has a chance to safeguard Doñana World Heritage site and all it gives us. WWF calls on the Spanish Government to work together with UNESCO, IUCN and conservationists, to protect this valuable place - or else it will be lost to species, visitors, the economy and future generations,” said Eva Hernandez, head of the freshwater programme at WWF Spain.
The concern for Doñana has been expressed by thousands of people. More than 150,000 WWF supporters have emailed the Spanish president asking him to save Doñana. Last year, thousands of origami birds sent by activists from across the world were displayed outside the country’s parliament in Madrid.
WWF has a presence at the meeting in Krakow in a bid to defend sites of outstanding value, such as Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, Bialowieza Forest in Poland, and the Gulf of California, all of which are being discussed by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee this week, and have been a focus of its campaign, Saving our Shared Heritage.
Notes to Editors:
A WWF report “Protecting people through nature: places of world natural heritage as a driver of sustainable development” published last year as part of the Saving Our Shared Heritage campaign showed that nearly half of the world's natural heritage sites are endangered by harmful industrial activities.
About 41COM UNESCO
The World Heritage Committee is meeting in Krakow, Poland for the 41st session, and will assess the nomination of 34 sites for inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List during its 41st session, which will be chaired by Jacek Purchla, founder and director of the International Cultural Centre in Krakow, the Polish city that will host the session from 2 to 12 July. Several decisions affecting natural world heritage sites are on the agenda.
The Doñana wetland complex includes a World Heritage site, a natural park and four Natura 2000 sites. It is famous for being Europe’s most important area for migrating birds. Doñana is spread along the Guadalquivir River at its estuary on the Atlantic Ocean in Andalusia in southern Spain. Its diverse ecosystems include lagoons, marshlands, scrub woodlands, pristine beaches and sand dunes. Doñana National Park, the largest protected area in the complex, was inscribed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1980, a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in 1982, and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994.
Further, Spain designated the area surrounding the national park as a protected natural park, and established four areas as European Natura 2000 sites, which aim to ensure the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats. Doñana’s diverse ecosystems provide habitats for up to six million migratory birds each year and half a million wintering birds. The area is home to over 4,000 species, including several rare and globally threatened birds. Doñana harbours over 1,500 plant species, almost 2,000 animal species and 500 species of microorganisms.
Many of these are rare and iconic animals, including the imperial eagle, the marbled teal, and the white-headed duck. Doñana is one of only two habitats for the endangered Iberian lynx, which is the world’s rarest feline species. Its marshes are considered to be one of the most important wetlands in Europe, as 75 per cent of European bird types can be found there. For migrating birds, it is a major stopover point on routes between Africa and Europe, and it is also one of the largest heronries in the Mediterranean region. In addition to its environmental and conservation values, Doñana provides important local and global ecosystem services. Wetland ecosystems, such as Doñana, provide many services that support the livelihoods and well-being of people. These include fish, fresh water supplies, climate regulation, flood regulation, and coastal protection.
In particular, Doñana provides important air and water purification, water regulation, and soil fertilization services. It also acts as a net carbon sink, meaning that it removes carbon from the atmosphere, which helps to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Doñana also provides for important cultural services, such as nature tourism, which generates value for the local population. Doñana’s ecosystem services support socioeconomic activity, including providing jobs for the region’s 200,000 inhabitants.
Doñana’s unique biosphere attracts visitors from around the world. The value of beach, cultural and nature tourism in the park is estimated at €74 million per year, and the industry is estimated to employ almost 50,000 people. Doñana also supports agriculture, which is the largest employer in the region. It has the most productive rice fields in Europe, and produces 70 per cent of the strawberries grown in Spain. Further, the estuary and the coastal zone bordering Doñana is an important fish and prawn spawning ground and nursery that benefits fisheries all over the Gulf of Cádiz.
WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. Visit www.panda.org/news for latest news and media resources and follow us on Twitter @WWF_media