‘Most fragile’ Spain tops endangered species list

Ecologists have urged government action to tackle the 'alarming' crisis of 'biodiversity destruction' in Spain as data reveals that the country is the most vulnerable in Europe.

'Most fragile' Spain tops endangered species list
25% of the new artificial surfaces in Europe are in Spain, leading to loss of natural habitats. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP

A report issued on Monday by Ecologists in Action has warned that Spain's biodiversity is the most fragile in Europe with the greatest number of endangered species, according to press agency EFE.

Basing their conclusions on figures from The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the European Environment Agency (EEA), the ecologists described the situation as 'alarming' and advised that neglectful government policies could make it even worse.

The Mediterranean region has the highest percentage of species at risk of extinction compared with the rest of the continent.

With Portugal and Greece closely trailing Spain in the rankings, there is said to be a "clear link" between the degree of threat and the level of vulnerability.

Ecologists in Action slammed the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment, saying that it "focuses its efforts on changing environmental regulations, which has serious consequences in terms of loss of protection and deregulation."

Policymakers in Spain's autonomous communities were also criticized, as the organization claimed they "support projects that theoretically promote economic growth but actually have serious environmental and social consequences."

The report noted that these policies have led to the current situation where 25% of the new artificial surfaces in Europe – urban, commercial, industrial and transport areas – have been created in Spain.

Ecologists in Action stated that this has seriously intensified the loss of agricultural land and natural ecosystems.

The conclusions are based on European Red List data from the IUCN, which records the conservation status of animal and plant species, and on EEA data on land use in Europe between 2006 which highlights the "high degree of biodiversity destruction" in Spain.

The United Nations has designated May 22nd as the International Day for Biological Diversity to raise awareness of the issue and draw attention to the Convention on Biological Diversity, a legally-binding treaty signed at the Earth Summit in 1992 and now ratified by all UN member states – including Spain – except the United States, Andorra and South Sudan.

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Police operation targets illegal water tapping in Spain

More than 130 people were arrested or placed under investigation for illegal water tapping last year, Spain’s Guardia Civil police said on Wednesday following a huge operation.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park”
Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in Andalusia. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

During the year-long operation, “133 people were arrested or investigated for extracting water through more than 1,533 illegal infrastructure devices”, the police’s environmental unit said in a statement.

A similar operation in 2019 had targeted 107 people.

Spain is one of the European countries most at risk from the impact of drought caused by global warming, scientists say.

Water usage issues are often at the heart of heated political debates in Spain where intensive agriculture plays an important role in the economy.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in the southern Andalusia region, one of Europe’s largest wetlands and a Unesco World Heritage bird sanctuary.

They were also operating in “in the basins of Spain’s main rivers”.

In Doñana, police targeted 14 people and 12 companies for the illegal tapping of water for irrigation, a police spokesman said.

Ecologists regularly raise the alarm about the drying up of marshes and lagoons in the area, pointing the finger at nearby plantations, notably growing strawberries, which are irrigated by illegally-dug wells.

“The overexploitation of certain aquifers for many reasons, mainly economic, constitutes a serious threat to our environment,” the Guardia Civil said.

The European Court of Justice rapped Spain over the knuckles in June for its inaction in the face of illegal water extraction in Donana which covers more than 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) and is home to more than 4,000 species, including the critically endangered Iberian lynx.

According to the government’s last official estimate, which dates back to 2006, there were more than half a million illegal wells in use.

But in a 2018 study, Greenpeace estimated there were twice as many, calculating that the quantity of stolen water was equivalent to that used by 118 million people — two-and-a-half times the population of Spain.

Spanish NGO SEO/Birdlife also on Wednesday raised the alarm about the “worrying” state of Spain’s wetlands.