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ENVIRONMENT

What a hoot: Alhambra welcomes new night time visitors

The Alhambra fortress-palace in Granada is one of Spain’s most popular tourist sights, attracting thousands of visitors each day to marvel at its pillared courtyards and filigree arches.

What a hoot: Alhambra welcomes new night time visitors
View across the Alhambra palace and gardens in Granada. Photo: billperry/Depositphotos

But authorities at the ancient Moorish monument are now making a bid for a different type of visitor; one that will fill jasmine-scented nights with hoots and whistles.

The trustees have approved a plan to reintroduce owls into the Arabic gardens by installing 22 wooden nest boxes to provide roosts for the nocturnal residents.

“We need to place the same value on nature conversation as we do on cultural treasures,” explained a press release from the board of trustees.

Conservationalists hope to encourage two species of owls to take up residence among the pines and eucalyptus in the formal gardens.

Two boxes have already provided homes for tawny owls – one of the most common nocturnal birds of prey in Europe whose call is the easily recognizable twit-twoo.

They hope also to encourage a colony of scops owls to settle – the smallest species of birds of prey on the Iberian penisula, whose call is a high pitched whistle.

ENVIRONMENT

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.

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