Friday, June 12, 2009

Hard Times For Spain's National Parks

Life’s not always easy for a national park. Even more so if the resource on which the park depends can be removed by people without even entering the park itself. Take the example of Las Tablas de Daimiel, a once important area of wetlands in Ciudad Real province and a national park since 1973. I visited Las Tablas a few years ago on the way back from a trip to the town of Almagro, and it was a sorry sight then with only a small area covered by surface water. Now it seems that the situation has got worse, and UNESCO has warned the Spanish government that the area could lose its status as a biosphere reserve if they don’t do something to protect it.

The situation is not a result of drought or other natural circumstances. It is instead a consequence of the over exploitation of water resources, particularly for agriculture. Las Tablas de Daimiel have always relied on the excess water of underground aquifers but now these have been drained of much of their water. The only solution the Spanish authorities could find to continue justifying the description of wetland was to transport water into the Tablas. In fact this is what they thought they had done but the villagers of nearby Villafranca de los Caballeros had other ideas, and diverted the water intended for Las Tablas into their own lagoons! The Guardia Civil had to be sent down to close off the diversion to the village.

Meanwhile there is the equally sorry case of the area that should be a national park but which never quite seems to make it. The Sierra de Guadarrama, the range of mountains just a short distance from Madrid, is a hugely important natural wilderness. Yet the project to convert the area into a national park has been systematically obstructed by the regional authorities for years. Just in case you think I’m going to put all the blame on Madrid’s Esperanza Aguirre, let me point out that her party allies in Castilla y León also deserve their 50% of the blame. Neither of these administrations is happy with a project that would limit their ambitious plans to replace once savage wilderness with the neatly tended lawns of the now compulsory golf course that comes with every new urbanisation. Although, when you look at Las Tablas de Daimiel, you can’t help wondering whether it’s worth it to have the park declared in the first place.

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