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AIR POLLUTION

Madrid wants to build biggest metropolitan forest in Europe

Madrid City Council has launched a tender for a 74km-long forest belt to be developed around the city’s perimeters, with hundreds of thousands of new trees that will be planted to help improve the Spanish capital’s poor air quality.

Madrid wants to build biggest metropolitan forest in Europe
Photos: Madrid City Hall

Madrid authorities are looking to develop a huge “environmental belt” made up of between 100,000 and 450,000 trees, new parks and leisure areas and even green bridges over some of the city’s main motorways. 

It’s been dubbed “El Bosque Metropolitano” (the Metropolitan Forest) and according to deputy mayor Begoña Villacís it could be “the largest green infrastructure to be built in Europe in the next decade”.

On Thursday, Madrid City Council launched the contest for the mega-project’s conception, with an initial €4.1 million in EU funds to be granted to the chosen urban developer.

The total budget for the full 600 hectares of the “Bosque Metropolitano” is expected to be €75 million, €16 million of which Madrid City Hall already has available. 

The Spanish capital is already home to two large parks – El Retiro and Casa de Campo – and offers 22.83m2 of green space per inhabitant (above the recommended WHO threshold of 10-15m2/capita).

But Madrid has also been plagued by poor air quality for years due primarily to its high levels of traffic.

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Madrid authorities believe the Metropolitan Forest could help to purify the air of polluting particles, reduce emmissions overall and act as a thermal regulator for the city by addressing the ‘urban heat island’ effect.

From a social standpoint, the project will bring more green spaces to parts of Madrid where there’s currently a scarcity such as the south, in effect connecting the entire city through a green ring which will run around it.

Endemic tree species such as holly oaks, pines, poplars and strawberry trees will be planted throughout and even bridges running over busy motorways such as the A-3 and R-3 will become ecoducts, green bridges with trees and foliage that allow wildlife to cross over safely.

Madrid authorities hope that by the time of the project’s completion, which it estimates to be in 12 years, the Metropolitan Forest will have the capacity to absorb 170,000 tonnes of CO2.  

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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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