‘No to bears’: Farmers in Spain’s Pyrenees protest against predators re-introduction

Hundreds of Spanish livestock farmers staged a protest Thursday in the Pyrenees town of Ainsa against the re-introduction of brown bears to the mountain region saying the predators are a menace to their flocks.

'No to bears': Farmers in Spain's Pyrenees protest against predators re-introduction
File photo of farmers protesting against bears in the Pyrenees. Photo: AFP

The decision to bring the endangered bears back to the region was taken “without consideration for the lives of villagers and livestock farmers,” said Felix Bariain, head of the UAG farmers union in the Navarre region of northern Spain.

“We ask that the violent bears be removed from the Pyrenees,” he told AFP.   

Media footage showed protesters carrying banners reading: “Bears, the ruin of the rural world” and “No to bears, safety for the Pyrenees”.   

They represented local farming unions and food cooperatives as well as France's main farming unions the FDSEA and Jeunes Agriculteurs (Young Farmers).   

A file photo of bears playing next to their mother at the Aran Park in the Spanish Pyrenees' village of Bossost. Photo: AFP

Shepherds and farmers have been up in arms since the government brought in two more brown bears from Slovenia last October, the latest since France began to re-populate around 20 years ago a species that had been hunted to the brink of extinction.

More than 600 sheep have been killed this year in France, mostly after plunging off cliffs while trying to flee bears.

Around 50 bears now roam the mountains that separate France and Spain, mainly in France's Ariege region, where the herders' anger is especially fierce.

Local farmers say compensation is insufficient to staunch devastating financial losses.

Authorities say 214 requests for compensation were lodged in France in the first seven months of this year, up from 167 in the same period last year, and just 53 in 2015.

Environmental activists say the animals are integral to preserving a fragile ecosystem, and are emblematic of a French government plan announced in July to shore up biodiversity, which is under threat from human activity and climate change.

READ ALSO: Spanish brown bear wanders across border into Portugal, the first in 175 years

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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.