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Urgent action is needed to protect Doñana, WWF-Spain analysis reveals

New analysis released by WWF-Spain over the summer shows that, despite the organisation first filing a complaint to the EU in 2010, the wetland is deteriorating due to years of inaction.

One of Europe’s most important wetlands and resting spots for migratory birds, is in danger. The Doñana National Park, located in Southern Spain, is being bled dry at an alarming rate, and authorities have consistently failed to protect this World Heritage and Natura 2000 site. New analysis released by WWF-Spain over the summer shows that, despite the organisation first filing a complaint to the EU in 2010, the wetland is in fact deteriorating due to years of inaction.

Earlier this month the European Parliament Environment Committee called the European Commission and Member States out on their  poor implementation of the EU’s water legislation. Doñana is a powerful example of poor implementation in action. Its diverse, and vulnerable, biodiversity will reach breaking point unless immediate action is taken to implement and enforce the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Birds and Habitats Directives. The success of safeguarding this wetland and the millions of migratory birds that stop over in Doñana every year, will set the course of the actions to protect Europe's biodiversity. 
Juan Carlos del Olmo, Secretary General of WWF-Spain, said: "Despite the continuous complaints and scientific evidence, Spain and the autonomous government of Andalusia  have not taken the protection of Doñana seriously for decades and have failed to protect the Doñana World Heritage Site. It's time to safeguard the star of Europe’s protected areas or we will lose the wonder of Doñana forever.” 
WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020, released last week, found that freshwater species are the most threatened on the planet. 70% of global wetlands has been lost since 1900 and freshwater biodiversity is declining far faster than in our oceans and forests. The unsustainable water exploitation of Doñana is driving it to the brink of ecological collapse. Intensive agriculture has dramatically contributed to the decrease of the water reaching this unique wetland. An estimated 1,000 illegal wells and 3,000 hectares of illegal farms are contributing to unsustainable water use. 
This situation illustrates the lack of implementation and enforcement of the EU’s water legislation, which the European Parliament called the European Commission and Member States out on earlier this month. On 2 September, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee approved two oral questions to the European Commission and the European Council on the implementation of EU water legislation, calling for concrete actions to be taken to improve the health of freshwater ecosystems and enforce EU Water Framework Directive across Europe. The Environment Committee is also drafting a resolution on implementation of the Water Framework Directive, which the European Parliament will vote on during its session on 28-29 October.
The measures presented so far by the Spanish authorities are not ambitious enough and even include unsustainable solutions for the recovery of the aquifer such as water transfer projects that do not take into account future scenarios of climate change.
As a result of the situation of the aquifer, the Spanish government has declared three out of the five groundwater bodies that feed Doñana wetland at risk of not reaching the good status in 2021. The official declaration as overexploited shows that the current regime of exploitation of the Doñana aquifer is totally unsustainable and paving the way for ecological collapse. 
For years, WWF-Spain has been calling for the implementation of a water management plan that maximizes conservation of the wetland so that it can deliver sustainable socioeconomic benefits to the region. WWF is calling for the immediate closure of all illegal farms and wells, the development of a special land management plan and the implementation of an annual plan of extractions from the aquifer, among other measures and in line with the EU’s water and nature protection laws.
Due to the critical situation of Doñana, in April 2010, WWF Spain filed a complaint to the European Commission (EC) denouncing the abusive and unsustainable extraction of water in the area of ​​Doñana for the intensive cultivation of red fruits. Following this complaint, the European Commission decided in January  2019 to take Spain to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over the serious deterioration of Doñana. The legal process is nearing the end and further news is expected soon. 
For more information please contact: 
Nylva Hiruelas
Press Officer, WWF-Spain
+34 656 489 351, 
For EU context:
Sophie Bauer
Senior Communications Officer, Freshwater
+32 471 052 511